ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations

276th Session
Geneva, November 1999

Committee on Employment and Social Policy



Preparations for the general discussion at the
88th Session (2000) of the International Labour
Conference concerning human resources training and
development: Vocational guidance and vocational training



I. Employability and the changing economic, labour market and social environment: The need for new skills and competencies

II. Reforming public and private training systems for improved effectiveness and social equity

III. Actors and partnerships in training


1. The Office is currently preparing the background paper for the general discussion at the International Labour Conference in 2000, which is expected to give guidance regarding possible future standard-setting activities in the human resources development and training area. The Governing Body decided in November 1998 that the general discussion should also cover the issue of youth employment and training.(1) 

2. Four regional tripartite consultative meetings on human resources development and training were planned for 1999, of which three have been held at the time of writing. These provided an opportunity to assess the state, trends and issues of human resources development and training in the respective regions. The main points emerging from the three meetings held so far, which will provide the core of the report to the Conference, are given below. The substantive issues discussed at these meetings were largely similar and centred around the following major themes:

I. Employability and the changing economic, l abour market
and social environment: The need for new skills
and competencies

The demand for new skills and competencies

3. In all the regions, globalization, technological change and new forms of work organization are changing the skills demanded at work. As enterprises endeavour to adapt to changing markets and promote staff mobility, workers must increasingly be able to adjust rapidly and possess multiple skills, including information and communication technology skills, that meet international standards in the manufacturing of products and provision of services. Self-management, human relations, communication skills, the ability to analyse and solve problems and learning to learn are among the core skills and competencies that will foster innovation, creativity, strategic thinking, management of change and entrepreneurship in the emerging economy.

4. Skills and competencies demanded in managing public and private restructured enterprises and small-scale enterprises, in self-employment and in the informal sector will be another major area for development.

5. The informal sector plays a major role in many countries in absorbing large numbers of people who have no other opportunities to make a living. There is a huge unsatisfied demand for skills (literacy, numeracy, technical and business skills, etc.) arising from efforts to improve productivity, competitiveness, incomes, and the quality of products and services produced in the informal sector.

Meeting the demand for new skills: The roles of
basic education, initial and continuous training
and lifelong learning

6. The task of the education system is, inter alia, to develop core knowledge, skills and attitudes. Employers should collaborate by exposing young people to a work environment conducive to learning and by offering industry-specific skills acquisition programmes. Particularly in Africa, where many children and adults are poorly educated, basic education for all is an absolute requirement for economic take-off. Public investment should therefore give priority to quality education while making access to it more equitable, particularly in rural areas and by targeting women and other disadvantaged groups.

7. Following basic education, a major challenge of initial training is to promote employability for wage and self-employment, trainability and mobility in rapidly changing labour markets. New alternating training schemes, including apprenticeships, can facilitate the transition from school to work and provide the foundation for a more employable workforce.

8. Basic education and initial training should be supported by a firm commitment by the social partners to continuous, lifelong education and training in response to continuous change in enterprises' needs and labour markets. Creating an environment that promotes lifelong learning will demand a combined effort by the social partners to identify needs, initiate programmes and establish the necessary support infrastructure, including a system of incentives, e.g. through certification and the recognition of skills and competencies gained and provision of education subsidies.

I I. Reforming public and private training systems for
improved effectiveness and social equity

Improving effectiveness

9. There is a continuing need to upgrade the quality and responsiveness of education and training systems in all regions in order to meet the changing skill needs of enterprises and individuals. A better match of training to their needs can be established by industry identifying and developing skill standards, and by linking industry and training institutions in providing the training that meets these standards.

10. Additional, relevant skills training can be provided by the private sector. The expansion of private training raises the need for assurances that it provides the quality and the skills enterprises need. Workers' mobility, career prospects and chances of finding a new job can be significantly improved by means of establishing systems of certification and recognition of the skills gained, irrespective of where they have been learned, whether in formal or non-formal training or through work experience. The meeting for the Asia and Pacific region stressed the importance of certifying the outcomes of training. SMEs should be encouraged to provide structured on-the-job training, as this would mean less production time lost. Subcontracting links between small and larger enterprises can help raise the skills of workers in small enterprises. Some government support for training by SMEs is needed.

