Preparing for jobs of tomorrow
G7 Summit

Preparing for jobs of tomorrow

Since the G7 leaders met in Taormina last year, discussions of the future of work have continued to expand. It remains a critical task for all G7 governments to ‘support all of their citizens to adapt and thrive in the new world of work’. Therefore, I strongly welcomed the decision of the Canadian presidency to adopt ‘Preparing for jobs for the future’ as one of the major themes for the G7 in 2018. Already, a joint session between G7 employment and innovation ministers in Montreal in March has provided a forum to discuss the link between technological innovation and the potential for decent work.

Over the past few years, the debate about how new technologies will impact the world of work has evolved considerably. The ‘doom’ scenario of massive job losses no longer dominates the debate. Instead, a more balanced – perhaps more realistic – analysis has emerged that recognises the job-creating potential of digitalisation, as well as its potential to alter a significant proportion of the work performed today. In addition, inequality is on the rise, the gender gap in labour force participation remains stubbornly large and high youth unemployment persists.

So what do we need to do? First, we must reject the ‘techno-determinism’ that also characterised earlier debates. We must recognise – as G7 ministers did in Montreal – that public and private policies hold the key to how we harness the unprecedented changes that are unfolding in order to achieve inclusion, equality and security. Three policy principles deserve special emphasis. First, we should invest more in people as we do in technologies. Investing in people means that we need strong policies and financial support to facilitate the myriad transitions and cushion the risks that workers will experience throughout their working lives.

A new approach to skills
Given the constant and accelerating pace of technological change, workers will need to upgrade and adjust their skills continuously over their working lives. This requires new approaches for managing the different transitions that individuals will face as they enter the labour market and interrupt their working lives to reskill and re-engage. This life-cycle approach raises fundamental questions about the respective responsibilities of governments, workers and enterprises in making choices about when and how to reskill and retrain. Moreover, it requires solid financing – and creative approaches for identifying sources of it, perhaps from the new technological dividends that are so keenly anticipated.

In parallel, we need to invest more in social protection systems to support workers who may need time out of work to gain the new skills they require. As G7 ministers recognised, social protection systems must accommodate workers in non-standard forms of employment, including the platform economy.

Second, we need to push harder than ever for gender equality. Women’s work should be fully recognised and the gender pay gap closed. More broadly, the conventional measures of economic growth, as reflected in our national accounting systems, do not recognise the value of unpaid work within the household, which is predominantly undertaken by women.

Ending workplace harassment
We are also witnessing unprecedented international attention to sexual harassment and violence. One area of focus during the ministerial discussion – ending violence and harassment at work – highlighted the clear link between women’s economic empowerment and safe workplaces. The International Labour Organization (ILO) is leading international efforts to address violence and harassment at work through a standard-setting initiative that will begin this year and culminate at our centenary conference in 2019.

Third, we need to strengthen social dialogue and tripartism at this critical juncture in order to develop a future that we want. Although employers’ organisations and trade unions face tremendous pressures, innovative ways of organising both employers and workers (sometimes using new technologies) are emerging, especially in G7 members. We also see new regulatory methods emerging as a result of social dialogue, especially in the areas of training and social protection.

The Charlevoix Summit is an opportunity for G7 leaders to discuss all of these challenging issues, which the ILO’s Global Commission on the Future of Work is also pursuing. The commission’s final report at the beginning of 2019 will also guide the ILO as it begins its second century, ensuring that the future of work leaves no one behind.