Inter-regional Expert Forum

Keynote address of ILO Deputy Director General, Deborah Greenfield Inter-Regional Expert Forum on Skills and Migration

By Ms Deborah Greenfield, ILO Deputy Director-General at Inter-Regional Expert Forum on Skills and Migration, New Delhi – 25 July 2017.

Statement | New Delhi, Inida | 25 July 2017
Honourable Minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy

Distinguished participants

Ladies and gentlemen:

I would like to thank the Government of India and our social partners for their long standing collaboration with the ILO and for a very warm welcome during my visit to India this week.

Skills development is central to the collective ambitions of governments, workers and employers around the world. We can see it in the Skill India initiative. We can see it in the Vision 2030 agendas that have been adopted in many countries, marking a course towards knowledge-based economies and the restructuring of their labour markets.

Labour migration plays a critical role in the economies and labour markets of both South Asia and the Middle East. The majority of the nearly 20 million migrant workers in the Middle East are from South Asia, and their remittances are crucial to the livelihoods of their family members. Effective skills recognition across borders presents an opportunity that is only growing in prominence. Globally, the significance of these issues is evident from the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

This Forum is very timely. In recent months, key events in my calendar have underscored the importance of skills and migration, and the ILO has explicitly been called upon to provide constituents with support for training and skills recognition initiatives.

We’ve been participating in the meetings of the G20 Labour and Employment Ministers, and the issue of labour market integration for migrants has featured prominently under Germany’s presidency. The Ministerial Declaration in May this year identified skills development and recognition as a primary approach for improving employability for migrants and for returning migrants. The G20 labour ministers pledged support for more robust international cooperation at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels to develop skills recognition systems.

Last month, at the International Labour Conference in Geneva, I was the Director General’s representative on the technical committee on labour migration governance. This was the first such discussion in over a decade, and it will shape ILO interventions in the area of labour migration for the coming years. The issue of skills development was emphasized throughout. The conclusions from the discussion noted how labour migration systems at national and bilateral levels lack effective skills and jobs matching mechanisms. Policy makers rarely have access to accurate assessments of skills needs and gaps, and also up-to-date information on the changing needs of the labour market. It was also acknowledged that low-skilled workers had limited access to training and mechanisms for recognition of skills, whether these were acquired formally or informally.

In light of these deliberations that have taken place at global level meetings and in other fora, our wish is for this forum to contribute to two key areas that are fundamental to responding to the gaps in the efficiency of skills recognition systems for migrant workers: knowledge-sharing and collaboration.

On knowledge and data sharing: at present, not enough information is available to guide evidence-based policy-making in this area.
  • While we all agree that training programmes have to be designed to meet labour market needs, very little labour market information is available from the countries of destination in the Middle East region.
  • We need to commission more research to determine under what circumstances training migrants, results in greater employability, better wages and working conditions. Can we make a case to employers that skills training contributes to greater productivity at the firm level? What other policy levers can be used to incentivize employers’ investment in skills? What distinctions can be made between women and men, and across sectors of work?
  • We often talk about the potential that migration has in transferring knowledge back to countries of origin, but how can the skills developed abroad be used when migrants return home? Are there positive examples from around the region that we can seek to replicate?
Today’s session deals with these tough questions and tests the assumptions that we make about the benefits of skills development.

The second area in which we want this Forum to contribute to more effective and sustainable skills development systems is through greater collaboration.

Social dialogue
,in all its different forms, lies at the heart of the ILO mandate and is central to achieving fair labour migration.

In the skills and migration sphere, we need open up the conversation beyond our traditional tripartite constituents. We need collaboration among multiple government agencies and I know there are various ministries and institutions in the room, from labour, skills, education, foreign employment and foreign affairs. We also need to hear from employers and workers in different sectors of the economy; and from private sector training providers and recruitment agencies.

ILO research on National Qualification Frameworks, for example, has shown that building the capacities of workers’ and employers’ organizations to actively participate in the design and implementation of NQFs, will result in a better information exchange between the education system and the labour market. This provides the basis for up-to-date skills information and can help keep production competitive.

Given the growing importance of labour mobility to economic development, different ministries, workers’ and employers’ organizations can and should play a larger role in migration policy reforms. They not only are crucial in identifying labour market needs and trends, but also in ensuring productivity and inclusive economic growth. Bringing them into migration policy dialogue from the beginning will enable more effective and durable policy-design, and a wider set of possible policy solutions, including in the skills area. The ILO is ready to play its role in fostering broader social dialogue on these issues.

One group that is missing from this room is migrant workers. As you know, we have compiled a few videos of migrants in Bangladesh talking about their experiences of skills training. I hope you’ve seen some of them already during the breaks.

Looking forward, the rest of the year will be marked with a series of consultations at the national, regional and global levels related to the development of the Global Compact on Migration. We feel that the outcomes from this Forum will certainly provide food for thought in those consultations.

I would like to highlight three action areas that could be taken into those consultations, and also feed into the existing national programmes and existing regional processes such as the Colombo Process, the Abu Dhabi Dialogue and SAARC.
  1. Invest in monitoring systems to identify how skills recognition systems can deliver on the potential. Let’s challenge the assumptions and bring new evidence to the table.
  2. Establish networks of employers in countries of origin and destination, and from different sectors, that can be engaged in the planning, implementation and monitoring of skills recognition systems for migrants, and returning migrants.
  3. Outline the steps towards a regional qualification framework among SAARC Member States that will facilitate the movement of workers from the region – taking into account that this would be a lengthy process.
These are ambitious goals. But given the importance and potential of labour migration to these two regions, we must strive to keep the momentum behind training and skills recognition, and shape it so that it can truly result in a triple-win.

Thank you.