Nine principles to empower workers with the skills they need for the future of work

Rapid advancements in artificial intelligence, digitalisation and automation, have considerably changed the nature of jobs and digital skills are essential both in the economy and society. However, digital skills are in low supply in many countries.The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) shows that 4 out of 10 adults and 1 out of 3 employees in Europe lack basic digital skills. A low representation of women in tech-related jobs also exists, with only 1 out of 6 ICT specialists being women.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, digital skills have become even more critical in our economic recovery. Everyone needs to be equipped with the digital skills necessary to access basic services, work remotely and collaborate. While many are coping with the crisis with the help of digital technology, adults who lack basic digital skills are at risk of digital exclusion. Closing the digital divide through improvements in digital skills are now required if we are to build a more equitable society.

However, our research shows that adults who lack basic digital skills, including older people and people with lower educational attainment, are also the least likely to participate in upskilling and reskilling. The most frequently cited reasons for not participating in upskilling and reskilling include clashes with work schedules, family responsibilities, the costs of courses and and a lack of belief and motivation to get involved in training in the first place.

But how do we motivate workers who lack confidence, don’t have time, money or support to do training to stay relevant and employed?

To answer this question, we’ve drawn on expertise and experience from FutureFit, a major training and research project led by Nesta and supported by Over the past two years, we’ ve collaborated with 13 of Europe’s largest unions and confederations, 9 training organisations, 6 leading researchers and 18 employers in the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark and Finland. FutureFit upskilled over 1,000 workers, the majority with no-low digital skills, and conducted an extensive evaluation of what works.

Earlier this month we published Learning How To Learn, a report presenting our findings, alongside 6 case studies. Based on the learning journey of the 1,109 learners who completed the training, we developed the FutureFit learning framework, an essential guidance that both practitioners and policymakers can use to realise inclusive and accessible adult learning systems for the digitalised future of work. The FutureFit learning framework illustrates the nine principles that have a major influence on participation in education and training.

FF018_FinalReport_v11_Framework Extract (2).pdf

The FutureFit learning framework (see below for text-based version)

Learning mechanisms

  • Communities of practice – Creating a peer/social learning environment where individuals share and learn by collaborating and supporting each other
  • Personalised learning aligned with labour market needs – Shifting from a standardised learning approach to a more personalised, inclusive and relevant model
  • Digital mentoring – Encouraging digital ambassadors to share their knowledge and motivate individuals to engage in learning activities
  • Learning mindset – Fostering a learning environment that promotes the act of learning


  • Digital skills – Using digital devices, the internet and software to access and manage information
  • Interpersonal skills – Improving communication, the ability to collaborate and self-lead learning
  • Learning agility – Learning, adapting and evolving to keep up with constantly changing conditions

Infrastructure mechanisms

  • Multi-stakeholder partnerships – Industry, trade unions, training providers and government working together to share knowledge, define common goals and skills priorities
  • Inclusion – Designing interventions that remove barriers to learning and include those most at risk of exclusion

According to the FutureFit learning framework effective adult learning systems are driven by two infrastructure principles: multi-stakeholder partnerships and inclusion.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships: Training providers, policymakers, unions, employers and other stakeholders need to come together to ensure that every adult is given equality of opportunity to access adult learning. Collaborations can have a tremendous impact on shifting towards more innovative training approaches and reaching people at scale.

Inclusion: As upskilling and reskilling are key drivers of employment and shared prosperity, learning systems must shift towards more accessible methods for individuals who are at risk of marginalisation. Ensuring more training is available for those who can’t afford it and providing flexible courses for those with limited time, all while focusing on the particular characteristics and needs of individual learners to improve their learning experience, are essential.

The transition to an inclusive learning environment will also require learning mechanisms that can motivate learners to engage in training. Research conducted across the five participating countries has allowed us to identify four learning mechanisms: communities of practice, personalised learning aligned with labour market needs, digital mentoring, and learning mindset.

Communities of practice: A shared learning experience can help training initiatives boost engagement and course completion rates. Peer support groups and peer tutoring, online or offline, can help boost engagement and course completion rates in training initiatives.

Personalised learning aligned with labour market needs: Shifting from a standardised learning approach to a more personalised and flexible model can help learners to acquire job-relevant skills and improve their learning experience. Training providers need to

understand the barriers and needs of learners and design personalised courses to give everyone the opportunity to learn relevant new skills.

Digital mentors: Recruiting experienced adult learners to be mentors can support and guide adults from socially and economically deprived communities to participate in training. Encouraging informal volunteers to act as digital mentors within organisations and local communities can have positive effects on skills development.

Learning mindset: A learning environment that encourages participation and involvement in training is essential for sustainable employability, social inclusion and individual development. A positive learning experience and support from employers influences people's future learning intentions and leads to a learning mindset.

The four learning mechanisms described above will help unlock the skills needed for a more resilient future. The FutureFit learning framework identifies the skills that enable learners to be prepared for the future of work. Realising this vision requires adults not only to be equipped with digital skills but also interpersonal skills and learning agility.

Digital skills: Using digital devices, the internet and software to access and manage information is essential in both work and daily life.

Interpersonal skills: Improving communication, the ability to collaborate and self-leadership is fundamental to thriving in the current labour market.

Learning agility: Learning, adapting and evolving are critical to keeping up with constantly changing conditions.

FutureFit has proven that this combination of innovative training organised by major players that share common goals can be a powerful, positive lever for overhauling our adult learning system at a time when all of us are enduring a huge amount of change.

To learn more about our efforts, visit our project page FutureFit - a major training intervention focused on upskilling and reskilling workers and doing innovative,robust research about what works.

Part of


Olivia Chapman

Olivia Chapman

Olivia Chapman

Senior Programme Manager, Future of Work

Olivia was a senior programme manager at Nesta.

View profile
Beatrice Bekar

Beatrice Bekar

Beatrice Bekar

Assistant Programme Manager, Future of Work

Bea is an Assistant Programme Manager.

View profile
Chrystalla Kapetaniou

Chrystalla Kapetaniou

Chrystalla Kapetaniou

Principal Researcher, Future of Work

Dr Chrystalla Kapetaniou is a Principal Researcher.

View profile