Economies will suffer if human development is not a key focus in developing economic policies as the world of work changes.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is advocating for governments and business to invest in people’s capabilities to ensure that the future world of work ensures more jobs and economic growth.

It believes that by investing in people, they will be provided with an opportunity to realise their full potential and their lives will in turn have value.

“It is the cornerstone of a reinvigorated social contract and goes far beyond investing in human capital, to the broader dimensions of human development, including the rights and entitlements that widen people’s choices and improve their wellbeing,” says the ILO.

The organisation makes the call in its recently released document called the Global Commission of the Future of Work report.

The document has already been given the thumbs up by a number of leaders, including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

It says there are four core elements: a universal entitlement to lifelong learning, supporting people through transitions, a transformative agenda for gender equality and stronger social protection.

“These are not policy afterthoughts or social benefits only possible once a country reaches a certain level of development. Rather, all countries need to make investment in people’s capabilities a central priority of economic policy, so that work can fully contribute to human development,” it reads.

The ILO believes that as more and more countries start coming to terms with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is already changing the definition of a job, there needs to be a recognition of a universal entitlement to lifelong learning, and the establishment of an effective lifelong learning system.

It says change is a constant feature especially now as new technologies make their way onto farms, factories and offices.

“This will be key for people to be able to benefit from new technologies and the new work tasks that will follow.”

The report says lifelong learning encompasses formal and informal learning from early childhood and basic education through to adult learning, combining foundational skills, social and cognitive skills (such as learning to learn) and the skills needed for specific jobs, occupations or sectors.

But it says lifelong learning involves more than the skills needed to work; it is also about developing the capabilities needed to participate in a democratic society.

It offers a pathway to inclusion in labour markets for youth and the unemployed. It also has transformative potential: investment in learning at an early age facilitates learning at later stages in life. This is in turn links to intergenerational social mobility and expanding the choices of future generations.

But this system will not work unless governments, employers, workers and educational institutions embrace and support it.

“For lifelong learning to be an entitlement, governments must broaden and reconfigure institutions such as skills development policies, employment services and training systems to provide workers with the time and financial support they need to learn.

“Workers are more likely to engage in adult learning where they are assured of continuity of income and labour market security. Employers’ and workers’ organisations also have a leading role to play in this ecosystem, including through anticipation of future skill requirements as well as participation in their delivery,” the report reads.

It says governments must devise appropriate financing mechanisms tailored to their country and sectoral contexts. And given the continued importance of training at the workplace, employers need to contribute to its financing.

The ILO proposes establishing a system of entitlements to training through a reconfigured “employment insurance” system or “social funds” that will allow workers to take paid time off to be trained.

In countries where most work informally, it recommends establishing national or sectoral education and training funds, which should be managed by tripartite boards that provide workers access to education and training, with a special focus on vocational skills.

On digital technologies, it says quality needs to be assured. This must be in the context of access to universal quality education, delivered by well-trained and well-paid teachers, whose skills, expertise and mentorship cannot be replaced by technology.

“We recommend that governments create quality assurance mechanisms for lifelong learning and, together with employers’ and workers’ organisations, monitor the effectiveness of the lifelong learning system. If learning is to become truly lifelong, skills must be portable,” the ILO says.

It believes a strong lifelong learning system, combined with universal social protection, enables workers to assume their responsibility to engage proactively in their own learning, including anticipating the skills they will need to remain employed, identifying how to acquire them and receiving the necessary training.

The organisation says youngsters in developing economies – many of them experiencing a youth bulge – especially need to be focused on.

“The failure to tap into this enormous potential will create long-term developmental and societal consequences. Young people need strong support through this transition so that they integrate into labour markets and become active members of our societies.

“We recommend that governments increase opportunities for decent work for youth through employment programmes and support for young entrepreneurs. The private sector has a particular role to play in offering young people quality apprenticeships and their first opportunity to work. Young people’s work must be rewarded in line with the principle of equal pay for work of equal value.

“Special attention needs to be given to promoting access and participation in lifelong learning for young people not in employment, education or training to ensure their social inclusion. Interaction and cooperation between countries with ageing populations and those with young populations will generate labour market benefits for both,” it says.

But older workers cannot be ignored. Not only because they are an asset to society and economies, but the people are delaying retiring because they cannot afford to work.

It wants governments to increase opportunities for partial retirement, or raise the retirement age on an optional basis, while protecting older people from having to work beyond their limits.

“Technology provides new and innovative means of adapting jobs and workplaces to facilitate the continued employment of ageing workers and those who have or develop disabilities over the course of their working life. In many countries, older people, whether in subsistence agriculture or low-wage retail, cannot afford to stop working.

“Ensuring at least a basic pension for everyone would allow workers above retirement age to reduce their working time or stop working if they desire and mitigate old-age poverty,” the ILO says.

To support people through increasing labour market transitions, governments need to increase investment in public employment services (PES), combining digital services with personal counselling and placement services and improving labour market information to support decision making.

It says by making active labour market policies proactive, workers can be better prepared for these transitions. New mechanisms need to be found to reconfigure unemployment insurance, training and leave entitlements, improving employability, and empowering workers who are constantly facing job losses.

Collaboration between PES and other partner organisations, including those in the private sector, needs to be reinforced. These are collective challenges; they demand collective responses, it says.

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