Speech at the ILO/APSDEP/Japan Technical Meeting on Social Dialogue on Training

by Ms Mitsuko Horiuchi, Regional Director, ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Statement | Chiba | 08 August 2000

Distinguished Guests,
Participants and Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning – it is a great pleasure to be with you here today at the opening of this very important event. In today’s rapidly globalizing world, the relevance of this technical meeting’s theme, linking social dialogue and training, becomes clearer every day. Those with the right skills, the right kind of training, are more employable. Employability is closely linked with productivity, and competitiveness. This meeting will help us develop the tripartite approach that successful training needs – and I should like to convey my sincere thanks to the Government of Japan for its support, making this forward-looking and very relevant meeting possible. I should also like to acknowledge the unfailing support that Japan has provided to the ILO’s APSDEP programme. APSDEP has been striving to guide and shape training in this region for 20 years. Today, we are seeing the results of its hard work, particularly in the form of the partnerships that it has built with countries in this region. The Philippines is one case in point – and I do extend a special welcome to the Director-General of the Philippines Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, TSEDA, Mr Edicio de la Torre, who has joined us for this meeting.

On the brink of the new millennium, the phrase that change is the only constant, seems to become more useful every day! Twenty years ago, when we looked ahead to the year 2000, I don’t think any of us could have pictured this world we live in today. The pace of change has been astonishing. The internet, facsimile machines, mobile telephones – in less than a generation, these have all transformed people’s lives. Communication and information technology really does mean than we can have the world at our fingertips.

The trouble is though, that the world is much closer to some fingertips than to others. In the developed, industrialized countries, globalization has brought enormous benefits. Business moves faster, it’s more efficient, and more profitable – and skilled and well-trained workers are keeping their companies and countries on the crest of the economic wave. Unfortunately, as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has warned, these opportunities are far from equally distributed. For ordinary workers in the developing world, globalization has very often been short on opportunities and long on risks. In this region, we saw those risks become a painful reality, when the Asian financial crisis swept through the economies of East Asia. Capital outflows, and plunging stocks and currencies were soon translated into declining wages and conditions, unemployment and poverty. Globalization can mean volatility, and that can hurt.

The way that we choose to respond to globalization’s challenges will shape the lives of future generations. In a bid to guide this response, the UN Secretary-General has launched a Global Compact, based on nine key principles. Among others, these principles draw on the ILO’s fundamental principles and rights at work. At last month’s High-Level Meeting on the Global Compact – involving UN agencies, business, labour and civil society – Mr Annan warned that it would be "tragic" if countries react by repeating the mistakes of history, and turning in on themselves. Rather, he said, it is open markets that offer the only realistic hope of pulling billions of people in developing countries out of abject poverty.

So what are the ways in which we can respond? Human resource development and training is one of the most important. It is becoming more and more evident that people with higher skills do better in a globalized world. These are workers who are able to adapt to change. A sound basic education makes it easy to add new skills. And yet, globally, some 885 million adults are illiterate.

I think we all know how important education and training are – I am not going to preach to the converted! The real question – of course – is, how can we make sure that human resource development and training is truly useful, truly effective? The Resolution Concerning Human Resources Training and Development passed by this year’s International Labour Conference offers a great deal of food for thought. This Resolution also forms the basis for a planned review of the ILO’s Human Resources Development Recommendation, 1975 (No. 150). Indeed, my colleague, Mr Bhattacharya, who is here with us at this meeting, was part of the secretariat that supported the tripartite partners during their deliberations – and I look forward to his discussion.

This comprehensive Resolution does, of course, examine the valuable role that social dialogue plays in training. Among other things, it advises stronger dialogue, shared responsibility for formulating policy, capacity building, and partnerships. The ILO’s 80-year existence has shown that the world of work works best when we balance the interests and views of the tripartite partners – government, employers and workers. Training – the business of equipping people for the world of work – is just the same. It is a shared concern. Training matters to governments, because ultimately, the skill levels of the workforce will affect the fate of the country. Training matters to employers, because it has a huge effect on the competitiveness and productivity of their enterprises. Training matters to workers, because it has a huge effect on employability.

Governments, employers and workers all expect training to meet different needs. What, though, are the things that each partner can bring to training? As well as assuming primary responsibility for investing in basic education and initial training, governments can establish an overall framework, offer incentives to encourage training, balance efficiency and equity, and help ensure that training does not just meet short-term needs – but looks well ahead. Enterprises are market driven and need to respond rapidly to change – and these are the very qualities that many traditional, state-driven vocational training systems have struggled with. Employers’ organizations have an important role to play – speaking out about enterprises’ needs and concerns, influencing policy, and encouraging training within enterprises. The advantages of the public / private sector partnerships that can be formed are well demonstrated, I believe, by the computer colleges opened here in Japan as part of the "third sector" formula of partnership. These colleges combine the strength of public financing with the know-how of the private sector. And, last but not least, workers play a vital role. Without their personal commitment and hard work, no training will succeed. Workers’ organizations can help create a learning culture – and they can also help voice the concerns of people who are outside the formal employment structures (the unemployed, the self-employed, the informal sector). In many cases, this involvement goes even further – unions may take on direct management of vocational training institutions, foundations and programmes. In Malaysia, for example, the Workers’ Institute of Technology in Port Klang and Ipoh – offers young people training in auto mechanics, electricity, computer sciences and architecture.

Successful training and skill development must balance the wants and needs of all three of the tripartite partners. Striking that balance calls for social dialogue – for open, frank and constructive communication between the three. It is a vitally important task. ILO/APSDEP has made this a priority – and is working hard to make sure that the lines of communication with the social partners are even stronger. Developing the kind of skilled, adaptable workforce that is needed to thrive in today’s globalized world is no accident. It calls for three-way communication, three-way cooperation, three-way commitment. It calls for hard work. But it offers us a sure path to achieving what is without doubt a common goal. I wish you well with your deliberations here this week, and I look forward to sharing your views and insights as you work through what promises to be a very challenging, and stimulating programme.