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How VET systems respond to digitalisation and future of work challenges – Cedefop evidence

Cedefop was invited to present its work on digitalisation and the future of work and on the future of vocational education and training (VET) at the public hearing of the German Bundestag’s study committee on vocational training in the digital work environment, on 3 June in Berlin.

The public hearing’s focus was on ‘VET, an international comparison: comparison with regions where the digital transformation is particularly far advanced; learning from the best.’ It discussed employment structures in countries and regions particularly advanced in terms of the digital transformation (Israel/Silicon Wadi, San Francisco/Silicon Valley, Singapore, Estonia, Finland) and corresponding qualification paths.

The hearing also examined the differences between Germany and countries considered successful in the field of digital transformation, focusing on questions such as: What do these countries do differently or better and why? What motivation and incentive systems have these countries established? How are the opportunities presented by digitalisation communicated?

Digitalisation challenges

Cedefop expert Konstantinos Pouliakas presented evidence based on the agency’s digitalisation and future of work programme. Using unique information on skill needs extracted from the European skills and jobs survey, he highlighted that the danger of EU adult workers becoming completely displaced from their jobs tends to be exaggerated in popular media and consultancy reports.

Nevertheless, he noted the importance of continuing to invest in reskilling policies, including via the validation of adults’ informal skills by relying more systematically on the signalling value of digital certificates and credentials. This is crucial as about 4 in 10 EU jobs face a risk of transformation in the nature of their job tasks, with some tasks being taken over soon by machines and artificial intelligence (AI).

Mr Pouliakas reflected on the challenges posed by new forms of digital labour offered on online platforms. Together with experts from the Oxford Internet Institute and Copenhagen Business School, Cedefop is carrying out in 2019 a major study – CrowdLEARN project – which investigates the skills development and matching practices of the so-called crowdworkers.

In his speech, Mr Pouliakas stressed that new online forms of labour are increasingly demanding new types of soft skills, such as platform etiquette, boundary management and entrepreneurship, which require individuals to have a high level of self-efficacy and self-determination in deciding how to steer the course of their lifelong learning and professional career development.

Education in an AI era

Mr Pouliakas reflected on recent evidence collected by Cedefop’s ReferNet network, which focuses on whether and how EU VET systems respond to the challenges of digitalisation and the future of work. Advancing AI technologies have the capacity to markedly reshape the landscape of education, and there are signs that EU Member States are making strides to develop new methods of personalised education delivery and are revising educational curricula to render them ‘robot-proof’. He cited Finland’s efforts to educate 1% of its population on the principles of AI and France’s newly established AI institutes (3IA). A great majority of EU countries have been strengthening and widening the scope of digital competences within initial VET.

The Cedefop expert said that some of the more digitally advanced countries in Europe are developing interdisciplinary VET programmes, blending science, technology and engineering principles with arts and multimedia design – for example, Estonia’s’ STEAM labs. However, the EU lags behind in the race to introduce AI in initial education relative to China or the US.

In conclusion, Mr Pouliakas noted that some EU countries are digital frontrunners because they have been successful in integrating a digital culture in learning (recently via simulators and robotics), they are open to experimentation, including in detecting how to meet the diverse needs and challenges for upskilling heterogeneous learners in digital literacy, and they are investing heavily in raising their teachers’/school managers’ digital skills levels. They are also developing AI/big data methods of skill needs identification.

Cedefop’s newly developed prototype skills online vacancy analysis tool for Europe along with similar initiatives carried out in some EU regions and cities have the potential to enable VET systems adapt faster and more effectively to the changing skill needs posed by advancing digital technologies.

You can watch the public hearing proceedings here.