Opening Address to UNESCO's Second International Congress on Technical and Vocational Education

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

Statement | Seoul | 27 April 1999

It gives me special pleasure to address this Congress on behalf of the International Labour Organization. Mr Juan Somavia, our new Director-General, whom many of you knew as the architect of the Social Summit, held in Copenhagen in 1995, wants me to convey his personal greetings to you. He is very sorry that pressing duties in Geneva prevent him from being here to speak to you himself.

UNESCO-ILO cooperation goes back a long way. It has been especially visible in respect of the protection of teachers' rights. But it was our two organizations' expanding activities and fruitful collaboration in the areas we have come here to consider this week that inspired the signing 45 years ago (!) of our "Memorandum of understanding on technical and vocational education". More recently, UNESCO's initiative in establishing the UNEVOC Centre in Bonn is also receiving the support of ILO. Moreover, ILO technical specialists will be participating in several sessions of the Congress.

We meet at a critical juncture in the history of this region, in a country whose economy has been hard hit by the Asian financial crisis. The Republic of Korea has reacted by devoting substantial resources to training. In the manufacturing sector the slow-down has left many workers in need of new skills. The Government is seeking ways to equip them for jobs in knowledge-based sectors, such as information technology. It has begun a thorough-going review, with ILO assistance, of training policies and programmes for the unemployed.

The transformation of training systems, as undertaken by the Republic of Korea, is part of a wider ILO approach to training for employment. ILO efforts to develop a more adaptable labour force target smoother transitions from school to work; public/private sector partnerships for the delivery of training; and the promotion of lifelong learning.

Demand for skilled labour has risen significantly as a result of globalization and changes in technology and the organization of work. The three are closely linked. In many developing countries, the decade of soaring growth notwithstanding, workforces are hampered by low levels of formal education and training.

The world leaders who came together at the Copenhagen Summit realized that globalization had put new demands on workers to adapt their skills to the needs of a dynamic labour market. Jobless workers, they understood, could only take advantage of open economies if they could modernize the skills they had and, in most cases, acquire new ones. The Asian financial crisis has brought that message home even more forcefully. Paltry wages and scant social protection offer no hope of national prosperity. Prosperity lies in greater labour productivity, and that comes from flexible and responsive systems of training.

The financial crisis has reminded us of economic and social fundamentals. Last year, Members of our Organization - governments, employers and workers, adopted a solemn Declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work. The Declaration obliges all ILO member States to embrace and promote the fundamental rights in our "core" Conventions.

Three areas these cover - freedom of association, child labour and discrimination at work - have direct relevance to the ILO's vision of human resources development.

Participants, this year, at our Asian Consultation on Follow-up to the Social Summit, agreed that effective human resources development can only be achieved through full involvement of Governments, employers and workers. And that takes freedom of association.

Secondly, when parents' skills are upgraded to allow them to re-enter the job market, their children no longer have to go to work.

Finally, training cannot be confined to particular social groups. Effective training must be freely available to women and to society's most vulnerable members on a non-discriminatory basis. These reflect our core values embodied in the new ILO Declaration, which I referred to.

The ILO's Human Resources Development Convention, No. 142, obliges Governments to take steps to answer the training needs of young persons and adults in all sectors of the economy and at every level of skill and responsibility. Korea is one of four countries in Asia and the Pacific to ratify this convention.

But Governments alone cannot meet all the training needs of a global economy. The role of the private sector has become increasingly important.

And workers too must play an active role in determining and fulfilling their own training needs. Lifelong employability means lifelong learning.

Concluding my remarks, again I wish to stress the crucial importance of partnership among major stakeholders in training and education. This is much more needed in an ever rapidly changing world and increasingly globalized economy accompanied by fast-paced technological progress.