11. Important policy issues identified by the meetings included the development of mechanisms that ensure industry participation in setting skill and competency standards and designing courses and programmes; incorporating core skills into the curriculum of schools and other educational institutions; and providing training rapidly in order to minimize mismatches between skill demand and supply when enterprises' skill needs change. The meeting in Latin America emphasized the gradual integration of training into negotiations and dialogue on employment and other social issues. All training should be assessed against the benefits enterprises and trainees drew from it, and the latter should be able to find employment in areas for which they had been trained. Effective labour market information systems were one way of improving the jobs/skill match.

Training for social equity

12. The issue of social equity in training is a major challenge, particularly in Africa. A first priority must be to remove the economic, social and cultural barriers that often arise from policies other than those on education and training proper. Factors that generate inequalities in education and training include: the high costs of attending training programmes; stereotyping in the choice of training courses; training programmes that disregard the time constraints imposed by women's household duties; and badly designed education subsidies that the more wealthy can exploit better than the poor. Practices inimical to equal opportunity in education and training must be removed, for example by combining policy and legislative measures and affirmative action programmes.

13. Young people often lack work experience, which renders their insertion into the job market difficult. Training that also provides work experience and instils favourable attitudes towards work should be exploited systematically. Active labour market policies, combined with accurate information about job opportunities, including vocational guidance, will help young people complement and upgrade their skills and qualifications for properly targeted jobs. The young labour force in many countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia is often poorly educated. Formal and informal remedial and basic education programmes should be integrated into all training programmes targeted towards this group. A major challenge, however, is to determine the patterns of institutional development that might encourage better youth employment outcomes under the existing adverse conditions in the three regions, and to develop the political will to pursue such development over the long run.

14. Workers displaced by industrial and government restructuring must be offered opportunities for training, preferably before they are laid off and after employment opportunities have been identified. This will help them find jobs in the formal or informal sector or to become self-employed. The cost of training should be borne primarily by the restructuring organization or enterprise. Displaced workers should also have access to adequate job and training guidance.

III. Actors and partnerships in training

15. New skill requirements and intensified competition are forcing the social partners to explore new ways of working together. Partnerships are one of the pillars of reforms to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and equity outcomes of training. To ensure the full participation of the social partners, training needs to be decentralized.

16. In many countries the government is becoming the facilitator, motivator and catalyst rather than the direct provider. It provides the overall policy and system framework; encourages collective investments in training through incentives and national media campaigns; ensures the maintenance of quality and skill and competency standards in training, and also equity of access to training opportunities. It is also for the government to take a broad, long-term perspective on human resource development. The government should also collaborate with industry in identifying skill requirements and changes in the labour market.

17. In basic education, governments retain the responsibility for policy while forging partnerships with private providers, NGOs, associations and local communities for the financing and provision of services. In initial training to develop core skills and competencies, governments share the responsibility for policy with employers, trade unions and providers, while in providing such training the government builds partnerships with employers, local communities and private operators. In the continuous training of the employed workforce, employers take the lead in policy formulation and financing, and play a major role in provision. Regarding training for the unemployed, the government retains prime responsibility for policy-making and financing. In training both the employed and the unemployed, the other major partners are unions, individuals and private providers.

18. Meeting the training needs of the informal sector is largely a government responsibility, either direct or by providing funding to training providers, including non-governmental agencies. In literacy training, which is prominent in Africa, governments are the lead players, associated with NGOs and various associations. Governments, NGOs, associations, communities, employers and unions contribute to varying degrees to its financing and provision. Individuals are increasingly investing in their literacy training.

Geneva, 11 October 1999.

1. Governing Body, Minutes of the 274th Session, fifth sitting, p. V/1.

Updated by VC. Approved by NdW. Last update: 26 January 2000.