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Inspiring Trend 21 July Jul 2017 1100 21 July 2017

Life-long learning: ongoing learning will save our companies

A training programme for workers of all ages and positions would improve productivity and qualifications of staff, also facilitating their redeployment.

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Technological progress has always caused some professions to adapt to changes in order to go on existing, and this subject is extremely topical today, having been amplified by globalisation and the digital revolution.

The keyword is “life-long learning”, which has been discussed for the past twenty years. It entails modifying or replacing knowledge that is inadequate to meet the new occupational needs, which are dictated both by technology and the demands of society.

Hence, the educational track does not cease with the study cycle but continues practically for a lifetime. But note that it is not a matter of simply attending refresher courses. Indeed, life-long learning improves not only personal skills related to a profession but also ensures that workers acquire transversal skills, such as digital skills, for instance, that will facilitate various duties and a possible redeployment in the labour market.

The European Union has launched several plans for “life-long learning” since 1997, but Italy has had some difficulty applying Community indications. And yet, our Country presents traits that should encourage the application of these principles, if at all considering demographic issues, since the mean age of the work force is rather high and the generational change is a complicated process.

Paradoxically, companies that provide educational and training initiatives in Italy prefer to offer them to people who are already well qualified, who have an administrative position in the company, thus increasing the gap of competences with people holding a lower position in companies.

The Economist: if education-training cannot keep up with technology, the result will be inequality.

Instead, it is evident that a “life-long learning” programme would have a decisive impact also on productivity, which has always been one of the concerns of our economy. Indeed, highly skilled personnel optimise time and easily access new technological devices with benefits for both the company and the system.

And if education-training becomes a horizontal process, from employee to employee, it can also improve integration with colleagues. We find such an example in Unipedia, UniEuro’s online platform that allows its employees to share information and curious details, ask advice, and enter images or documents. A sort of e-learning platform that is always accessible and is fuelled by interactions between employees.

But if UniEuro is one of the most important Italian retail chains of electronic products, the picture changes if we consider small and medium-size companies. Companies with a smaller number of employees, which account for the major part of the Italian entrepreneurial fabric, provide less education-training, especially due to the investment required in terms of cost and time, and for a certain historical reluctance to accept change.

A change that must first be cultural, with companies acknowledging the fact that ongoing learning is a profitable investment, and with workers realising that, today, any profession must take into account progress and globalisation.

In a special feature published a few months ago, The Economist discussed the issue of life-long learning, clearly summarising the topic by saying that, if education-learning cannot keep up with technology, the outcome will be inequality. Between subjects who can access innovation and those who are outside it, between those who know the tastes of society and those who do not, between those who estimate the future of a profession and those who cling to outdated stands.

This is why Italy must improve its data on education-training, not only in terms of numbers but also qualitatively, to recover those who have been left behind and to avoid a huge waste of human capital that could, instead, be appreciated and improved.