The global challenge of Covid-19 threw up unprecedented opportunities to rethink the way we organise jobs and the workplace. Digitalisation has become a part of everyday life, and partnered development of technologies has become ever more relevant for the whole world. It is time for countries to work together to find new solutions.
At the 2019 edition of the biennial WorldSkills competition in Kazan, the Russian arm of the international WorldSkills organisation showcased a new section, Future Skills, focused on activities in the digital economy and high tech. The initiative garnered a lot of interest internationally, and a number of countries worldwide have signed up for a Future Skills Camp, held from June 23 to August 30.
A series of collaborative practical training modules, it will be conducted online and will allow participants to demonstrate and improve upon their skills across a range of vocational competencies.
Creating expertise for a new era
The Future Skills initiative is a response to the changes in the workplace brought about by globalization and technology, and a way to predict and harness the skills that will be in demand in a digitalised world. Automation – as machines and robots take over many of the tasks formerly undertaken by human beings – will lead to an increase in demand for creativity, digital literacy and ability to control these new processes.
“There is currently a lot of discussion about the future and what it will hold,” said Alina Doskanova, director of international relations at WorldSkills Russia and Russia’s technical delegate to WorldSkills International and WorldSkills Europe. “The rapid change in technology; the development of artificial intelligence, and universal digitalisation contribute to the emergence of convergent skills, as well as the expansion of multisectoral and intersectoral cooperation.”
As new technological and social trends become apparent, the demand for appropriate training grows exponentially, and meeting these demands in a timely fashion is a challenge for modern education, as well as industry. Future Skills aims to address the problem, identifying the ways in which the labour market will be most affected in the new digital landscape, and shaping educational programmes accordingly.
The educational component is key to the work of WorldSkills Russia, and working with government leaders, academic institutions and teachers themselves to introduce the vocational training programmes into national curricula worldwide is a core objective.
“As part of the Future Skills project,” says Doskanova, we are implementing a full cycle of development in these areas: research, competency development, software development, testing in competitions and the training system. At the same time, our focus is always on the person and his or her interaction with technology.”
The research and development carried out on Future Skills by WorldSkills Russia is already shaping the direction of the movement internationally, and five of the nine new competencies that have been selected for the WorldSkills Competition in Shanghai in 2021 – additive manufacturing; building information modelling; industrial design technology; mobile apps development ¬and robot systems integration – were also developed by the Russia arm.
Responding to current challenges with flexible formats
Some of the central features of the organisation’s work are its competitions, and as industry conditions changed during the Covid-19 pandemic, WorldSkills Russia has worked hard to create innovative formats.
Holding the Future Skills Camp remotely allows participants from many different countries – including Brazil, China, South Africa, Tunisia and Portugal, as well as Russia – to expand their skill sets even within the constraints of the current circumstances, and creates opportunities for participating countries to later implement Future Skills within their educational systems and national competitions.
The organisation is also preparing a distance format for the eighth WorldSkills Russia National Competition in September, and the BRICS (the group of emerging economies comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Future Skills Challenge, to be held at the end of 2020.
“The BRICS Future Skills annual challenge is an important moment of recognition of how vital skills development, industry 4.0 and technical and vocational education are to the development agenda of BRICS countries,” says Frederico Lamego, executive manager of international relations at SENAI (National Service for Industrial Training). “The BRICS economies face different challenges for achieving a sustainable economic and social growth path. Equally, cooperation among BRICS institutions through knowledge and skills transfer could help improve the quality of technical education – the cornerstone for industrial and technological development.”
Sherrie Donaldson, CEO of African Innovators and member of the South African BRICS Working Group thinks that certain skills must be acquired for the economic growth of any country. “The shortage of skills in South Africa has become a core issue in discussions on economic growth, service delivery, social development and productivity,” she says.
“The skills shortages and associated challenges in South Africa are exacerbated by changes in the world of work, driven by changing technologies and business processes. In forecasts, the global impact of these changes ranges from 50 to 70 per cent of current jobs being lost due to technological advances. However, at the same time many new, unknown jobs are being generated. To achieve economic growth relevant future skills must be identified and developed. The Future Skills Camp and BRICS Future Skills Challenge facilitate identification and development of the required skills, and allow BRICS partners to learn from and support each other.”
A blueprint for the future
The Future Skills Camp is more than just a competition. Its remit includes a determination to build a network of potential Future Skills partner countries and create a system of collaboration between experts around the globe. As the needs of industry are identified, further competencies will be added, and training given in how to incorporate these into education, and how to evaluate the results.
The range of skills that was included at the time of the 2019 WorldSkills Kazan competition has since been developed and expanded, and in addition to those that will feature in Shanghai, now includes: digital factory; space systems engineering; digital capabilities; the Internet of Things; quantum technology; enterprise information systems security; IT software solutions; big data and machine learning; industrial robotics; robotic welding; lifecycle management; manufacturing team challenge; internet marketing; drone operating, and service robotics – with more ideas being added in response to every new shift in industry predictions.
Observed by experts in their respective fields, competitors in the Future Skills Camp will complete test projects at home or at suitably equipped venues in their home countries. Training modules will take place over a period of a few days and form one of the ways in which WorldSkills Russia aims to export its expertise to other countries. These presentations provide a way of introducing ideas to b2b and b2c markets in partner countries, with a view to developing short education programmes and laboratories.
Participants will be provided with suggestions and opportunities for further personal growth throughout their careers, partly through the launching of new digital services and platforms. Above all, the Future Skills Camp will provide experts, trainers and participants with the tools they need to face this new industrial and social reality with a broader and more flexible skill set – one which can adapt to the changing needs of this dynamic new environment.