Skills and the future of work: where to from here?
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Skills and the future of work: where to from here?

Caroline has cared for elderly people in their homes for 25 years.

She’s dealing with a raft of changes in her work; from the introduction of digital tools to modernise care, worrying about her financial security as a result of zero-hour contracts being introduced, to figuring out how she can stay in a profession she loves but that is taking a physical toll on her body.

Nesta, UNI Global Union, and Google recently hosted a two-day workshop in Copenhagen that brought together over 50 experts, government, union and industry representatives from across Europe. They came together to determine what an inclusive future of work should look like for workers experiencing similar challenges to Caroline. More crucially, how we get there.

Group photo - Copenhagen workshop

A case study like Caroline represents many of the challenges that people are facing today in the labour market, raising questions that need to be urgently addressed:

  • How do we create a culture where training is regarded as a natural element in what we define as work?
  • How do we ensure skills training is universal, inclusive, tailored and of a high quality?
  • How do we recognise the skills workers have gained on the job - and not fixate on formal education?
  • How do we ensure employers recruit and train fairly and inclusively?

To tackle these, the group first considered: what about the current world of work do we want to keep, discard, and grow?

Grow: innovative use of technology

The group rejected a world of work that fails to harness the opportunities that digitalisation offers. In the trash: unconscious bias when recruiting, the bureaucracy that puts people off taking up training, and a world of work solely fixated on formal qualifications.

The group embraced the inspirational and innovative. In many cases, work already being carried out by people in the room. For example, Sweden’s Jobtech and Headai from Finland showed how it is possible to use real-time data and machine learning to map the skills demand in the labour market.

Group work

They illustrated how this insight can enable governments to create job opportunities in the right places, employers can be smarter at knowing where they are missing expertise (and where to find it), and workers like Caroline can determine more accurately the type of training they need to achieve their ambitions.

A culture of learning

Presentations from the union Negotia Norway and the digital training provider DigiEnable illustrated that harnessing technology in this way is only part of the solution. We need to grow a culture that supports learning, where training and career services are designed in such a way that gives people agency over their future.

To get there we need learners, institutions, employers, trade unions, civil society and other sectors to work together to generate a movement around learning and skills, illustrated in the session delivered by the team from the RSA and Digitalme's Cities of Learning programme.

Digital credentials in the form of open badges emerged as a possible way forward: a potentially versatile and democratic way of recognising people for capabilities and experiences that sit outside our traditional - and narrow- definition of skills.

These initiatives were doing something which Gregory Golding from Jobtech Sweden reminded us was critical. We must continue to regularly challenge our assumptions, whether it’s in the way we view skills or how we choose who we work with.

What are Caroline's needs?

Seek (unlikely) partners

Partnerships can work to great effect, as illustrated by the unique collaboration between the Danish trade union HK and Google. In this project, office and administration employees participated in work-related digital skills training that enabled them to make a greater impact at work and in their careers.

The union was uniquely placed to identify the right sector of workers to target, and provide insight into how to tailor the training. Combined with Google’s experience in digital skills training you get a high-quality, relevant offering for workers.

Jeppe Engell from HK trade union explained that this idea grew from that spirit of testing assumptions, “work with unlikely partners - start somewhere and you’ll be surprised where it might go; sometimes the solution is a ‘skateboard’ not a ‘Rolls Royce’ “.

The conversations over the two days always circled back to what the group deemed most important: the needs of the workers affected by the changes the world is experiencing.

This ‘human-centred’ approach was the key message Olga Strietska-Ilina from the International Labour Organisation left us with, providing an ideal sign-off for this blog: we can only deliver on an inclusive future of work if we invest in people’s capabilities; in the institutions of work, and in decent and sustainable work.

Where to from here?

Many ideas and innovations were discussed amongst the group across the two days. Several key issues stood out:

  1. We need to move from talking to testing
  2. Regulatory sandboxing and multistakeholder experiments should be conducted to put practice to theory and when developing digital innovations
  3. Corporations and governments need to focus on the “people factor” when implementing digital change.

We look forward to sharing more ideas from this group about the future of work. We’d also like to thank everyone who contributed to the rich discussion and for their efforts in the workshop, especially the speakers and facilitators who provided us with many moments of insight and inspiration:

Speakers and facilitators:

Alex Högback, Director of UNI Professionals and Managers, UNI Global

Anu Passi-Rauste, Head of Business Development, Americas, at Headai

Carmen Margarit-Stoica, Programme Coordinator at Nesta

Christina Colclough, Director, UNI Global Union - The Future World of Work

Christine Sørensen, Public Policy and Government Relations Manager at Google
Employment Services)

Elsie Till, Assistant Programme Manager at Nesta

Genna Barnett, Programme Coordinator at Nesta

Gregory Golding, Head of Digital Matching for Jobtech Sweden (Swedish Public

Jeppe Engell, Trade Union Officer at HK

Jack Orlik, Senior Researcher at Nesta

Juan Casasbuenas, Curriculum and Content Manager at Nesta

Liz Hardwick, Co-Founder, Trainer and Speaker at DigiEnable

Mark Riches, Co-founder of Digitalme

Olga Strietska-Ilina, Senior Skills and Employability Specialist, International Labour Organization

Olivia Chapman, Policy and Programme Manager at Nesta

Rosie Clayton, Associate Director for RSA Cities of Learning

Shirin Maani, Head of RSA Labs

Tim Riches, Co-founder of Digitalme

Trond Vegard Saele, Youth President at Negotia Norway


Juan Casasbuenas

Juan Casasbuenas

Juan Casasbuenas

Curriculum and Content Manager

Juan is a Curriculum and Content Manager supporting the Digital Frontrunners and Global Innovation Policy Accelerator programmes.

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