Lifelong learning matters more than ever

Jeannette Sanchez, Communications Manager, Employment Policy Department and Olga Strietska-Ilina, Senior Skills and Employability Specialist

Lifelong learning is a concept that has been around for decades. But with the rapid changes we are seeing in the world of work, it now is a key to remaining employable over the course of a career. This was the main message to emerge from a recent discussion on Lifelong Learning for the Future of Work organized by the ILO’s Skills and Employability Branch through its Global Skills for Employment Knowledge Sharing Platform.

The e-discussion took place ahead of a policy dialogue on lifelong learning involving experts and representatives of the Global Commission on the Future of Work.

Over the course of several days, scores of participants from Asia, the Americas, Europe and Africa voiced their concerns about the rising challenges facing workers, employers and governments, and suggested ways of addressing them.

A point that was repeated time and again was that low- or lower-skilled adults are becoming some of the most disadvantaged groups in the labour market, with the situation expected to worsen in the future. Many participants recognized that now more than ever, learning does not only happen within the four walls of a school or even in the workplace, but in all sorts of informal settings, including online. Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and accrediting informally attained skills and learning were regarded as essential, reinforcing the view that education should be continuous.

Interestingly, several participants in the e-discussion challenged the notion of early specialization, since people will have to make many more job and occupation changes over their working lives than was the case in the past.


Learning does not only happen within the school, but in all sorts of informal settings, including online.

Change is beginning to happen, and we are seeing an important shift in mindset when it comes to lifelong learning and acquiring skills. One example of social partner engagement to help bridge the skills gap is the Union Learning Fund in the United Kingdom, which works with employers, employees and learning providers to encourage greater take-up of learning in the workplace, including among older and lower-skilled workers. Another example cited is a fund in Belgium set up by the social partners, which provides training to low-skilled workers in the services sector.

In France, the government has created a “compte personnel de formation”, or Individual learning account, which provides training hours that workers can retain, even after losing or changing jobs, and which can be transferred between employers.

One e-discussion participant cited a National Development Plan, “Vision 2030 Jamaica”, that supports all forms of learning and lifelong skills’ upgrading for all – in the education system, adult education and continuing training, at work and in other settings where people learn and develop their knowledge, skills and competencies.

Several key points that emerged from the global discussion may help shed light on what’s needed to stimulate a positive shift in attitudes towards lifelong learning:

  • A combination of both job-specific and core skills for employability will be needed to build a skilled workforce that is capable of adapting to changing skills demands.
  • These core skills include communication, problem solving, team work and mastering basic technology.
  • Tools and systems should be put in place by countries to assess current and future skills’ needs and investments.
  • Innovative digital technologies—such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) and training video resources — are a cost-effective and time-efficient way of widening access to skills training.
  • Encouraging lifelong learning can only work if governments, employers and workers play their part through promotion, engagement and funding.

Read the full discussion thread and Summary Report of the global conversation here.  

The next E-Discussion will focus on Quality Apprenticeships for the Future of Work, 14 to 25 May on hosted on the Global Skills for Employment Knowledge Sharing Platform.

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