The Upskill 4.0 initiative is a forward-thinking addition to the city, promoting and highlighting Venice as the ideal location for an experimental and experiential laboratory for new intergenerational collaborations.
By Antonella Baretton
7 February 2023
Projects like Upskill 4.0 are certainly to be applauded. Conceived by the company of the same name, which is a spin-off of the Università di Ca’ Foscari department of business management, the project is also promoted by the Fondazione di Venezia, showing a concrete willingness on the part of local entities and institutions to promote Venetian craftmanship as an alternative to the tourism monoculture and a tool for urban and residential regeneration policies.
The project, in its second edition, is already in an advanced phase. The first step is the selection of a panel of companies based in the area of metropolitan Venice (islands included) that are interested in developing projects for digitalization and innovation. The businesses must be available to collaborate with and bring in groups of students from technical institutes, specially selected from universities from every part of Italy. Students were specifically selected from: ITS Fitstic, ITS Academy LAST, Fondazione ITS Turismo Veneto, ITS Tessile, Abbigliamento e Moda – Biella, ITS Servizi alle Imprese.
The students are assisted by tutors, coordinated by Stefano Micelli’s team at Ca’ Foscari, and will be free to conceive and develop projects that the visits to the assigned business inspire for them. The goal is to foster true interaction between generations and different skill sets, where the still uncontaminated creativity of a young digital native, naturally inclined to innovation, is put at the service of the business reality. The ultimate objective is to conceive and create a prototype. This will be followed by a narration of what was done, because communicating is as important as doing.
Operationally the project is divided into various phases, in a path spanning several months. It began last November with the presentation of the selected subjects, including many start-ups and micro-enterprises, all of which, it should be noted, are united by a pronounced vocation for “sustainability”: Micromega Eyewear (producer of titanium glasses), Rehub Srl (recycling of glass for design). Ramosalso (upcycling of discarded textiles, or rather “circular” tailoring), Martina Vidal (lace from Burano), Rimani (neighborhood shop with locally sourced products), Gloria Rogliani (voga alla veneta), Wetlands (publishing house specializing in subjects of sustainability), Sullaluna (bookstore bistrot).
Last January, once the second phase began, the students’ first visit to a company took place, aimed at researching the reference context and at the “definition”, that is conducting a series of interviews with clients who are potentially interested in the project. In other words, starting by accurately identifying the reference environment, the project’s concrete requirements, and the needs expressed by clients is essential, and must be done prior the formulation of the project.
This approach, typically defined with the Anglo-Saxon phrase “design thinking”, forces the students to engage in an investigation that is fundamental to any process of design definition and creation. Finding adequate answers to the question “What are the needs? What is the interest and who is interested?” allows directing the creative process towards winning solutions, because they align with and meet the needs of the reference environment. “Design thinking” (which is explicitly referred to on the digital platform created by Upskill 4.00) is a methodology that is applied for solving problems of strategy, organization, and the development of new products and services; it allows making crucial and strategic decisions with the promise of drastically reducing the associated risks. It is defined as “user-centric”, as it starts from the people whose behaviors are observed and whose needs are understood and then transferred into the product to be designed.
The third phase of the process, which is now underway, is the actual product conception phase. Having identified the objectives and the needs expressed by the already identified clients, the ideas that best adhere to the design challenge will be chosen, taking into account their feasibility also from the point of view of economic sustainability. In the context of real product development this is an equally essential point.
Precisely because they are now engaged in the “brainstorming” phase, the participating companies still don’t know the specifics of the projects they will actually decide to pursue.
At Burano, for example, the students of ITS Fitstic di Bologna were assigned a course of design and implementation of AR and VR systems, acronyms for augmented reality and virtual reality. Both techniques are used by marketers to increase the involvement of potential clients, “brand awareness”, and to offer a personalized shopping experience. It will be interesting to learn what the students end up selecting, taking account of the reference environment; will they opt for virtual reality (the recreation of a new reality through the use of visors, headphones and control sticks) or choose reality that is simply “augmented”, enriched by digital elements not present in the actual context. In this case a mobile device equipped with a webcam is sufficient…
The creation of the prototype, its presentation and narration follow this coming March.
Last Friday, February 3, the project was presented to the press as part of a series of meetings promoted by the Fondazione di Venezia, “Venezia, capitale del nuovo artigianato” “Venice, capital of the new craftsmanship”. It was a meeting that undoubtedly had more political than technical significance, given the presence of the Regional Councilor for Instruction and Training Elena Donazzan, of the Municipal Councilor for Commerce Simone Venturini, representatives of trade associations (Confartigianato and CNA), as well as the president of the IUAV Foundation, Alberto Ferlenga. The president of the Fondazione di Venezia, Michele Bugliesi, emphasized the proportional correlation between residents and the number of artisan businesses present in the area, an observation that was echoed by Michela Scibilia, the president of CNA Venezia. Going beyond the usual rhetoric and sum of good intentions that worthy initiatives like this call for, Scibilia pointed out that craftsmanship is not only excellence, but also and especially services. From this observation followed the consideration that where there is no demand there can be no corresponding offer. Thus, the deadly decrease in residents has also forced the drastic diminishing of artisan businesses.
Scibilia went on to make another important point, commenting on the absolute shortage of young people who decide to dedicate themselves professionally to artisan work. Most approach it as a simple hobby – and penalizing and excessively burdensome rules regarding apprenticeships are also responsible. Finally there was a positive and unexpected note, underlined by Ferlenga: the fact that MoSE is functioning, at least for the immediate and near future, allows the city to recover spaces that had been unusable for some time because they would be submerge during acqua alta events. These locations could once again be earmarked for productive and artisanal activities. This, it should be added, would require a policy that aimed to regulate (and lower) these commercial rentals in favor of authentic artisanal activities. Otherwise the usual logic of the market will prevail.
Thus the “complexity of Venice” that assessor Venturini invoked during his speech seems to become far clearer with the simple consideration that it is necessary to restore conditions that make the city attractive again for those who want to live there (even temporarily). This has to be done by resolving the main underlying problem, or rather the absence of residential rental contracts, even short-term ones. It is not complex to argue that residents needs electricians rather than dry cleaning, while tourist locations are very often managed by outsourcing through dimensionally structured companies that are present outside the municipal area.
In short, if nothing else, meetings such as this have the merit of keeping the debate alive on the now scarce productive realities present in the city (Councilor Donazzan, however, preannounced a “Venice Fund” financed by the European Social Fund, which for Veneto has as much as one billion Euros to disburse in the next six years!). Meanwhile, the Upskill 4.0 initiative is a forward-thinking addition to the city, promoting and highlighting Venice as the ideal location for an experimental and experiential laboratory for new intergenerational collaborations. And who knows; that urban and innovative regeneration that Bugliesi hopes for might really come to pass.