AI is influencing all sectors in society. It is coming at a slower pace in the youth sector but it’s certainly already influencing our practices. It brings new opportunities to reach out to young people but also carries new challenges for us to tackle.
If I take the example of Eurodesk, grasping the potential of new technologies has been a key priority for our network. We use artificial intelligence (AI) to target specific groups when promoting opportunities on social media, for example pushing the DiscoverEU call to 18 years old only, which allows us to invest smartly our limited marketing resources.
We have also introduced AI in our enquiry management system in 2018, when we have launched EMA our virtual Eurodesk Mobility Advisor. EMA is a chatbot operating in 9 languages; it is basically an algorithmic computer programme used as a virtual assistant that can independently answer questions from young people and youth workers on our website and on Facebook pages managed by the Eurodesk European office and eighth national Eurodesk centres.
We thought that EMA would reduce the number of enquiries handled by Eurodesk, but it’s quite the opposite. We see that out of the 750+ users, 1 out of 3 used the contact form to get in touch with a human Eurodesk mobility advisor. Lessons from this experience? EMA allowed us to reach out to more young people, to add an interactive dimension to our services and start a conversation with new users, but EMA certainly did not reduce the number of enquiries we manage, which was our initial assumption.
So, although there is a fear that many jobs will disappear; for me, AI does not replace humans yet, at least in our field. In our youth information survey 2019; 90% of young people said they expected personalised guidance to build their mobility projects. For now, chatbots are not elaborate enough to replace this interaction. Online outreach is another tool for us to engage with our target audience. Of course, doing street work or going to schools remains at the core of our business because that’s where you reach out to all young people, especially those with fewer opportunities. Not everyone is online!
With AI and new technologies in general, it’s not the tool itself that matters but the way it is used. As youth information providers, we should make sure that technologies serve an open society, respectful of the rights of children and teenagers. I’m sure that there will be more and more AI based technologies that will help us in reaching specific target groups, and new algorithms that will be helping us in combating hate speech or fake news. However; it’s not easy to grasp the full potential of such technologies.
Those technologies also carry risks. As youth information providers, we do have a responsibility in making sure that youth workers and young people understand what AI is and the ethical, societal, privacy and safety-related implications of such technologies. We can contribute, together with schools, parents and other actors, to make sure young people are aware of the implications of AI in their life and how to best protect themselves. It’s about providing quality youth information as well as information literacy and making sure it is an integral part of the professional development of youth (information) workers.
The professionalization of our sector shall be supported by public authorities. On 22 November, the Council adopted Council Conclusions on Youth Workers’ Education and Training; it states that we should improve the education and training of youth workers making sure they are in capacity to meet adequately emerging issues such as digitalisation and increased uncertainties. The Council of Europe and the European Commission have both announced a Youth Work Agenda also prioritising the professionalization and recognition of the profession. Eurodesk is following those developments, this is why we have launched together with Eryica, Salto Training and the Youth Partnership a study on the occupation of youth worker and youth information worker as part of the ESCO review. The recognition and professionalization of our sector should be a political priority at local, national and European level.
Director of Eurodesk
This article is based on the inputs I provided during a panel discussion that took place during the seminar organised by Eurodesk, Eryica and EYCA in Palma de Mallorca, November 2019.