Flanders finances ILO Global Programme on skills and lifelong learning

The Flemish Government will fund an ILO International Programme on Skills. Interview with Julie Bynens, Secretary-General of the Flemish Department of Chancellery and Foreign Affairs, and David Maenaut, General Representative of Flanders to the UN in Geneva.

News | 23 May 2022
At the end of March, the Flemish Government confirmed that it will fund the ILO International Programme on Skills and Lifelong Learning (GPSL3). This programme aims to give women, men, enterprises and communities access to market-relevant, inclusive and high-quality lifelong learning.

ILO-Brussels interviewed Julie Bynens, Secretary-General of the Flemish Department of Chancellery and Foreign Affairs, and David Maenaut, General Representative of Flanders to the UN in Geneva, about this decision.

- What do you see as the most important challenges in terms of skills and the future of work?

Julie Bynens: The Global Commission on the Future of Work has identified many challenges since 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has been added to those challenges. For example, income and labour market inequality increased and vulnerable groups were disproportionately affected. But the pandemic was also an important wake-up call: it highlighted the importance of several crucial elements in achieving decent work. Let me list some of them: the need for skills and lifelong learning to get through transitions and contribute to reconstruction, and the need for social protection, including for teachers and trainers.

For Flanders, the challenge is clear: to achieve growth and prosperity, more people need to be in work, with a target of an 80% employment rate. To offer a solution to the current shortage and mismatch on the labour market, lifelong learning is crucial, also to ensure that people remain resilient in the face of major social transitions. The green and digital transition will increase the demand for specific profiles and skills. We also know that jobs will disappear in certain sectors. Through retraining programmes, we can guide employees from shrinking sectors to growing sectors.

Flexibility and openness to learning may thus become the most important competences for the 21st century. But participation in lifelong learning in Flanders still lags far behind: only 21% of the Flemish population participated in non-formal or formal learning in the past 12 months. We must therefore focus on developing a learning culture to lubricate the labour market.

- Flanders is investing heavily in the development of skills, reskilling and upskilling. How do you organise the consultation with the social partners on skills and lifelong learning? And what are your ambitions with this policy at EU and international level?

Julie Bynens: The tripartite consultation between the Flemish social partners and the Flemish Government on socio-economic themes takes place in the Flemish Economic Social Consultation Committee (VESOC). In December 2020, the VESOC agreement 'All hands on deck' was published. One of the three top priorities in that agreement is a training and career offensive to realise lifelong learning and to strengthen the careers of more Flemings through training, retraining and (re)orientation. Many of the actions from that agreement are included in the EU co-financed plan for recovery and resilience.

I would also like to draw attention to the broad Partnership for Lifelong Learning, which brings together partners from the worlds of education and work to address the challenges of lifelong learning. They came up with the action plan 'Setting course towards a learning Flanders', which was ratified by the Flemish Government in December 2021. It defines 47 priority actions to achieve a training participation rate of 60% by 2030, in line with the European ambitions.

As far as the ambitions are concerned, Flanders considers it important that the international acquis on the right of access to quality lifelong learning (amongst others via SDG 4) not be weakened. The international level is the ideal forum to exchange best practices, but also to establish standards and thus raise the bar worldwide. For that reason, Flanders considers it important to contribute constructively to the development of a normative instrument on workplace learning at the International Labour Conference. We also want to contribute to the implementation of the UNESCO Recommendation on Adult Learning and Education, of which the monitoring report will be presented at the World Conference on Adult Learning and Education (Marrakesh, 15-17 June).

The EU, too, wants to guarantee maximum opportunities in learning and working for everyone. The European Commission recently issued a recommendation on individual learning accounts. This is in line with our own ambition to develop an individual learning account in Flanders and gives us the opportunity to discuss and exchange good practices on the European level.

To gain insight into the challenges of green jobs and skills in the Flemish economy, we obtained technical support from the European Commission for a green skills roadmap for Flanders. The goal is to set up a strategy and an action plan for green jobs and skills together with stakeholders. By cleverly responding to the climate challenges, we can contribute to the productivity, competitiveness and innovation of Flanders.

- Why does Flanders support the Skills and Lifelong Learning programme (GPSL3)?

David Maenaut: The objective of the Skills and Lifelong Learning programme is to support the ILO with different donors in the area of access to and transitions in the labour market (objective 5 of the ILO Programme and Budget). The Flemish contribution is focused on the digital transition with interventions in two emerging economies, India and South Africa. The programme ties in with the ambition of the Flemish Government to focus on lifelong learning and the acquisition of skills, including digital skills. These themes are given a very prominent place in the Flemish post-covid recovery policy.

Programme support contributes to greater coherence and efficiency, which leads to more impact and sustainability. And programme funding offers the opportunity to enter into discussion with the ILO and other donors about the direction and roll-out of the programme.

- Flanders is an important donor of the ILO. What achievements are you most proud of?

David Maenaut: Together with the ILO, Flanders has developed an important partnership. Thirty years of cooperation has led to many fine results.

For example, a number of key publications have been delivered on labour provisions in trade agreements. Recently, the ILO launched the Labour Provisions in Trade Agreements Hub, an interactive database with the labour provisions from more than 100 trade agreements. This web tool offers a benchmark of labour provisions in international agreements, which form the legal basis for an international level playing field.

Flanders is committed to innovative projects that can be scaled up. From a recent evaluation, it appeared that various projects have played a catalysing role. In South Africa, Flanders supported the development of a policy for social entrepreneurship, which now serves as a model for the African Union. The development of a natural stone strategy for India was the precursor for projects of larger donors such as Japan or the EU in other sectors.