Question and Answers: Part II, Two decades of national employment policies report, 2000-2020

Since the early 2000s, the ILO has increasingly been assisting countries to support the development of integrated and comprehensive employment policies. This Q&A provides insights on Part II of the publication “Two decades of national employment policies 2000-2020: Towards a new generation of national employment policies (NEPs)”. The review – the first of its kind - analyses the main characteristics and trends in national employment policies across the world and over time. The review highlights that a new generation of employment policies will need to pursue some existing challenges while also addressing new ones.

News | 12 February 2024
Q. What is the focus of this publication, and for whom is it intended?

This publication is aimed at ILO constituents and employment practitioners who are in the process of designing or implementing their national employment policy1. Mounting concern about employment has led an increasing number of countries in all regions and at different levels of development to adopt employment policies and express their commitment towards the objective of more and better employment.

This publication analyses the diverse spectrum and combinations of measures that governments and social partners around the world have taken to address the varied employment situations - though the review of national employment policies (NEP) adopted over the last two decades. Forty national employment policies were reviewed covering the period 2005-2020 and distributed by income level and regions. The sample mostly includes countries where the ILO has provided assistance to the formulation and implementation of NEP, hence mainly low-income and middle-income countries.

Q. How does Part II of this publication on national employment policies differ from Part 1, which was launched in 2021, and Part III, which is forthcoming?

This report is the second part of a triptych. While each report is meant to stand on its own, they are interrelated and linked. The first part places special emphasis on policy design; this present report focuses on the content of NEP while the third part will focus on implementation - so that it is relevant to countries that are at different stages of their NEP process. As many countries are formulating a new NEP or adapting existing ones to respond to the COVID-19 and other multiple crises, and address future of work challenges, we hope that the recommendations contained in this review will shed light on the way forward and offer practical suggestions for the future.

Q. While the role of NEPs varies across regions and over time, what are the most significant trends and evolutions observed as highlighted in this publication?

A first finding is that countries not only adopt more employment policies, as mentioned in the first Report on “Employment policy design: lessons from the past, policies for the future”, but seem to commit to them more. Evidence of this exists in the number of countries that establish explicit time-bound and measurable employment targets, reflecting a political commitment to achieving an outcome in the labour market within a defined time period.

Over the years, the focus also shifts from unemployment as the headline target to a number of targets acknowledging the multiplicity of employment deficits. Looking at time-related trends shows how NEPs are becoming increasingly inclusive, extending the target groups well beyond the “traditional” unemployed and paying specific attention to the needs of the most vulnerable in the labour market, including women, youth, migrants, rural and informal workers, but also less “visible” groups such as young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) or inactive women.

The policy areas addressed by the employment policies have also been evolving in a number of ways, including as a response to the global economic and financial crisis of 2008-9, to focus on issues such as pro-employment macroeconomic frameworks, trade, structural transformation, and also policies to address skills and to govern the labour market. Conversely, some issues are losing prominence over time, such as policies for work quality.

The review also shows that NEPs are not only addressing existing employment challenges but are increasingly positioning themselves as privileged entry points to address future of work issues, informality, and gender concerns. The review shows that issues related to green jobs and climate change and new forms of work have been considered by NEPs since 2011. Finally, looking at policies adopted after the period under review shows that, in many countries, NEPs have been formulated or adapted to focus on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic or as a response to the multiple crises they face.

Q. This publication talks about a new generation of employment policies. What does this mean? And, what are the main recommendations of this report?

Despite progress made, employment policies still fall short of some promises. The review highlights that a new generation of employment policies will be needed and concludes with some recommendations in that regard. While the review confirms the need to continue investing in employment policies, as they can play an important role in connecting short-term needs to longer-term and structural goals, it will be important to ensure that there are no steps backward on important achievements such as pro-employment macroeconomic policies, structural transformation, and employment quality. In the same vein, as NEPs become an important avenue to address future of work issues, this should not overshadow old, but persistent, problems, such as informal employment, gender inequalities, the rural economy, local development, or sluggish structural transformation which remain key policy challenges that will need continued attention in the future.

Finally, although the ILO argues for an ambitious and comprehensive approach to employment policies, this should not equate with “all-embracing NEPs”. Having limited resources, countries need to focus on policy priorities that are practical, realistic, and based on existing institutions and capacities at risk of being too ambitious and hence inoperable. Future national employment policies will need to take capacity and budget constraints more seriously to identify solutions that fit with economic and institutional capacities, moving away from those that are not practical in addressing the country’s current stage of development.

Q. In what ways can policymakers and researchers leverage this research to inform their decision-making processes?

This report aims at responding to one of the most frequent questions ILO constituents and employment practitioners have when developing their employment policy, i.e., what types of policy mix work best in which contexts, what types of employment policies does country x have, or what types of employment policies are formulated in similar contexts? It seeks to respond to those questions and aims at cataloguing employment solutions as set out in national employment policies, to which countries can refer when developing or updating their employment policies.

The report is designed in a way that enables the reader to either read it in its entirety or pick and choose the topics and policy areas for which he or she needs information, such as policies for job creation, skills, work quality or labour market policies.

Q. Can you tell us what we can expect Part III of the Two decades of national employment policies report to contain?

Designing good policies is only half the battle. The next step is to ensure that they do not just remain a distant reality but are actually implemented and deliver on their promises. This implies political commitment, backed by legislative measures, budgets and effective institutions. This will be analysed in Part III of this Report.

 1 - Employment policies are defined as a public policy approach that aims at achieving full, productive and freely chosen employment in line with Convention C122 - Employment Policy Convention, 1964 (No. 122). It relates to the quantity and quality dimensions of employment and addresses the demand and supply sides of the labour market.