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If we had to summarize in a single word the prevailing feeling in the Italian youth population (and not only) about their professional future, we could certainly use terms like "uncertainty", "distrust" or "resignation". This is the worrying picture that emerges from a recent survey conducted by the poll institute Antonio Noto on the newspaper La Nazione. The latter reveals in fact that only 20% of the under-25s interviewed have excellent expectations for the future, while only 15% see themselves in 10 years with a stable job, and 42% believe that they should certainly leave our country to seek their fortune. An overall state of deep insecurity, therefore, dictated above all by the lack of confidence that young people place in the current capacity of educational institutions to ensure appropriate education to the demands of the labour market. According to the results of the survey, in fact, as many as 57% of the Italian millennials interviewed are convinced that they will be forced to accept a job in sharp discontinuity with to the skills acquired during their school and university training.

However, the issue of the mismatch between the skills required by the employers and those acquired through traditional training and available on the market, far from afflicting only our country, represents a problem of almost global scope. This is underlined by the report Fixing the Global Skills Mismatch produced by the Boston Consulting Group and published in January 2020, which highlights how the lack of workers adequately trained for the professional roles in the current world of work affects the dynamics of economic development in a very significant way, burdening the global economy as a 6% tax, equal to about 5 billion dollars. The report also says that the skills mismatch, which currently involves about 1.3 billion workers worldwide, the 40% of all those in OECD countries, is in fact expected to increase in the coming years, involving more than 1.4 billion people by 2030, with ever deeper damage to the world economy. 

The main reason that partly justifies the fears of the young Italians interviewed, as well as the worrying estimates made by the Boston Consulting Group, is represented by one of the most rapid and shocking transformation that have ever crossed the global economic and productive fabric in the last hundred years: the digital revolution.

The Digital Transformation and Industry 4.0

With reference to the current world of work, the term Digital transformation is used to refer to the multiple applications of information and communication technologies (ICT) to production processes and systems, which leads to a radical reconfiguration of business models and organizational models, as well as the finished products themselves. Although the phenomenon can be said to have been underway for several years now, in the last period it has assumed a rhythm and speed of affirmation unknown before, also thanks to the constant evolution of the technological instrumentation available for companies and people, which has been accompanied by a progressive decrease in its cost. The main results of this dizzying technological development are already having a very wide application in the most disparate fields of the global economic system. Emerging technologies such as big data and data analysis software, Internet of Things, addictive manufacturing and, more recently, robotics and Artificial Intelligence undoubtedly represent the driving wheels of this impressive transformation, which is progressively reaching all areas of work, and whose limits and potential are still difficult to establish even for experts in the phenomenon. In the corporate sector, the expression Industry 4.0 or smart factory, first used in Germany at the beginning of the last decade to identify the new economic paradigm, characterized by an increasingly automated and inter-connected production, has become commonly used to define the integrated use of these technologies. The impact of Industry 4.0 in the most technologically advanced national contexts has already determined radical transformations of multiple aspects of the work chain, allowing a growing dematerialization of production chains, a constant push for the renewal of business models, the redefinition of the relationship with markets and customers, and an increasing integration between physical and virtual environment, thanks to the pervasive presence of inter-connected devices that monitor the workspace in real time, creating real cyber-physical systems.

CNBC correspondent Elizabeth Schulze explains the main features and results of Industry 4.0

The 4.0 employee and his skills

Perhaps the most evident consequence of these transformations is the reconfiguration of the workspace, which is increasingly characterized by a very high rate of interdependence between people and intelligent devices and between the devices themselves, now also able to self-adjust according to external conditions and to progressively learn thanks to machine learning algorithms. What is created is therefore a real "digital ecosystem", within which even the working action itself acquires a radically new meaning. As highlighted by some recent publications, collected in Il lavoro 4.0 (Cipriani, Gramolati, Mari 2018), in fact, the transformation of production processes and organizational systems entails the disappearance of the repetitive and standardized work action typical of the old Fordist paradigm, in favour of a profoundly different paradigm of action, which requires the worker greater responsibility and autonomy, as well as highly developed creative and imaginative skills, essential to choose among the countless paths of action and configuration of finished products granted by new technologies. Therefore, it can certainly be said that the most evident impact of digital transformation is represented by the need for a change in the profile of the standard worker, who can no longer limit himself to the simple repetitive application of knowledge learned previously, but is increasingly forced to exercise critical, creative and reflective capacities with respect to his own action strategies and objectives, as with the context in which he usually operates. He is in fact called to continuously generate new knowledge from what he has available, to become more innovative than just a producer. In the light of such transformations it is therefore possible to argue as in the new paradigm of Industry 4.0

the production of value does not occur through the application of previously learned knowledge, which is limited to replicate or use, but requires an active reworking and generative transformation of what is known.

Massimiliano CostaFormatività e lavoro nella società delle macchine intelligenti, Milano, Franco Angeli, 2019, p. 23


At this point it is clear that the transition to the new paradigm of production and work action of Industry 4.0. highlights the strong need to provide workers in the near future with skills other than those currently widespread. But what exactly are the new skills required by the digital transformation and how can they be acquired? This and other important questions will be answered in a forthcoming article.

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