The Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC) kicked off its 4th City Lab last Tuesday with two public sessions on the upskilling and reskilling of cities, which featured high level European and international experts.

Moderator Dana Eleftheriadou, Head of Cities and Proximity Team, DG GROW, European Commission, set the scene of the first session focusing on preparing local workforces for the jobs of the future. Valentina Superti, Director for tourism, proximity and social economy and digital transformation of industry, DG GROW, European Commission, welcomed panellists and attendees and highlighted the role of cities in the major reskilling effort that will help local workforce deliver the EU Green Deal and its new industrial strategy. She stressed the need for integrated, cross-departmental, cross-disciplinary strategies for cities and local economies, from skills to access to funding and from business support to partnerships and cooperation.

High level speakers from OECD and UN Environment Programme

Karen Maguire, Head of Division, Local Employment, Skills and Social Innovation, OECD,  focused on three specific topics: global trends shaping local needs, challenges for cities and what cities can do. She highlighted that cities and regions often struggle with limited formal competences and face many challenges because quite often those who need the most training are the least likely to get it. Cities can convene the power by supporting inclusion though adult learning and they can develop resilience by creating effective local partnerships. This begins with getting employers on board and helping SMEs become more sophisticated.

According to Sharon Gil, Lead, Circular Economy in Cities, UN Environment Programme, circularity is a cross cutting triple strategy for cities, that expands in the areas of circular construction, servitisation and neighbourhood food systems. She stressed the need to connect circular economy and jobs, for a just transition while outlining that jobs are pivotal indicators and a proxy for well-being. The Circular Jobs Monitor, a collaboration between UNEP and Circle Economy Social Enterprise, provides data from 300 cities and gives a robust estimate of the number of local circular jobs. “The beauty of the monitor is that cities will be able to connect with each other and share data as the platform continues to grow”, Ms Gil said.

The ICC Pragmatic Guide to Reskilling

Before representatives from ICC cities spoke, Niels Van der Linden, Vice President - EU Lead, Capgemini Invent - presented ICC’s Reskilling Guide. He highlighted the 20 best practices that are available in the Guide from ICC cities such as Amsterdam Metropolitan Area (The Netherlands) and Pori (Finland).

ICC cities’ experience

Sébastien Viano, Director Europe & Alain Chateau, Vice-President, Higher Education, Research and Training, Metropole Nice Cote d’Azur (France), were the first to share their experience and work done. Mr Viano explained the city’s revitalisation programmes to turn territorial weaknesses into development opportunities, “We managed to bring new companies to our territory and support those that were already here”. Nice has proven its investment in development and innovation strategies, and was recently recognised as a finalist in the iCapital Awards. “What we are putting in place is a more bottom-up approach, meaning that we are going to start from the people and see what are their abilities, their knowledge and their competencies” Mr Chateau added.

Pirita Ihamäki, Manager AI Roundtable, Robocoast Consortium, City of Pori (Finland), shared best practices from the city including their engagement to the Pact for Skills. Robocoast is a non-profit international centre of excellence and digital hub for cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. One of its core services is ‘Skills and Training’ which encompass matchmaking talent and companies, entrepreneurship advisory services and a robotics academy. RoboAI is its global innovation platform for research and development, providing companies with product development services connected to automation, robotics and AI and start-up services to students and new entrepreneurs. This programme has already connected the communities of several cities to learn together and co-develop and hopes to be extended further.

Dr. Catherine Chandler-Crichlow, Dean of the School of Continuing Studies, University of Toronto, City of Toronto (Canada), revealed how cities have partnered with universities to help the local workforce. “These initiatives have been developed as multi stakeholder engagement that bring together key institutions and ecosystem stakeholders, that are critical in addressing the supply and demand of talent for key sectors in the Toronto region”.

Funding opportunities

The second public session focusing on funding opportunities for cities followed shortly after the first session. Five European Commission representatives spoke on the following topics:

1. Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF)
The temporary recovery instrument of RRF which will help mitigate the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, has a strong link to the upskilling and reskilling topic. Across the 26 plans already been submitted, 22 approved and 17 recipients of pre-financing, many RRF proposals specifically mentioned reskilling activities meaning specific funding will be dedicated to this cause. “One of the aims of the plan is to support the green transition and digital transition and, that is what we called twin transition. This twin transition in cities is very important,” Sophie Weisswange, DG GROW, European Commission.

2. European Social Fund Plus (ESF+)
ESF+ will be implemented through shared management – by national or regional authorities in partnership with the Commission and relevant stakeholders and has a budget of over €99 billion for the 2021-2027 period to invest in several priority areas including reskilling and upskilling people for the transition to a green and digital economy, transnational cooperation for promoting social innovation across the EU and supporting young people who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. “ESF+ is and will remain the EU’s key instrument for investing in human capital” stated Raphaëlle Bolognini, DG EMPL, European Commission who encouraged outreach to the managing authorities to ensure that dedicated programmes on upskilling and reskilling are prioritised. 

3. European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)
From 2021-2027, the Fund aims to make Europe more competitive, smarter, greener, more connected, more social and closer to citizens. As the Fund hopes to contribute to reducing disparities between the levels of development of European regions and to improve living standards in the least-favoured regions, digital skills for all has been identified as a top priority. In addition, digital skills in education and for the labour force are also of strong importance. Existing ERDF funded projects include a simulator for the education and training of cyber security incident handlers and the modernisation of a training laboratory. According to Pia Laurila, DG REGIO, European Commission, a minimum of 8% of national allocation must be directed toward integrating territorial development focused on urban areas. “The local experience is what is needed for skills and transformation for the future,” Ms Laurila said. A best practice is Berlin’s digital skills map.

4. Erasmus+
The EU's programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe, Erasmus+ has a range of relevant initiatives that can assist with the upskilling and reskilling of workforces. Opportunities to learn are available for all through Erasmus+, from students to adult learners to organisations outside of the EU. Jacqueline Pacaud, Head of Sector, DG EAC, European Commission, outlined Erasmus+ goals for the 2021-2027 period including an aspiration for 10 million participants. She emphasised the benefits for learners, teachers and organisations and encouraged local authorities to participate. “As a coordinator or partner of mobility you can implement a European strategy for learning, promote the values of inclusion and diversity, support professional development and create synergies between sectors.”

5. Digital Europe Programme (DEP)
The Digital Europe Programme will provide funding for projects in five key capacity areas to transform Europe into a greener and more digital future. These areas include supercomputing, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, advanced digital skills and ensuring a wide use of digital technologies across economy and society. The first call for proposals was launched on 17 November. “We really want all active stakeholders to work together, and that includes cities,” said Arthur Treguier, DG CNECT, European Commission.

The ICC thanks all speakers and attendees who joined us on the first day of the 4th ICC City Lab and looks forward to continuing the sessions.