Building equitable employment conditions and competences for the future of work

6 Dec 2021 15:30h - 16:30h

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The future of work is undoubtedly facing many changes. Many governments around the world are speeding up the process at which their workforce is able to meet industry demands. The key message from this session was that governments need to focus mostly on early education. But, as moderator Ms Xin Liu (News Anchor, China Global Television Network) asked, how can governments do this at a time when the world is operating in such a dynamic setting?

For Mr Wojciech Murdzek (Secretary of State, Ministry of Science and Education, Poland), it is a matter of being able to forecast the changes needed in education and to support good practices. Murdzek described some of the current post-pandemic educational programmes in Poland, which include various elements of digitalisation. For instance, in strengthening digital education in kindergartens and even preschools, some of the programmes teach children to code. In other programmes, the focus is on interdisciplinary ways of working, such as how to work in teams.

For the Polish government, it is not just about helping people find a job. It is also about identifying future challenges and creating jobs that will help our society grow faster.

There are many educational programmes in Colombia too, as explained by Ms Carmen Ligia Valderrama (Minister of Information Technologies and Communications, Colombia). Her ministry has taken the lead in pursuing policies that will bridge the digital divide, both when it comes to access and the use of technology. The ministry is joined by other ministries in implementing this new digital transformation policy.

The aim of the policy is ambitious. The government wants to be seen as an ally for the younger generations. It wants to nurture talents and promote digital transformation in enterprises. It also wants to stimulate students’ interest in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). When it comes to emerging technologies, the government is working with enterprises to ensure that related topics are taught at universities and to understand labour market needs on an ongoing basis. For Valderrama, it is an investment worth making, as these same students learning about technology today will be supporting the development of world economies tomorrow.

And yet, educational policies will not be sufficient, Ms Rinalia Abdul Rahim (Senior Vice President, Strategy, Communications and Engagement, Internet Society) cautioned. ‘What’s important is to ensure that the policies are inclusive, that they foster access to learning resources for disadvantaged groups such as those living in rural areas or in poverty, ethnic minorities, speakers of minority languages and those with disabilities.’

In order to be inclusive, educational policies need supportive access and connectivity policies, and most of all, universal access. In turn, access requires five elements:

  1. It needs to be always on, and not suffer any shutdowns.
  2. It needs a legal and regulatory framework that promotes competition and lowers access prices.
  3. It needs flexible and innovative funding approaches, such as the effective deployment of Universal Access Funds.
  4. It needs national broadband strategies and universal access programmes that embrace the participation of educational and research networks.
  5. It needs to support community-based access initiatives (such as community networks).

For Mr Luke McKend (Head of Growth Markets, Head of Government Sector from LATAM and EMEA regions, LinkedIn), it is also a matter of access – not simply that of connecting people, but also of providing resilient and strong access, of making internet access prices low enough to be accessible, and of ensuring that content is localised.

McKend explained that we also need to ask: What kind of future are we actually preparing our youth for? And what are the soft skills they need? Most of all, how do we develop educational systems that are flexible and adaptable enough to cope with a rapidly changing labour market?

Building on the notion of the need for a flexible approach, Mr John Vamvakitis (Director, International – Google for Education) focused on investing in teachers. From an education perspective, governments must be willing to invest in the necessary infrastructure to make computing education possible, and to invest in the upskilling of teachers as a policy initiative.

Vamvakitis sees a strong link between the changes happening in the educational sector and those happening in the world of work. ‘Millions around the world have turned their homes into virtual offices due to the pandemic and technology is essential to stay connected with our day-to-day work. This is the same in education as well. It’s impacted not only labour but education.’

The speakers reminded us of the deepening digital divide the pandemic contributed to. For Mr Gbenga Sesan (Executive Director, Paradigm Initiative), the pandemic gave rise to two groups of children. Those who are taking advantage of the technological opportunities they are learning about online, more than they used to learn in the classroom physically, and those who have not only forgotten what they learned but are falling into deeper levels of illiteracy.

Policies need to take stock of the current realities, Sesan warned. For instance, it is futile for governments to talk about online learning when some students have never even seen a computer. Policies must also be grounded in the national socio-economic plans. For instance, some universities are producing graduates who are fit for working abroad, but not locally. Sesan also said that solutions to many of these problems already exist: governments need to take advantage of what exists and scale up.

(Editor’s note: The intervention by Thorsten Schafer-Gumbel, Member of the Management Board, Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), Germany, was in German; no interpretation was provided). 

By Stephanie Borg Psaila

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