Skills and the Future of Work in Asia: Statement by ILO Regional Director

Statement by Ms. Tomoko Nishimoto Regional Director of the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific on Skills strategies for inclusive growth in Asia and the Pacific.

Statement | 19 November 2018
A very warm welcome to you all to the “ILO-Korea TVET Forum on Skills and the Future of Work.


I would like to express my particular appreciation to His Excellency Police General Adul Sangsingkaew, the Minister of Labour in Thailand for gracing this occasion despite his tight schedule.  I would like to congratulate Thailand on its acceptance as the ASEAN Chairpersonship for 2019.  Without doubt, under Thailand’s stewardship, ASEAN will drive forward the dialogue on many pertinent issues for the community, including the “Future of Work”. 


Ladies and gentlemen, most of us who gathered in this room are old enough to recall our childhood with no internet, no email or mobile phones.  The changes we have seen in our lifetime are tremendous.  And we can only expect that the changes in the coming years and decades will be even deeper and wider across our economies and societies, most likely faster too. Consequential disruption at an unprecedented level and speed is to spare no one.  


Living through these changes, it is as if we were travelling through uncharted territories with no definitive map. I felt quite scared at times, but also very excited to see how the global scenes will unfold. 

I believe each one of you has mixed feelings of excitement and concern over the constant changes.  I believe each one of you have wondered what would be the best way to understand and respond effectively to these changes in the world of work. 


I think several things are clear. One, the world is  closely intertwined and countries are connected to each other in complex ways.  Going through the changes must be a joint undertaking with a common goal for the world’s peace, social justice and sustainable development.  Two - it is clear that if we are in this together, we need to continue our utmost efforts to think together to devise measures to tackle  challenges from the disruption, and therefore social dialogue at all levels is of paramount importance.


In this sense, I hope you would all agree that it is extremely opportune that the ILO-Korea TVET Forum, 2018 is organized in Thailand with the theme of vital importance in chartering our future direction and skills development.  The issue of skills should be one of our key concerns in identifying strategies for inclusive growth for the region in the midst of ongoing and forthcoming changes. 


This important forum would not have been possible without the support from the Government of the Republic of Korea.  I would like to express our heartfelt appreciation towards the Government of Korea.  We, the ILO, are extremely privileged to be able to jointly host this forum.  We are grateful for the contribution made under the ILO/Korea Partnership Programme, which provides technical support and expertise in selected fields of work.  Skills development comprises a significant part of this portfolio. It was in October 2016 that we had the first ILO-KOREA TVET Forum.  Since then, our debate on a number of skills-related issues has been continuing, and has uplifted the level of discussions on skills and the future of work. 


I recall that when we held the Forum in 2016, the topic of skills and the future of work was still a topic of discussion largely amongst the most advanced economies only.  Having recognized the relevance and importance of the subject for this region, the forum in 2016 in fact triggered the debate on the topic of skills and the future of work for the region. Now in November 2018, just two years since the first TVET Forum, the subject of skills and the future of work is a major concern to many countries across this region and it has been integrated into the respective socio-economic development framework of many countries.


Ladies and Gentlemen,We live in a time of rapid change, and few areas of our lives are changing as quickly as the world of work. Earlier I mentioned the emergence of internet and mobile phones.  As we all know, the change is not just about the availability of advanced technologies and communication methods. Even the way we work, the way the workplace looks, the way we organize our work, the way we produce items are all going through rapid and significant changes. As the workplace changes and tasks we do change, we need new skills, different skills and  skills development systems that can support these adjustments.  


The impacts of these technological advancements on jobs remain highly debated.  Some argue that while some jobs might be lost, new jobs would be created.  We must remember that those who have obtained new jobs are not necessarily those who have lost jobs. There are two things we need to highlight here.  First, the extent of technological impacts on jobs are determined not simply by the availability of technology or how advanced the technology have become.  Another determining factor of vital importance is the choices that the private sector and enterprises would make and how they would make use of those technologies, and how they would manage the impacts it would have on existing jobs.  It is “these types of choices” that matter in the end.   


Second, the education and skills training systems need to redefine training approaches so as to better prepare people for the future world of work.  It is observed that in order to maintain employment, and to not be replaced by automation and the likes or robotics, people need to acquire a broader range of skills in order to better adapt to the changing nature of work and enable themselves to smoothly shift careers when the time comes.


Ladies and gentlemen, the trend of the global discussion seems to pay attention much more to the issue of technology, AI or Industry 4.0.  However, it is important to understand that there are other major trends that are affecting jobs and skills. Partly affected by technological advancement, business models are also changing, including the expansion of global value chains and so-called network businesses. Demographic transformation and changes – particularly aging - is another trend.  While an ageing economy is a key concern for some countries in this region, many other countries in the region need to keep addressing persistent youth unemployment issues.  Also, we are increasingly concerned about the health of our planet, the air quality and the environmental degradation.  Asia and the Pacific region has been the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.  Therefore, moving towards a greener, inclusive and sustainable development is imperative. It is our responsibility to collectively direct our efforts on skills development within these changing contexts of work in order to support the transitions that we need to make for better economic and social-wellbeing.  


The skills agenda of the Asia and the Pacific need to take the discussion further.  The Asia and the Pacific region is an economic success story on the global scene. Over the past two decades, the region has halved poverty and brought more people to middle-class status faster than any other region at any other time. Yet, a large informal economy, rural-urban disparities and poor job quality remain among the unfortunate features that characterize the region Inequalities are also widening. As countries in this region strive to move up from low-to middle-income status, then onto high-income status, the fair sharing by all people of the benefits from economic development remains a challenge and aspiration of the region.  I firmly believe that skills development is key to meeting those challenges and aspirations.

This Forum builds on the outcomes from several key debates and other forums that the ILO has facilitated on skills development and the future of work, since the first forum held in 2016. This Forum is designed to take the debate to an elevated level by addressing how these additional trends, such as ageing, changing business models and a more advanced stage of globalization, will shape the future world of work and determine how education and skills training can best address employment needs.


At this juncture, I am very pleased to inform you that during this Forum, tomorrow, we will launch an ILO publication dedicated to this subject.  The book, that carries the same title as this Forum –Skills and the Future of Work: Strategies for Inclusive Growth, it is a culmination of the key outcomes of the debates we have had so far, and combines front-line research, initiatives and perspectives in and from the region. The editors and many of the authors of the chapters of the book are present here with us in this Forum to share their findings and key messages. I would like to express my sincere appreciation of their contributions to the book.   


Ladies and gentlemen, ILO is now preparing for the 100th anniversary of its founding, in 1919, next year. The future of work is a prominent feature of the ILO centenary celebrations, and skills development is a critical theme in this initiative.    The forum is timely, and I would like to ask you to be very generous in sharing your knowledge, experience and wisdom during the next two days as we truly are in this together in terms of advancing the skills development agenda for building a sustainable and inclusive future for Asia and the Pacific.


I wish you an engaging and fruitful meeting, thank you.