The crucial need to promote lifelong learning

Lifelong learning is widely recognised yet research continues to show that too many workers don’t have access to upskilling and reskilling opportunities.
The crucial need to promote lifelong learning
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The rapid pace of technological innovation and the shift to a low-carbon economy are triggering profound changes for the world of work. Recent advances in artificial intelligence are expanding the range of tasks susceptible to automation, prompting widespread speculation and concern among workers about job losses. While the long-term impacts on demand for labour may not be clear, changes in task composition and the nature of jobs are certain and are already being felt in a range of occupations. In parallel, climate adaptation and mitigation policies are driving a shift away from high-carbon and polluting activities and products. This will create new jobs in green activities, but is likely to lead to substantial employment losses in many industrial sectors. The impacts of these shifts will not be felt equally, and, without urgent policy action, have the potential to exacerbate gender, social and regional inequalities as well as across regions.  

Lifelong learning is widely recognised – by governments, social partners and international organisations such as the OECD and the ILO – as crucial to equip individuals and societies to navigate these changes and to ensure that the transition to a green and digital economy is just and inclusive. However, research continues to show that too many workers don’t have access to upskilling and reskilling opportunities. This year’s edition of the OECD’s annual Education At A Glance publication reported that only slightly more than one in ten adults participate in non-formal education and training, on average across OECD and accession countries. The picture painted by data on who participates is a cause for concern, showing that those most in need of training tend to be less likely to receive it. This includes older adults, individuals with lower levels of educational attainment, and those with vocational education and training qualifications. The OECD has also found that participation in job-related learning activities is lower among workers in jobs at a high risk of automation, with data showing low rates of participation in the manufacturing, construction, transportation and employment sectors.

More on the Forum Network: Multi-generational, diverse, resilient: the key to a thriving workforce of the future by Country President at Adecco UK and IRE, The Adecco Group

Organisations need to be more resilient than ever to respond to high inflation and energy costs, global economic instability, and changing worker and customer expectations. Of the many issues organisations are dealing with today, one of the most prevalent is the labour and skills shortage, explains JC Townend.

The ILO has called on countries to recognise a right to lifelong learning for all, and a universal right to lifelong learning is also specified in the first principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Ensuring the implementation of this in practice requires a range of policy measures that address the various barriers individuals may face in accessing training. A guaranteed entitlement to paid time off to train is crucial, as lack of time and loss of earnings represent key obstacles for many workers. Financing mechanisms to cover the cost of training are also essential: the OECD Dashboard of Indicators on Equity In and Through Education published earlier this year shows that participation fees prevent a high number of adults from accessing training. Other important measures include expanding and strengthening career guidance services, and processes for the validation and recognition of existing skills and prior learning (both formal and non-formal).

Many industries today are concerned about skills shortages. If not urgently addressed, these are likely to increase, and could jeapordise efforts to reach carbon neutrality

Ensuring all adults have access to quality and effective learning opportunities should be viewed as a shared responsibility between governments and social partners, and requires strong social dialogue and collective bargaining. Trade unions play a critical role in negotiating individual training rights and the conditions to ensure workers can exercise them in practice. In Sweden, for instance, two national agreements concluded by social partners earlier this year include an individual right to training and to financial support to participate in courses to improve their skills. An individual right to training is also provided for in the National Collective Labour Agreement for the manufacturing and mechanical engineering industry in Italy, with each employee entitled to at least 24 hours of training during each contractual period. In addition to promoting greater equity in access to training, trade unions are also uniquely placed to identify training needs in a rapidly changing working environment, and are therefore a critical voice on Skills Councils or other discussions on skills demand and supply. 

Many industries today are concerned about skills shortages. If not urgently addressed, these are likely to increase, and could jeapordise efforts to reach carbon neutrality. However, it is important to remember that, while essential, investments in upskilling and re-skilling are not a silver bullet and should go hand-in-hand with active labour market and industrial policies to ensure the creation of quality jobs and smooth transitions for workers.

The OECD has a critical role to play not only in supporting countries in the development of comprehensive and effective skills strategies but also in promoting social dialogue and collective bargaining. As the OECD has highlighted, collective bargaining is key in anticipating and responding to workplace changes, producing tailored and balanced solutions to the organisation and regulation of new forms of work, addressing wage inequality, and in supporting displaced workers' transition to new jobs. It is crucial that the OECD takes a more active role in calling on and supporting governments to facilitate and reinforce collective bargaining in their national contexts. This is critical to address current labour market challenges and ensure all companies and workers benefit from the climate and digital transformations.

To learn more, read the OECD report: Education at a Glance 2023

Education at a Glance is the authoritative source for information on the state of education around the world. It provides data on the structure, finances and performance of education systems across OECD countries and a number of accession and partner countries. More than 100 charts and tables in this publication – as well as links to much more available on the educational database – provide key information on the output of educational institutions; the impact of learning across countries; access, participation and progression in education; the financial resources invested in education; and teachers, the learning environment and the organisation of schools. The 2023 edition includes a focus on vocational education and training (VET), examining participation in VET and the structure of VET programmes. This edition also includes a new chapter - Ensuring continued learning for Ukrainian refugees - which presents the results of an OECD 2023 survey that collected data on measures taken by OECD countries to integrate Ukrainian refugees into their education systems.

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