Skills development & lifelong learning

Regional leaders pledge support for lifelong learning in ASEAN

Representatives of inter-governmental, employers’ and workers’ organizations urged all parties to play their roles in upskilling and reskilling workers.

News | 07 April 2022
A woman at work in South-East Asia. ©ShutterStock
As South-East Asia struggles to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, leaders of regional organizations representing governments, employers and workers have committed to support lifelong learning and skills development to help the region “build back better”.

Speaking at the virtual, two-day South-East Asia Skills Forum organized on 29-30 March by the ILO-UK Skills for Prosperity in South-East Asia Programme, they urged the audience of more than 400 people to do the same.

The leaders recognized several challenges faced by workers and employers due to the negative impact of both the pandemic and technological changes.

Mega Irena, the ASEAN Secretariat’s Head of Labour and Civil Service Division, stressed that upgrading skills is pivotal for competitiveness, increased investment and sustainable economies.

Ms Irena said: “Employers should acknowledge in their business strategies that upskilling of their workers is needed if they want to see growth amid digitalization and the greening of the economy”.

She added that workers should also be mindful that higher employability and better career prospects can only be attained through continuous learning.

Ms Irena said all parties have their roles to play and investments to make. She particularly highlighted the “decent work deficit” faced by informal workers and challenges to accessing skills development experienced by those from vulnerable groups.

The ASEAN Secretariat stands ready to support member states in skills development and lifelong learning, she emphasized.

“Lifelong learning and decent work promotion should always be discussed together especially in the context of building back our region to be better”, she added.

Danang Girindrawardana, Secretary General of the ASEAN Confederation of Employers (ACE), urged companies to initiate training programmes that match the needs of the labour market.

Mr Girindrawardana added that: “Lifelong learning must be prioritized by educational initiatives for building back better, including reskilling and upskilling in relation to the industry demand”.

He insisted that companies’ strong links with educational and training institutions to develop curricula, courses and training regulations can support enterprise-based training and apprenticeship programmes.

Governments must invest more to develop skills of their workers."

Ruben Torres, General Secretary of the ASEAN Trade Union Council
Emphasizing the need for regional cooperation, he said: “ACE recommends to employers’ and workers’ organizations that they mobilize and allocate resources and anticipate matching skills needs in the future”.

Ruben Torres, General Secretary of the ASEAN Trade Union Council, called for governments and all stakeholders to prioritize lifelong learning, including upskilling and reskilling.

Mr Toress said: “Policy-makers must identify the skills and training necessary to respond to skills requirements brought about by technological changes and the impact of the pandemic”.

He also highlighted that technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions must recognize the training needs of women, young workers and other vulnerable groups, adding that employers should hire more of them.

“Governments must invest more to develop skills of their workers”, he said.

Other speakers at the forum also shared insights and challenges on lifelong learning in specific South-East Asian nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. Discussions included topics such as strategies to motivate and incentivize workers to take up upskilling and reskilling, as well as the roles of employers in facilitating such skills development.

The event also discussed ways to identify and anticipate future skills needed for green jobs, as well as other measures necessary to adjust skills to the green economy. Other topics of discussion included the need for skills to enable more inclusive and sustainable growth, and effective anticipation and matching of future skills needs.

Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa, ILO’s Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, said the pandemic has led to a rethink of approaches to lifelong learning.

Ms Asada-Miyakawa added: “We need to do better. We need to replenish skills throughout a working career. And this calls for revisiting the models and concepts of lifelong learning to create the future we want.”

Jon Lambe, United Kingdom Ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations emphasized the need to make recovery inclusive and sustainable by enhancing human capital development and continue to prepare for the future of jobs. He said: “This include lifelong learning that our workers need to continue to move and adapt their skills in a rapidly changing world of work.”

To do this, Mr Lambe added, leadership from government, industry, TVET and skills education is a vital part to help institutions focus on emerging industry and start replacing some opportunities lost due to the pandemic.

Highlights from the forum

Key challenges for skills development in ASEAN
• Forecast of employers’ skills needs and the ability of the TVET and skills systems to meet them.
• The business sector not yet perceiving upskilling of workers as a long-term business investment.
• Insufficient cooperation among stakeholders.
• Difficulty in setting effective policies due to lack of comprehensive research in TVET and constraints from governments’ domestic policies.
• A need to catch up with the fast-changing labour market and industrial landscape brought about by technological changes and the COVID-19 crisis.
• A need to make training institutions’ programmes accessible to all workers, especially those from rural areas.
• A need for standardization of education and training curriculums and services across the region.

Policy innovation needed for the development of effective skills and TVET systems
• Increased public-private partnership and research to support more evidence-based policy.
• Strengthening of capacity for online learning.
• Support for policy innovation for inclusiveness.
• Creation of more jobs and more job fields.
• Support for training workers for green jobs.
• Consistency of governments’ green policies and integration of their skills development policies with broader economic policies.