Leonardo works with schools and universities to educate the tech talents of the future

Future professions will be different. The ripple effect of progressive digitalisation in  countless areas of production, institutions and services offers job opportunities not only in technical fields, but also in a great variety of sectors linked with various aspects of people’s everyday lives: from environmental sustainability to mobility and agriculture. Technology is evolving at a fast pace, and the educational system must be ready to respond to a growing demand for interdisciplinary profiles with a solid background in STEM disciplines, and a toolkit of soft skills.  

We are living in the data economy era, based on the capability of institutions and enterprises to make use of growing quantities of digital information. Properly sorting, aggregating, managing, and interpreting the enormous amount  of data conveyed by today’s technologies is the key to developing corporate strategies, staying competitive, and providing the community with advanced services. And, of course, we need to protect all this data with secure-by-design infrastructure and systems capable of acting as a shield, protecting every single item of data throughout its lifetime.

The unrivalled star of this revolution will be artificial intelligence, on its way to becoming the key infrastructure for “reading” the complexity of the data at our disposal and extracting its value, making production processes faster and more efficient, improving the existing services available to people and creating new ones. In this transition, increasingly advanced technology will support people in many traditional professions and, at the same time, act as an essential lever for creating new professions based on man-machine collaboration.

Machines will do a lot, but they cannot do everything. Artificial intelligence will not be capable of replacing human thought, realising complex strategies, or performing critical analyses. Human beings will remain competitive because of our “intrinsically human” capabilities such as intuition, emotional intelligence, and creativity.

This scenario represents a dual challenge for our societies: a need for a major professional reskilling, as vast in scale as that of the industrial revolution or the early computer age, and for a complete redesign of education and training, in order to prepare professionals capable of building and overseeing digital transformation processes and ensuring that they represent an opportunity for all.


The European scenario

Digital skills are indispensable for meeting the goals set by the Digital Compass, which is guiding the European Union’s path to a complete, secure digital transition: 100% digitalisation ation of public services, digital transformation of enterprises with 75% use of the cloud/AI/big data, and a secure, sustainable digital infrastructure.

A lot remains to be done in Europe. The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) published annually by the European Commission reveals that four out of ten adults and one active person out of three lacks basic digital skills. Moreover, women are underrepresented in technology-related studies and professions: only one out of every five computer experts and one out of every three graduates in STEM disciplines is a woman. This situation has a negative impact on the labour market. The European Commission’s proposal in 2023, the "European Year of Skills", noted that 70% of enterprises could not find workers with sufficient digital skills, and calculated that 20 million experts would need to be hired by the year 2030.


Preparing for a job that doesn’t exist yet

What will the jobs of the future be like? “By 2030, people who are young today will be working at jobs that don’t even exist yet, because 85% of jobs in 2030 haven't been invented yet”. This is what a study conducted by the Institute For The Future (IFTF) found in 2017, adding: “The pace of change will be so rapid that people will learn 'in-the-moment' using new technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality. The ability to gain new knowledge will be more valuable than the knowledge itself”. Today, these words are more relevant than ever.

This is the paradox created by the speed of advancement of technology, which is evolving so fast that our social and economic organisations are struggling to keep up. The result is that young people enter the workforce with a cultural background that is insufficient to satisfy future demands.

To cite just a few examples, think of nurses and doctors, who will have to perform operations remotely, using completely digital systems; lawyers who will use Chat GPT language recognition systems to write their reports; the digital humanities sector, in which digital tools and techniques will be used to research and study sources in countless sectors, such as history, philosophy, art creation, literature and law; and, of course, high-tech industries such as Leonardo, in which products are built and tested digitally before a single item is constructed.


STEM and interdisciplinarity as the pillars of high-tech education

What must the tech talents of the future have in their “toolkit”? First, a solid foundation in STEM disciplines, which are by nature more flexible and ready to adapt to the demands of a labour market increasingly committed to the digital and environmental transition. The growing number of digital professions, however, will require new forms and models of labour organisation. Technical skills must be combined with soft skills such as problem-solving, creative thinking, an aptitude for teamwork and life-long learning, because the digital professions of today could well be obsolete tomorrow, while new and unexpected ones will arise. The distinctions between technology and the humanities must be eliminated to make way for broad interdisciplinary areas of study, in which technological innovation arises out of the alliance between tech and the humanities, the convergence of a great variety of professional profiles, from the engineer to the designer, from the linguist to the mathematician, from the environmental expert to the social scientist.


