Questions and Answers

ILO meeting to focus on jobs and skills mismatch

ILO News talked to Paul Comyn, Senior Vocational Skills and Development Specialist in the ILO’s SKILLS branch, about the key focuses of the first annual International Conference on Jobs and Skills Mismatch from 11-12 May in Geneva.

Comment | 10 May 2017
© Jonathan Ernst / World Bank
Many countries report a persistent gap between the skills required by the labour market and those offered by the workforce. Skills mismatch can be driven by many factors including low quality education and training systems, poor use of skills in the workplace, demographic change, rapid technological development, new sources of job creation and different forms of work organization.  The outcome can negatively affect labour marker outcomes, worker productivity, enterprise competitiveness and economic growth.

ILO News: Could you outline some of the main objectives of the conference and the circumstances behind its inception?
This event is one of the key deliverables of a major program of work at the ILO, the Jobs & Skills Mismatch Global Product under development by the Employment Policy Department. The global product has been created because constituents have expressed interest in the topic of skills mismatch and we are keen to ensure that the issues and challenges associated with measuring and interpreting skills mismatch are more widely and clearly understood.

As such, one major focus of the conference will look at defining, measuring and understanding skills mismatch, as well as examining the relationship between the different types of skills mismatch and patterns of job creation and destruction in different country contexts. This will allow us to then consider the different combinations of employment and skills policies that will more effectively counter the different types of mismatch in developed and developing countries.

ILO News: What are some of the most prevalent forms of skills mismatch and how can they impact the informal economy, in particular?
Although much of the literature focuses on the issue of over or under qualification/education based on whether or not someone's qualification matches the nominal level of education required for a job, skill gaps amongst existing workers and skills shortages faced by firms who find it hard to fill, are the forms of skills mismatch that probably have the greatest labour market impact. When existing employees do not have the skills to do the work they are required to, or not able to take on new tasks, enterprise growth and development suffers. When employers don't take advantage of the skills that their employees have and don't think strategically about how those skills can be harnessed to support product and market innovation, enterprise growth and development suffers again. These issues are of particular significance to the informal economy.

But when it comes to skill shortages, which means that enterprises find it hard to fill vacancies, whilst a shortage of appropriate skills candidates can be an issue, we need to remember that other factors such as wages, working conditions, location, job design and career prospects are also factors that contribute to skills shortages in local labour markets.

ILO News: How will the conference build on the ILO Global Dialogue on the Future of Work We Want and have insights from the previous event been integrated?
The global forum last month gave some emphasis to the issue of skills: what type and level of skills will be required, how will those without the new skills be supported to adapt to the new labour market conditions? These questions and others will be explored further during the conference. What is clear is that the need for education and training systems to focus on so called generic or core skills for employability is becoming more important as the pace of technological and workplace change accelerates. The changing nature of the employment relationship also poses major challenges to education and training systems as the question of who pays for training is thrown into stark relief. The ongoing pace of change is also putting more pressure on adult learning and continuing professional education systems as existing workers will come under more pressure to update and refresh their skills on a more regular basis.

ILO News: Through the lens of the 2030 Agenda, why is it important that the ILO address the issue of Skills Mismatch in a cooperative manner (interagency and tripartite)?
SDG 4 and SDG 8 focus on issues surrounding skills development, including the idea that 'relevant' skills should be developed. Exactly what these relevant skills are and how we measure them in a consistent way are key issues requiring discussion and agreement by international and regional organizations.

What makes this event unique is that for the first time you will have most of the major international and multilateral organizations talking about skills mismatch at the same time: the ILO, IOE, ITUC, UNESCO, OECD, Asian Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, African Development Bank, World Bank, European Commission, European Training Foundation, European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP), World Economic Forum and others will make presentations and be involved in discussions.

ILO News: What are the follow up steps for the Global Product?
In addition to presentations from the partner organizations listed above, initial findings from a number of ILO research projects looking at skills mismatch under the Global Product will be presented. After the conference, the ILO research will be consolidated into a comprehensive research report on the topic. Material presented at the conference will also be used for regional workshops that will be held in the coming months. Finally, by the end of the year, a number of knowledge products, including policy briefs and training materials will be developed on the different forms of skills mismatch and how to tackle them.