Europe should invest in education if it wants to benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has adopted an opinion on the future of work, in which it calls on Member States to focus on education and training and adapt their education systems to the needs of the labour markets, which are currently undergoing rapid and dramatic changes brought about by the new digital and industrial revolution.
Despite the potential of the new revolution to create new jobs and improve productivity, life and job quality, the EU and its Member States must be prepared to respond to its adverse effects such as the disappearance or transformation of many jobs and the widening of the wage gap between skilled and low-skilled workers.
Taking into account the subsidiarity principle, the EESC asks the Commission and Member States to design targeted policies and take tangible measures to improve and adapt their education and training systems, co-design national competency strategies and recognise the right to appropriate training for workers and people of all ages across sectors, said the Committee in the opinion.
According to the EESC, the necessary tools for grasping the job opportunities of the future are quality basic education, high-standard training, lifelong learning, upskilling and reskilling of all workers.
By upskilling and reskilling, we will unleash people's potential. We must all prepare for the consequences of the ongoing digitalisation – bridging the skills gap is crucial, said the co-rapporteur of the opinion, Milena Angelova.
The future will involve complementarity of skills, not just technical and digital skills but a number of soft skills. We need to enable an individual's personal development, said the rapporteur of the opinion, Cinzia del Rio, adding that this would help ensure that, in the new forms of work, a human-centered approach is maintained as artificial intelligence and digitalisation are introduced in many economic sectors.
The EESC adopted the opinion, drafted at the request of the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU, at its plenary session in March.
It was presented by Ms Angelova at the conference on Bridging the Skills Gap for Job and Growth Creation – Business Perspective, held in Sofia on 22 March, where the EESC Employers' Group signed a Joint Declaration with the Association of the Organisation of Bulgarian Employers on the same topic.
According to some studies, technological changes will lead to significant disruptions of employment and business models in some sectors, such as manufacturing, transport, health, finance and education, with 9% of jobs at risk of being displaced due to automation. Another 25% of jobs could be transformed, with half of their tasks automated.
The World Economic Forum warns that about 5 million jobs may disappear by 2020 in 15 major developed and emerging economies, with no anticipated substitute. At the same time, new jobs will be created and it is expected that nine out of ten future jobs will require digital skills. At the moment, however, some 170 million people in the EU do not even have basic digital skills.
The Committee stressed the importance of equal access to quality early education for all EU citizens, and of reorienting education and strengthening vocational education and training systems, with the aim of ensuring the rapid acquisition of necessary skills. It also proposed
launching a qualification offensive to underpin the growing digitalisation of labour markets.
Given that the number of people who lack the necessary educational background is on the rise, the EESC called on the Commission to take the necessary steps to prevent their marginalisation as a result of their inability to keep pace with the speed of change.
Ms del Rio said the EESC was concerned about the future of vulnerable groups in Europe, which included the low-skilled. She maintained that the EU's policy-makers must make sure that no one is left behind.
"We want to stress the importance of making sure that there is equal access for all to training courses and qualifications for those at the greatest risk of marginalisation," she said, adding that gaps among EU countries should also be narrowed in that respect.
The involvement of workers in innovation processes involving the correct use of new technology is seen as fundamental for raising awareness and allaying people's fear of the new. The role of collective bargaining and the social partners should also be emphasised.
The EESC opinion listed examples of best practices for reskilling and upskilling workers in Member States and at EU level. Among those featured were dual vocational training systems in Austria, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, France's law on the right to disconnect and Italy's training leave schemes.