The open ecosystem of education in Leonardo

Leonardo plays an essential role in overseeing and developing skills of strategic importance not only for its own growth, but for the economic and social development of the areas in which it works. This is why identification and education of future professionals, linked with disruptive emerging technologies, is the company’s most valuable area of investment. Long-term planning of the company’s training initiatives is indispensable to achieving this goal, in addition to creating an open ecosystem.


In this context, in-house management and enhancement of know-how supports people throughout their career at Leonardo, encouraging life-long learning with upskilling and reskilling processes and use of innovative technological tools based on digitalisation and artificial intelligence. The goal is to align people’s skills with future demands, planning training initiatives and reducing the need for outsourcing.

Leonardo also participates in several strategic European skill development initiatives. These include participation in the Pact For Skills, one of the 12 actions required to implement the Skill Agenda for Europe. The initiative aims to mobilise stakeholders involved in specific sectors, in order to create better upskilling and reskilling opportunities for students and workers in Europe, sharing specific commitments. The Pact will also help encourage the transition towards digitalisation and automation.

Leonardo has also set up the Leonardo Academies for education within and outside the company, connected with the business areas in which the Group operates: helicopters, aircraft, defence electronics and cyber security.

A network of 12 Leonardo Labs and 4 Joint Labs, technology incubators for the development of frontier and breakthrough technologies interconnected with universities, polytechnic institutes, research centres and partner enterprises, also plays a key role in developing new skills for digital innovation. The Labs are located close to Leonardo’s principal industrial sites, with the goal of facilitating technology transfer, thus benefitting local communities and consolidating collaboration with institutions. At the same time, they provide Leonardo with a constant flow of talent, while continually renewing professional skills and know-how, on the basis of a model in which research fellows and PhD students from all over the world work alongside the company’s own experts and technicians.

Leonardo for scientific citizenship

The education of future tech talents cannot be limited to a single organisation; it must necessarily be part of a wider-ranging strategy leveraging the educational system to cultivate the necessary skills and transform high-potential students into professionals of essential importance for ensuring true correspondence between supply and demand on the labour market. In order to develop a culture of talent, Leonardo is committed to establishing a widespread scientific citizenship, and sharing knowledge and technological innovation with the communities the company works in.

This commitment takes concrete form in countless initiatives implemented in schools and universities to promote the study of STEM disciplines and educate the younger generations. These initiatives contribute to the achievement of the UN 2030 Agenda's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and in particular goals number 4, promoting quality education, and 9, promoting technological skills in industry, encouraging innovation to attract people and resources towards Research and Development.

STEMLab for schools: stepping into the technologies of the future

STEMLab is a digital education programme offering high school teachers all over Italy free teaching materials for lessons in STEM disciplines, thus encouraging students to explore topics related to science and innovation. Since its launch, the initiative has involved over 1,400 schools, in which tens of thousands of students – supported by more than 1,900 teachers – have learned about the world of advanced technologies and the skills required to govern their increasingly rapid evolution. This year’s new edition will introduce units focusing on cyber security and transportation, in addition to the existing units on artificial intelligence, big data, 3D printing, REACh (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) and space robotics, for which the company offers teaching resources, laboratory guides, live talks and contests on the Digital Education platform for teachers.

STEMLab also includes In flight with Leonardo, a programme that is part of the  Italian Ministry of Education and Merit's Soft Skills and Guidance Path (PCTO), which has replaced the former work placement schemes. The programme focuses on various flight topics from a technological evolution perspective, which is not only transforming aircraft but producing significant changes for individuals and communities, in terms of new services and activities. From airport management to drones, from electrification to vertical flight, students in the programme learn about the aerospace industry and the skills required to work in the field. Launched in February 2023, halfway through the academic year, in just a few months the programme saw the participation of over 2,000 students from more than 200 schools, who then went on to complete the programme.


Other initiatives

Through a partnership with a number of Italian Advanced Technical Institutes (now known as ITS Academies), Leonardo supports a strategic reservoir for the development of professional skills and for the enhancement of the economic fabric and industrial vocation of the communities in which it is present. The Group’s own employees cover 50% of the hours of instruction and contribute to the educational content and professional profiles. The company also offers students opportunities to gain on-the-job-experience in its industrial sites.

Moreover, Leonardo has launched a collaboration with the Metropolitan City of Rome and the Region of Lazio, offering a vocational programme for training cyber security operators. This concrete tool combats drop-out rates and provides students with the skills required to work in high-tech companies.

