Key Outcomes of the OECD Forum Virtual Event – Shaping the Future of Work

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders – from around the world and all parts of society – address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. To keep updated on all of the OECD's work supporting the fight against COVID-19, visit our Digital Content Hub.

As part of an OECD Forum series, our virtual event Shaping the Future of Work took place on 9 July 2020. You can re-watch the session below and continue the conversation in our dedicated Forum Network room!

Tackling coronavirus (COVID-19): Contributing to a global effort

Presenting the key findings of the OECD Employment Outlook: Facing the Jobs Crisis, Stefano Scarpetta, OECD Director for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, stressed that the pandemic has led to an unprecedentedly rapid increase in unemployment in the OECD. It took only three months to challenge ten years of improvement. Governments’ responses have also been unprecedented in terms of resources and range. Job retention schemes, in particular, have played a significant role in cushioning the blow. Yet, even the most optimistic scenario points to 31 million jobs lost by the fourth quarter of 2020. Moreover, solving the health crisis remains a precondition to solving the job crisis: OECD estimates find that a second wave of infections could destroy as many as 53 million jobs in total. Mr. Scarpetta concluded by noting that this crisis presents us with an opportunity to rebuild a better labour market by focusing on skills, closing gaps in social protection and boosting job creation.

Read the OECD's unemployment rate forecast analysis on the July 2020 Employment Outlook Report

This assessment was echoed by Ambassador Manuel Escudero, Permanent Representative of Spain to the OECD – Spain is the Chair of the 2020 OECD Ministerial Council meeting – who shared some key takeaways from ministers representing OECD countries that were recently consulted in the context of a virtual ministerial roundtable. The Ambassador reported that ministers unanimously agreed on the need for a strong, resilient, digital, green and inclusive recovery. Echoing Mr. Scarpetta, the Ambassador underlined the critical importance not to leave anyone behind.

Stressing that it is a lot harder to create good, skilled jobs than to lose them, Frances O'Grady, General Secretary of the UK’s Trades Union Congress, commended governments for their support to workers but urged them not to “turn off the tap too soon”. Building back better will require “bold measures for a fairer labour market, a fairer economy and a new social contract”. While the biggest threat at the moment is mass unemployment, the second will be low-quality employment. The current crisis has notably revealed the profound vulnerabilities of certain groups, with people of colour being disproportionately hit as they are more likely to experience precarious jobs and living conditions. Workers in the care sector and old people’s homes – many on low pay staff and on agency contracts – were unable to access even the most basic protection gear and equipment, thereby involuntarily contributing to the spread of the virus. Rather than going back to business as usual, there is an urgent need for a new deal for working people. Welcoming the recognition that “wisdom does not solely lie in government or boardrooms”, Ms. O'Grady made clear that unions will play a critical role in delivering an inclusive recovery.

An Economy of Care: Why workers need more than a return to mere normality, by Susanna Camusso, Former General Secretary, Italian General Confederation of Labour

An Economy of Care: Why workers need more than a return to mere normality, by Susanna Camusso, Former General Secretary, Italian General Confederation of Labour

Asked which sectors were most impacted by the crisis, Jacques van den Broek, CEO of Randstad, noted that it is still too early to say. Of course, industries such as airlines and automotive manufacturing will have to profoundly reinvent themselves. Whilst essential to mitigate the effect of the crisis, the on-going government support also means that we are still sitting on a time bomb: the real impact on employment remains to be seen. Mr. van den Broek stressed that people should not work in unsafe conditions, but that commuting and living conditions are equally critical. Finally, he pointed out that current job retention schemes may dissuade people from looking for work, and stressed the challenge for governments to allow firms and workers to bounce back in the most efficient way possible.  


Frédéric Piccavet, Board member in charge of Social and Economic Inclusion at the European Youth Forum, then shed light on the specific challenges faced by young people, who already were the group at the greatest risk of poverty and social exclusion and are now being hit the hardest in this job crisis. The pandemic has not only put a strain on their education and training, but also jeopardised the transition of graduating students to the job market. These risks have dire consequences for their wages, career prospects and mental health. Mr. Piccavet thus offered important policy advice by calling for the creation of quality employment, fair remuneration, equal access to social protection, and a move to a future-proof approach. He stressed that there is no time to lose: it is no longer sufficient to talk about shaping the future of work, we need to start building it now.  

Lina Gálvez Muñoz, Member of the European Parliament, reflected on the fact that women have been disproportionately impacted by the crisis. Because of gender-blind employment policies, male employment tends to rebound faster. This is particularly an issue as the proposed European recovery plan relies on industries which are currently male-dominated. Unpaid housework also continues to fall primarily upon women. An inclusive recovery will therefore need to consider national recovery packages in a holistic way, set clear labour standards, combat stereotypes and address discrimination.

Be What You See: Supporting youth to enter the world of work, by Nick ChambersChief Executive, Education and Employers

Be What You See: Supporting youth to enter the world of work, by Nick Chambers, Chief Executive, Education and Employers

Véronique Willems, Secretary General of SMEUnited, an association representing the interest of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Europe, stressed that 90% of these firms have lost revenues due to the crisis but have not always been able to access state support. She agreed that EU institutions and governments reacted quickly to the crisis, yet observed that it took time to implement them, with SMEs sometimes finding it difficult to access much needed liquidity. She also called for a review of labour legislation to better protect workers, but also ensure the necessary flexibility.

Grace Suh, Vice President, Education, IBM Corporation highlighted the centrality of employers in a successful recovery. Presenting her company’s initiatives and programmes in both schools and informal education, Ms. Suh stressed that IBM is committed to focusing on skills, and not solely diplomas. In her words, “The right mix of skills and commitment to lifelong learning is more important than a degree”. She made clear that, by training students and workers in advanced technologies, private firms and employers can play an important role in fostering an inclusive and future-proof workforce.

Acting as a rapporteur, OECD Deputy Secretary-General Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen drew important takeaways from the discussions: the problem is not just about creating jobs, it is also about the quality of those jobs. Particular attention must be paid to vulnerable groups, such as youth, women and low-paid, precarious workers. While the specific – and very real – challenges faced by young people were discussed extensively, we also need to be conscious that we live in ageing societies, and must ensure older workers’ continued access to jobs. In this context, reskilling, upskilling and lifelong learning will be paramount for all. Indeed, jobs that were viable before the crisis may not be viable now, so we need to move from protecting specific jobs to protecting workers.

Rewatch the session below and continue the conversation in our dedicated Forum Network room!

Related Topics

Tackling COVID-19 Future of Work Digital Inclusion
Entrepreneurship Future of Education & Skills

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Willemien Bax

Head, OECD Forum, OECD

Willemien Bax is currently Head of the OECD Forum, the Organisation's largest annual public event. Ms Bax, a Dutch national, has over 20 years of experience in public affairs, working with governments, as well as non-governmental organisations and the private sector. Prior to joining the OECD, from 2001 to beginning 2010, Ms Bax worked with the European Consumers Organisation (BEUC) as Deputy Director-General where she oversaw BEUC’s public affairs and media relations strategies in a number of public policy areas ranging from transparency and governance to food, environment, health, economic and legal affairs. In 2004, she initiated a training programme financed by the European Commission, for all consumer organisations in the EU, as well as potential EU-candidate countries. The training focused on giving consumer organisations the tools to develop effective public affairs and communication strategies. In 2009, in her capacity as European Chair of the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, she contributed to debates on major international public policy issues such as financial regulation, innovation and energy efficiency.

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