G20 Education and Employment Ministers’ Meeting

Rethink lifelong learning

A new approach to lifelong learning is needed for the future of work, says Director-General of the International Labour Organization, Guy Ryder, in a speech to Education and Employment Ministers at a G20 ministers’ meeting in Argentina.

Déclaration | 6 septembre 2018

(PowerPoint Presentation: Slide 1)

Thank you, Minister Triaca, Minister Finocchiaro, for the opportunity to address this joint meeting of Education and Employment Ministers. Good morning to everybody.

I want to highlight some of the key policy messages for developing skills for an inclusive future, drawing on the background report “Global Skills Trends, Training Needs and Lifelong Learning Strategies for the Future of Work” that was prepared by the ILO and our colleagues from the OECD for the joint working group meeting held earlier this year.

(Slide 2: Changing world of work and skills)


Over the past year, the ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of Work has discussed the megadrivers of transformative change in our labour markets: technology, demographics, globalization, climate change, to name just some. These trends are affecting the composition of employment, the nature of the tasks carried out at work and the skills required. From this stems our collective challenge to implement policies that ensure decent work as we shape the future of work that we want.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of skills development. The magnitude of the needs for effective reskilling and upskilling of our workforces requires not only the strong leadership of Governments, but also drawing together different ministerial mandates to bring together all stakeholders and in particular the social partners, around a common platform. Let me commend in that regard the initiative of the Presidency to organize this joint meeting of education and employment ministers, as a crucial step in the right direction.

(Slide 3: Skills demand)

If we look at skills demand we see that educational attainment has improved across all G20 countries in recent years, although not equally in each one of them, and this reminds us of the importance for Governments to provide effective mechanisms to achieve equity in access to training.

Initial education is crucial for basic skills like literacy and numeracy and as a foundation for any further learning. What the graph before you shows is trends with respect to skills levels. The blue bar shows the changes over the past 25 years or so, and the green part is what we expect to happen in the next eight years. There you see a continuation of strong demand for high skills and some growth also in demand for the low-skill sectors, whereas trends in demand for medium skills move in the opposite direction. It is the hollowing-out phenomenon that we are familiar with. There is an increasing need for cognitive skills, a readily adaptable workforce, which coupled with the growing complexity of job tasks will increase the demand for workers with strong core skills and motivation to learn and adapt throughout their professional careers.

(Slide 4: …but skills shortages are emerging)

And we are already seeing some skills shortages emerging. Even though educational attainment has generally been improving, skills levels among adults have been stagnant or in some cases declining. The consequence is that many G20 countries are experiencing shortages in high-level cognitive and social skills areas. Adults do not sufficiently have the opportunity in many cases to upskill to embrace new technologies and perform new job tasks, and to reskill to access new job opportunities.

(Slide 5: ….which calls for rethinking lifelong learning)

All of this requires us to rethink our approaches to lifelong learning. It has become almost a commonplace that we need to do better; we understand that the front-loading of qualifications for a whole lifetime doesn’t work anymore. We need to replenish skills throughout a working career, and this calls for revisiting the models and concepts of lifelong learning to create the future we want.

Currently, participation in adult learning remains limited and financing of it remains low. And as we see a rise in non-standard forms of employment, such as part-time, temporary, and third-party agency work, these issues become even more apposite. ILO research suggests that firms underinvest in training when their workers are not in full-time, open-ended employment, when there isn’t that longer-term attachment to the company.

We cannot leave access to and financing of learning to individuals alone. We need public policies that implement a well-resourced, learner-centered and rights-based approach to Lifelong Learning systems, so that no one is left behind.

And as I indicated at the outset, all of this requires a whole-of-government approach:

  • implementing active and passive labour market measures to support workers during their job transitions;
  • Strengthening relevant support systems such as career guidance to choose the right training, or childcare to enable parents to get skills training;
  • targeting workers in SMEs and low skilled workers who are traditionally under-represented in training;
  • placing a greater emphasis on coordination at all levels of government, based on what we have identified as three “success factors”:
    • clarity of roles, responsibilities, decision making authority and purpose;
    • strong consultative mechanisms, including institutional ones;
    • and influence over decisions about funding allocations;
  • and we need to ensure tripartite social dialogue and involvement of social partners in governance arrangements to make sure that policies are not only fair but are relevant and practical as well.
(Slide 6: Financing Lifelong Learning)

This brings me to my last slide and the bottom line. What does this mean in terms of financing lifelong learning?

First of all, we urgently need to ensure public funding to continuing training covering the adult workforce. Governments need to act - but they can’t do it alone. Governments need to set the rules of the game to incentivize employers to play their part in co-funding training.

Financial incentives should also help individuals to transit between jobs. These incentives include individual learning accounts combined with adapted social protection mechanisms that facilitate such transition.

Financial incentives should engage employers in training provision through subsidies in priority areas such as healthcare, ICT; energy efficiency; cost-sharing; or levy grant schemes as are already in wide use. We have some good examples to look to.

Finally, financial incentives should be used to steer training provision to labour market needs based on clear evidence and informed decisions.

In conclusion, Ministers, evolving and fast changing labour markets will continue to impose a massive challenge on traditional education and training systems and will require new approaches to lifelong learning, approaches that introduce integrated models of governance and financing and give greater emphasis to local and regional coordination to ensure better engagement of employers and the individual himself or herself.

The rapid pace of change will require workers to continuously adapt, reskill and upskill to stay in employment. It is therefore essential to pursue a rights-based approach to lifelong learning, one that provides a right to training at any point in working life. Without that approach we risk creating more inequality and less inclusive and sustainable development.

I thank you for your attention.