The Vocational Training Centre in Acilia (Rome) for Computer Operators in partnership with Leonardo

Leonardo is a partner of the Young Cyber Security Academy, established in 2022 with the goal of raising cyber security awareness in schools, highlighting all the possible risks involved (cyberbullying, stalking, identity theft, revenge porn, and so on) through the participation of students aged 11 to 19 and their teachers in a digital education programme.

The company recently joined the Cybersecurity Skill Academy, a European Union project set up to coordinate all existing cyber skills initiatives, in order to bridge the talent gap in the sector, while at the same time boosting the competitiveness, growth and resilience of the EU. The pledge undertaken by Leonardo envisages the provision of cyber security training projects, some based on experiential learning, that focus on two distinct areas: the corporate sector, with cyber awareness and introductory courses for ongoing professional training, and the educational sector, with events aimed at young students through the Young Cyber and Security Academy.

Space, instead, was the focus of a partnership with the non-profit association Il cielo itinerante: Leonardo participated in a number of stages of the Italy shines – Constellations 2023 programme promoting awareness of space technologies and the STEM skills required to build a future career in the space industry among students aged 10 to 14.

Leonardo also pays particular attention to encouraging STEM studies among females. Some examples include the Girls@Polimi project, through which Leonardo helps finance scholarships to female students who choose to study engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan, and the European Parliament initiative #Hackher, a multidisciplinary project to promote gender integration in Information Technology that Leonardo supports. 

Leonardo’s STEM Ambassadors

STEM ambassadors from Leonardo's business areas encourage young people to undertake STEM studies, promoting a passion for science and technology through seminars and lectures. In Italy, Leonardo’s STEM ambassadors visit ITS Academies and talk to students, not only to educate them in the sciences but to stimulate their curiosity and attract them to technical professions that respond to the areas’ industrial vocation.

Within the School and Enterprise System, promoted by the ELIS consortium, Leonardo participated in the Role Model and School4Life projects. In the former, 25 role models from Leonardo, female employees with a STEM background who have completed a 21-hour training programme to guide students in the pursuit of their future aspirations, gave inspirational talks to middle school and high school students. In the latter project, Leonardo recruited 18 experts within the company (role models, mentors and teachers) to implement a guidance and education programme in middle schools and high schools, complete with field trips to production facilities.

Additionally, Leonardo supports the Young Women Empowerment Programme (YEP) for female students in southern Italy, promoted by the Ortygia Business School Foundation, focused on the skills of the future and a culture of gender equality to combat stereotypes in education and professions. In the UK, the focus on women in STEM disciplines includes career fairs, summer school programmes and special competitions, and has led to an increase of women in internships, apprenticeships, and industrial placement programmes, now approaching 20%.


Advanced education alongside universities

Leonardo sees its collaboration with the world of academia and research as key to developing the specialised knowledge and ongoing professional education required for technological innovation programmes. The company’s network of partnerships with universities is vast and highly diversified, in Italy and abroad, through research and development framework agreements and through industrial doctorates and technology transfer. This benefits not only the company’s competitiveness, but also the universities’ attractiveness, the students’ employability and the overall economic growth of its local communities.

Important initiatives include the Aerotech Academy, now in its fourth edition, in partnership with the Federico II University in Naples: a process of advanced education in cutting-edge engineering topics, providing theoretical skills and concrete operative abilities that can be immediately put to use in high-tech industries.

The 42 Roma – Luiss project is the result of Leonardo’s agreement with Luiss Guido Carli University for the promotion of new cyber security talents in an innovative coding school. This model of education is based on a peer-to-peer educational pathway that enables participants to learn on the field, carrying out hands-on activities, also in gamification mode. 42 Roma Luiss adopts the philosophy and pedagogical model conceived in Paris under the name École 42 (where 42 is a tribute to Douglas Adams’ acclaimed science fiction novel, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) to train a new generation of young innovators who can lead Italy's transition towards the digital industry.

The Drone Contest is an open innovation initiative promoting the development of artificial intelligence applied to unmanned flight systems. In the 2023 edition, which will last three years, seven Italian universities will participate in a series of challenges involving the use of drones in complex missions and in conditions of complete autonomy. A “game of drones”, therefore, but also a scouting opportunity to seek out the best talents and establish an ecosystem in which research projects can compete with one another. Through the Drone Contest, Leonardo sponsors a research contract for the 2023-2025 three-year period in each of the seven universities.

Awards ceremony in Sant’Anna High School (Pisa) - First stage in the second Drone Contest – 9 November 2023