Global Forum

Boosting Skills for a Just Transition and the Future of Work

Statement | Geneva | 06 June 2019
Minister, Ambassadors, participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me add my welcome to this Global Forum. In particular I would like to thank all of you who have travelled far, from all parts of the world, to join us today.

A particular word of appreciation to the ILO’s partner agencies: the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, SIDA, and the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, CEDEFOP. Their contribution for today’s event has been absolutely indispensable.

Ladies and gentlemen, today is a particularly special moment because we have three things to celebrate.

The first is the ILO’s Centenary, which is an opportunity to look forward to new goals, as well as to celebrate past achievements.

Secondly, although one day late, we have an opportunity to mark World Environment Day yesterday.

Last, but certainly not least, this is the first ILO ‘Green Week’, in which we are highlighting everything we are doing at the ILO to shape a greener future of work.

So it is an auspicious moment to come together for this forum.


Looking out into this room I can see an enormous amount of knowledge and experience.

I am confident that bringing you all together at this forum is going to generate important new insights on skills needs and skills gaps, on good practices, and on strategies to respond to the environmental challenges we face as we try to create a just transition for all.

I think we are all aware that climate change and environmental degradation are among the greatest challenges of our times. There is a growing sense of urgency about what is happening, and increasing demands for concrete action.

Let us recall that four years ago, the international community made two crucial steps forward, with the adoption of both the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals - the SDGs.

In that same year, 2015, the ILO’s Governing Body unanimously adopted the “Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all”. Those Guidelines stressed the importance of skills development as a key policy area in the transition to a future that is environmentally sustainable and just.

These ILO Guidelines were highlighted in the “Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration” that was adopted at the UN Climate Change Conference just last December.

In this context today’s global forum is particularly important because it gives an opportunity to bring all these strands together, and reinforce the momentum for progress.

And I feel it is particularly fortuitous that we meet on the eve of an International Labour Conference that will be charged with adopting an important declaration on the future of work, where among controversial issues on the table, the introduction of climate change into the historic texts of the ILO will be before us.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Climate change and environmental degradation are not the only challenge facing us in shaping a just and sustainable future of work. Skills development systems will be crucial. They also have to respond effectively to the many other forces that are transforming the way we live and we work.

There is massive discussion in the media about how technology and for example machine learning will affect the number and type of jobs we will have in the future, indeed the very nature of work. I think we all understand that this 4th industrial revolution will inevitably entail a process of creative destruction, which will generate many new jobs and destroy others. The balance has, historically, ultimately always been positive for employment creation. We already see opportunities in the way that innovations such as renewable energy or new materials are helping to build carbon-neutral economies.

The ILO’s own research says that a green transition could create millions of new jobs. Take energy sustainability; by 2030 we could see a net gain of some 18 million jobs. But to benefit from these new job opportunities people will of course need to be equipped with the appropriate new skills.

We must also not forget that the research suggests that some 6 million jobs could be lost; there is a negative and a positive side to the balance sheet. These workers will need reskilling and up-skilling to help them find new jobs, and to ensure our societies are not damaged by the consequences.

Of course, a just and inclusive transition to a green economy will not happen by default. The figures I’ve mentioned are what can happen, not what will happen. Everything depends on what we do. It requires effective policies, institutions and action. We will need to support businesses so they can take advantage of the opportunities; strengthen social protection so that people do not fall through the gaps; and prepare people for new jobs with the right policies and training.

Reskilling and up-skilling are important not only because they underpin a just transition. They will also help to ensure a human-centred approach to the future of work. This was what the ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of Work proposed in its report in January of this year. And I quote from it when I speak of “a human-centred agenda…strengthens the social contract by placing people and the work they do at the centre of economic and social policy and business practice”.

It is worth recalling perhaps that the very first recommendation of the Global Commission is an entitlement to life-long learning for all workers.

The approach proposed by the Global Commission calls on us to support transitions by investing in three areas: in people’s capabilities, in the institutions of work, and in decent and environmentally sustainable jobs.

In particular, the human-centred agenda highlights the need for equal and active engagement by governments, employers and workers. In other words, social dialogue will be the principal mechanism for identifying skill needs, and for developing strategies that support the creation of new jobs and minimize the effects of changes to current forms of work.

It also calls for close partnerships with civil society organizations and with educational institutions, this at national, local and sectoral levels.

Policy makers, career counsellors, training providers, curriculum developers, and those who design competency standards all need to be involved, and to know what kind of jobs will be available and what types of skills will be needed.

This is important and specialist technical work. I therefore welcome and commend to you the new ILO report, Skills for a greener future, which has been produced in partnership with CEDEFOP. The report’s Key Findings, available for this Forum, I hope will provide invaluable guidance for your discussions.

Let me conclude, colleagues, by saying that the skills challenge we face in preparing for the future of work is daunting. But the mission is not only necessary; it’s possible, if we act together and if we act now. The future is unpredictable, but that does not mean we are powerless to anticipate and to influence it. With conscious choices, and decisive action, we can make the Future of Work we want.

I look forward very much to the results of this forum, which we will take as a prologue to the International Labour Conference that will be starting on Monday.

Thank you.