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Davos 2019: The right skills for globalization

Cesare Onestini
Cesare Onestini
Director, European Training Foundation

With Davos 2019 taking a closer look at globalization, the 'Global Markets Forum: Future is now' blog series attempts to untangle some of these challenges. Cesare Onestini shares the European Training Foundation's view of how digitalization can help equip countries with the right skills for the global economy. But are education and training systems able to keep up?


  1. The rise of globalization has highlighted the importance of education and training systems to equip us with the right skills for the future.
  2. Governments and policymakers need to think strategically to help countries develop their skills for globalization and continue to attract foreign investment.
  3. Automation and digitalization can offer opportunities to build on the diversity of our identities and the wealth of our cultures and traditions.

Globalization impacts us all. It influences who we are and what we plan to be. It determines what we eat, what we wear, how we think and how we imagine the future.

Its impact, on the whole, has been beneficial with an unprecedented decline in global poverty, growth in access to education and sanitation, and an increase in living standards.

What’s true globally is not always true for all countries, communities and individuals.

Moreover, the expectation of ever increasing welfare in some developed and developing economies is becoming unsustainable. The temptation to blame globalization for these shortcomings is strong — and at times justified!

As policymakers, we should redouble our efforts to understand and explain globalization at the local and community level — and education and training is the place we should start.

Students learning new skills at a vocational school. ETF/Ard Jongsma. Davos 2019: Developing the skills for globalization
Students learning new skills at a vocational school. ETF/Ard Jongsma

Digitalization and AI

In recent decades, we have experienced a great increase and transformation of productive activities, often summed up as de-industrialization in the north and re-industrialization in the south.

But we have also seen that this is not a zero-sum game: sharing of wealth, technology, know-how and jobs has brought benefits to many and diverse countries, and has contributed to higher global growth to meet the needs of a growing world population.

New technology, digitalization and AI have created new horizons to maintain such growth and innovation.

But redistribution of the benefits of these positive trends is falling short, generating anxiety and backlash: closing borders, restraining free trade, and fearing diversity are closely linked to the perception of losing out in today’s globalized economy.

Richness of local skills

As discussed at the European Training Foundation’s recent conference, Skills for the Future: Managing Transition, we need to think strategically about how countries can develop their skills base to continue to attract foreign investment.

And also about what skills are needed to diversify and move up the value chain towards better quality jobs and opportunities for all people.

Watch: Highlights of the Skills4Future Conference, 21-22 November 2018

This does not mean abandoning the richness of local skills and products for a bland, global one-size-fits-all financial and economic approach.

Countries cannot rely only on global value chains to drive growth. We also need to think about how skills can add value to traditional activities such as agriculture, construction, crafts or rural tourism.

Intra-regional cross-border value chains can also be created to balance global forces, building on historical, linguistic and cultural ties with neighboring countries.

Digital opportunities

When it comes to the digital revolution, the medium is very much the message.

Digitalization is already a global reality. Many activities are extensively digitalized, and in the future, all will include a digital component.

Moving from using machines to do specific tasks to working alongside machines that accomplish portions of our work need not be perceived as a threat.

Digital technology breeds opportunity. It can bridge distance, connect people and generate jobs and growth, building on human capital rather than material capital.

And it opens up opportunities in education and training and skills development — digital technology enables providers to reach large groups of people at a distance; to deliver high quality learning content wherever and whenever.

Watch: Refinitiv tackles the world’s critical sustainability and environmental issues at Davos #SustainableLeadership

Skills for globalization

There is nothing inevitable about global trends. The choices we make shape our future. We can learn from what is already happening, realities that bring the future closer to us, and open new horizons on the world of tomorrow.

Automation and digitalization do not mean standardization. If we choose, they offer opportunities to build on the diversity of our identities — to build on the wealth of our cultures and traditions, and carry them forward with us, into the world and into the future.

The rise of globalization has highlighted the importance of education and skills. Skills development is high on the agenda of governments and policymakers around the world.

Education and training systems, however, have not been able — yet — to keep pace with the speed of change and respond by creating new pathways for skills development reaping the opportunities of digitalization, promoting inclusion and excellence.

The question in front of us is whether we are ready to be bold in reforming and reinventing the way in which skills are learnt, recognized and valued.

Today more than ever, these words of Nelson Mandela should be our guiding light: “No country can develop unless its citizens are educated.”

How are global trends affecting the countries where the European Training Foundation works in the wider neighbourhood of the European Union and what impact will they have on labour markets and consequently on skills? Discover more with ‘Getting Ready For The Future‘.

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Global Markets Forum. Davos 2019: Developing the skills for globalization