Ethical supply chains are those which uphold fundamental principles and rights at work

Special address at the Employee Excellence 2023 by Satoshi Sasaki, OIC and Deputy Director, ILO/DWT-CO New Delhi

Statement | New Delhi, India | 13 September 2023
It’s my pleasure to be speaking before you today! I stand here representing the International Labour Organization, the UN’s first specialised and only tripartite agency that equally supports employers, employees and the government to help advance decent work for all women and men, which is at the heart of social justice.

The theme of today’s event is “Empower, Engage and Excel”. An organization is built by its people and the values it propounds to help build a culture that attracts top talent. The pandemic marked a turning point in what this culture represents and how it should be shaped for the future. Over the past few years, the labour market has undergone tremendous change through mega-drivers such as technology, demographics, globalization, and climate change. These drivers have created entirely new jobs and wiped out others, created the need for new skills while making certain skills entirely redundant, empowering one section of workers while disenfranchising another. In this context, we must build a future of work that is equitable and provides opportunities for enterprises and their workforce to thrive.

What is the new value proposition an employee needs to bring today to the workplace? The profile of ‘work’ is changing. The labour market is now characterized by young people who are increasingly dynamic and better-trained by way of the education and skills they possess. However, it is also a fact that one in five young people is not in education, employment or training, which means that people are not finding opportunities that adequately match their skills.

Lifelong learning, therefore, becomes more important than knowledge acquisition to equip the workforce to keep up with the demands being placed on them through appropriate and timely skilling, reskilling and upskilling. Educational attainment has improved across the country as compared to previous decades. However, schools and universities need to reinvent fundamental techniques of imparting knowledge through learning, which envisages changes in attitudes and behaviour and focuses on cognitive skills. With the growing complexity of job tasks, a readily adaptable workforce is increasingly in the demand for workers with strong core skills and a “growth mindset”, meaning those workers with motivation to learn and adapt throughout their professional careers. In this respect, three types of skills are increasingly important in the labour market, namely,
  • complex problem-solving skills,
  • socio-behaviour skills like teamwork and
  • skills combinations that are predictive of adaptability, such as reasoning and self-efficacy.
Building these skills require strong human capital foundations and lifelong learning. We need to create a learning model that would promote cooperation over competition and a culture of shared growth. A culture that recognises one’s performance as having an impact on the performance of his or her colleagues – in other words, standing up and helping each other to rise up together. These values are much needed to develop the ‘soft skills’ that the world of work needs today, like empathy, adaptability and persuasiveness. This is the new value proposition that employees need to bring to the table.

Over the last few years, there have been new trends in the world of work, which have given rise to new forms of work and non-standard employment, particularly, gig-and-platform work, part-time and temporary work, third-party contracting of employees and more frequent job changes by the younger workforce. These challenges are sometimes good for both employers and employees. It has allowed workers more autonomy over their time and how they arrange their work, along with helping disadvantaged groups access the labour market who were not able to do so earlier. However, workers tend to lose out benefits like the freedom of association, right to collective bargaining or social security in these forms of employment. The ILO’s research further suggests that firms underinvest in training when their workers are not in full-time, open-ended employment, workers lose longer-term attachment to the company. Firms that are overly reliant on non-standard forms of employment can face decent work deficits due to the gradual erosion of firm-specific skills, limiting their ability to respond to changing market demand. Enterprises need to value the human capital and focus on the aspect of “relationship”. This entails fostering a culture that promotes social dialogue, ensuring fair and equal wages for equal work, providing safe and healthy work environments that also accounts for mental health, and opportunities for career development that encompass upskilling, reskilling and career progression.

Now I have highlighted what the employees and the employers need to respectively bring to the table, I would like to touch upon how both efforts are to be done in a manner that reaps mutual benefits. It starts with the understanding that we cannot only have organizational goals for an employee to achieve. There need to be systems that are mutually beneficial to the organization and the employee when achieving their respective goals.
With Generation Z slated to make up nearly one-third of the global workforce by 2025, and increasingly they value work and workplaces which align with their personal motivations. According to Microsoft's Work Trend Index Annual Report, 51% of Gen-Z employees are more likely to prioritize health and well-being over work. Additionally, positive culture, mental health and well-being benefits and a sense of purpose/meaning were listed as their top three priorities. Diversity and inclusion are another factor to incorporate into an organization’s culture and mission, as it yields benefits for enterprises, societies and the economy at large. Inclusion helps workers feel respected and supported which positively correlates to performing well in their roles.

What I hoped to convey in my address today is that the ideal of "shared prosperity” should be the bedrock of the future, and even the present world of work. The creation of jobs and wealth needs to also account for working conditions and career progressions of the workforce, which will compel them to perform better in their duties. The famous African Proverb says “If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far go together.” The range of measures I have touched upon today can contribute to reducing the jobs gap, strengthen the quality of employment, and improve enterprise sustainability and profitability.

With this, I look forward to the fruitful discussions today for how we can help businesses and workers “Empower, Engage and Excel”.

Thank you!