Skills and the Future of Work

Srinivas B. Reddy, Chief of the ILO’s Skills and Employability Branch, Employment Policy Department

As transformative change sweeps through the world of work, investments in skills’ development and training systems are becoming more important than ever. The International Labour Organization is playing a leading role in identifying forward-looking skills development policies that will help governments, employers and workers alike adapt to the new realities of the future of work.

Technological innovation, globalization, climate change, shifts in the organization of work through platform-based economies, digital technologies and artificial intelligence are rapidly transforming the world of work. These transformational changes have major implications for skills and training that require new and more robust policies to train new entrants into the labour market to match market demand.

What is more, they will also necessitate an increase in investments in the training and reskilling of workers by enterprises. At the same time, workers will have to proactively engage in upgrading their skills in order to remain employable. The acquisition of the skills required in a changing labour market is critical to continuing economic growth and prosperity.

Meeting this challenge will not be easy. The mismatch between the current skills, and the skills required for newer jobs, is creating economic and social imbalances. Already, there are growing signs that skills training is out of step with the demands of local economies.

Education and training institutions will have to adjust to these new realities. The need to integrate basic educational and digital skills that link science, technology, engineering and mathematics—the so-called STEM skills—are increasingly becoming a minimum to embrace jobs in new technology areas. A combination of these new skills with traditional TVET (technical, vocational and education training) skills would better equip young people to position themselves as market-ready to take on new jobs and prepare to change jobs in a matter of a few years.

A female worker using technology at work

The rapidly changing employment landscape will also increase pressure on education and training systems to better develop core work skills or “soft skills” – such as problem solving, team work, communication and change readiness, that allow workers to transition between jobs and occupations. Soft skills can play as big a role in career advancement as training or education.

As some jobs disappear and new ones are created, people—especially young entrants to the labour markets—may find themselves competing with, or being replaced by robots, and will need to have the agility to learn to do things that machines can’t in order to remain employable.

A number of countries have already developed skills systems that respond to shifts in labour market demands. Switzerland, for example, has a dynamic apprenticeship programme that forms an integral part of the country’s educational system. By equipping young people with the capabilities required by the labour market and exposing them to the use of new technologies, youth unemployment has been kept low while a large pool of new talent becomes available to the country’s economy.

As production shifts from labour-intensive to knowledge- and skills-based work, new expertise in such areas as digital, technical, commercial, and management will be required to immediately meet and adopt new workplace trends. As transformative change buffets the future of work, investment in skills and training will be a key to a successful transition.

Global Skills for Employment Knowledge Sharing Platform 

This article was originally published by Le Matin, on 26 February 2018

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