Lifelong Learning a 'Win-Win' Opportunity for Enterprises, Workers

The key importance of Lifelong Learning and its challenges in the Asia Pacific region are main topics at an ILO meeting in Bangkok attended by representatives of governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations from 15 countries.

Press release | BANGKOK | 11 December 2003

Bangkok (ILO News)- While lifelong learning can create a ‘win-win’ situation for employers and workers, several challenges still need to be overcome in Asia and the Pacific, where learning environments differ vastly from country to country.

“The workplace is a key environment for lifelong learning, and social dialogue needs to be promoted to improve the quality and relevance of learning,” said Areeya Rojvithee, Senior Expert on Skill Development, Ministry of Labour, during the presentation of a Common Understanding today in Bangkok. Representatives of governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations from 15 countries in Asia and the Pacific1 agreed on the Common Understanding.

Lifelong learning is now commonly accepted as being a key economic necessity in the development of workforce knowledge and skills in response to a changing labour market. However, experiences are varied depending upon the level of development, the existing legal, social and institutional infrastructures and availability and financing of each individual country.

Participants agreed that there is a need for an improved understanding of lifelong learning, while the quality and portability of qualifications needs to be enhanced. In several States, access is a major factor, so there is a need to work towards ‘access for all’ with a gender balance.

Incentives need to be provided to employers to provide training and to workers to participate in it. Government has a principal role in funding disadvantaged groups, including people with disabilities, youth, the unemployed, low skilled workers and women. The investment model should be appropriate to the level of development of the individual country.

At present, formal education systems may still not be sufficiently relevant to the needs of industry, enterprises and individuals beyond general education. Expectations of enterprises, the community and individuals must match the available opportunities of the labour market. Since learning thrives in the learning workplace, partnerships between government and social partners are essential in the pursuit of lifelong learning.

Lifelong learning works best where governments provide the policy framework, in consultation with social partners, financial support, and match investments to national priorities to ensure the development of a national learning framework

In terms of skills recognition to promote lifelong learning, national qualifications frameworks (NQFs) and core work skills were identified as crucial elements. An NQF can also contribute toward maximizing governments’ resources by matching investment in skills with government priorities. Despite the significant benefits of NQFs, they have not been developed in most countries in the region primarily because countries have focussed on the development of frameworks for initial training.

Core work skills include problem solving, communications skills and the ability to take initiative. While they are not formally taught in many countries, employers increasingly expect new employees to already have them. These skills should be developed not only as part of vocational education and training, but also need to be embedded within compulsory and post-compulsory education and training curricula. In some countries, a lack of recognition in the workplace of core work skills is one of the impediments for the further development of core skills. For example, in some cases, job advertisements demand a certain qualification, but not specific skills, including core work skills, which are needed to do the job.

The Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is an important factor in the development of lifelong learning models, but this aspect presents a host of challenges. There is still academic resistance to competency assessment, and this remains a problem in promoting RPL. Academic institutions tend to be funded on the process, for example with regard to tutors or delivery hours, rather than the outcome in terms of achieving the competency. This can be a barrier for effective implementation of RPL.

Those who have gone through a significant process in obtaining a qualification may resent those who obtain the same qualification without going through the same process, or be unconvinced of the quality of skills developed through informal learning. Further understanding of the concept of RPL and how it differs from formal learning may also facilitate its implementation. If RPL is to act as a ‘staircase’ in skills development, methods of assessing prior learning need to be rigorous, but also responsive to the needs of people who have developed skills outside of formal learning and may have had negative experiences of learning and assessment in the past.

Participants agreed that social dialogue is essential for promoting lifelong learning, particularly with regard to RPL. Involvement of the social partners is more likely to result in the effective implementation of RPL.

Lifelong learning in Asia and the Pacific: Policies and Practice, ILO, Bangkok 2003


1 Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam.