After a hiatus of more than ten (10) years, the ASEAN Confederation of Employers (ACE) organized a Conference addressing skills development in South East Asia with the theme ASEAN Employers: Empowering People, Prioritizing Skills.
Organized by the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) as ACE Secretariat, the Conference was held on 20 April 2018 at the Marriott Hotel Manila, Philippines. The Conference served as a platform for South East Asian employers and business leaders to assess the current standing of skills development within the ASEAN agenda, generate and consolidate inputs to ensure more responsive policies and regulations on skills at the national and regional levels, showcase best practices on skills development, and promote cooperation, collaboration, and synergy within the ASEAN business community.
Two hundred (200) delegates participated in the conference, composed of business leaders and employers from eight (8) out of ten (10) South East Asian countries, representatives from South East Asian Countries’ missions to the Philippines, the International Labor Organisation, and the German Agency for International Cooperation – Regional Cooperation on TVET (GIZ-RECOTVET).
The urgent need for an inclusive and people-centered ASEAN
ACE President Atty. Ancheta K. Tan called the Conference to order and delivered the opening remarks. In his address, President Tan noted that as the ASEAN Economy moves closer towards complete integration, coupled with increasing globalization and radical changes and developments in technology, there is a need for the ASEAN community to become more people-centered and inclusive. With a population of over 600 million, the ASEAN has a labor force that can substantially contribute to significant regional economic growth if member states promote cooperation and invest in proactive skills development that enable the workforce to respond to the fast-changing needs of the labor market.
The role of Governments in addressing job-skills mismatch and promoting decent jobs
In his keynote address, Philippine Department of Labor and Employment Undersecretary Claro Arellano emphasized that fluidity in skills is the key in ensuring long-term competitiveness of countries and economies. However this is challenged by job-skills mismatch that is faced not only by the Philippines, but also by other ASEAN countries. Policy-makers, government institutions, industry players, the labor sector, the academe, and civil society organisations need to synergize efforts in order to address the emerging challenges and demands from the labor market.
Undersecretary Arellano also mentioned that human capital is at the forefront of regional economic integration. However, the Undersecretary highlighted that despite high economic growth and easier exchange of labor, governments must ensure that jobs are decent and workers are well-protected by policies and regulations. He assured the conference delegates that the Philippine government is continuing to promote bilateral, regional, and multilateral cooperation in order to enhance the Filipino workers’ welfare.
The current and future context
The opening address entitled “The Future of the Workforce: What’s Up and What’s Next on Skills Development” was delivered by Dr. Sungsup Ra, Director of the Human and Social Development Division of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). His presentation provided the overall context of skills development in the ASEAN for the present and an outlook into the future and examined the factors that drove the transformational change in the economic landscape of the region.
In the next twenty (20) years, Asia is foreseen to have doubled its labor force participation rate which in turn doubles the global pool of inexpensive labor. Technological advancements and Industry 4.0 have made work more mobile and have impacted existing jobs especially manual and routine jobs. Some jobs will be wiped out in the next five (5) years and developing countries are more at risk for massive unemployment.
Dr. Ra identified four challenges to skills development in the ASEAN region: (1) how skills development could be harnessed towards making economies highly productive, (2) lack of industrial partnerships, (3) job-skills mismatch, and (4) weak institutional capacity. In addition, Dr. Ra posits that skills development is often looked at as a secondary in economy development, however, he argued that investing in the labor force and in developing their skills is the most efficient wat to boost the economy.
In this regard, Dr. Ra gave a few recommendations on how skills development could be made an integral part of economic development: (1) Employers can make skills development a part of their business development and sustainability strategies, (2) revitalize skills development in terms of updating curricula and modes of instruction, ensuring that (3) there is a right mix of foundation skills v. specific skills, and soft skills, v. hard skills, (4) strengthen industry-academe linkages, and (5) enable the freer movement of goods, capital, and skilled labor within the region.
The significance of continuous learning, industry participation, and keen attention on soft skills
The Conference’s plenary session entitled “Challenges and Opportunities: Employer Perspective on Skills, Innovation, and Competition” addressed the impact of the radical changes to the business environment, the skills needed to cope with a technology-driven economy, and the interventions required to address the supply of skills to match new needs.
The first speaker, Ms. Deborah France-Massin, Director of the Bureau of Employers’ Activities of the ILO, oriented her discussion on how technology will impact jobs and the importance of investing in soft skills. According to Ms. France-Massin, technology is definitely disruptive will give rise to new jobs and new sectors but will replace repetitive ones. The ILO predicts that half of all jobs in the ASEAn region could be automated in the next decade. This disruption is also expected to affect lower skilled jobs in labor intensive sectors, especially women who work in these sectors.
Investment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is necessary in order to keep up with these changes, however Ms. France-Massin emphasized that soft skills need to be developed at the same time. There is a need to focus on the comparative advantage that separate humans from machines and those are interpersonal and management skills. The wider use of technology will need more managers and supervisors which require human intervention.
The second speaker, Mr. Jos van Erp, Deputy Director & Special Advisor on Skills Development of the Dutch Employers Cooperation Programme (DECP) highlighted the roles that governments, employers, and academic institutions play in skills development and the indispensability of cooperation among these three parties. These three parties all need to participate in the continuous development of curricula and learning modalities, mutually invest time, expertise, equipment, and technology, promote sectoral and regional cooperation, and fast track the legislation of necessary laws and policies. Mr. van Erp mentioned that despite national, regional, and cultural contexts and experiences differ, some of labor market challenges are universal, and this includes skills development. The universal quality of the challenge of skills development makes the sharing of interventions possible. Mr. van Erp ended his discussion by encouraging the EBMOs present to promote participation from their member companies to national skills development.
In the open forum, the issue of technical vocational education and training (TVET) as being “second class” was raised by an audience member. Ms. France-Massin and Mr. van Erp acknowledged that this is true in a lot of culture. However, they mentioned that by engaging partners and making concerted efforts, TVET could be upscaled.
The need for special interventions for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs)
The first panel discussion entitled “Strategies and Responses: Bridging Gaps, Creating Solutions on Skills Development” consisted of speakers from Indonesia (APINDO), Malaysia (MEF), Thailand (ECOT), and the GIZ RECOTVET, and discussed the various workplace practices and interventions that employers could implement to promote skills development within their own enterprises.
Some of the examples given include joint declarations between enterprises within the industry, on the job training (OJT) programmes, job rotations across business units, leadership and personal effectiveness trainings, and mentoring by leaders. It was also raised by the panelists that employers have the responsibility of changing the mindset of their employees and make the more open to technological change.
Mr. Ingo Imhoff from the GIZ-RECOTVET brought into attention the special situation of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) who often have limited resources yet often belong in sectors that will be most affected by disruptive trends. They would require special interventions from the government and larger businesses in order to adapt to the changing labor market.
The importance of public-private partnerships in skills development
The second panel discussion “Public-Private Sector Partnerships: Scaling Up Interventions” explored how partnerships between the government and employers can make the training system more responsive to meet industry and worker demands and needs. The panel discussants included representatives from Cambodia (CAMFEBA), the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and the IT & Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP).
At the onset it was established that job-skills mismatch and the disruptions caused by Industry 4.0 are mutually experienced by the panel discussants, but of varying degrees of severity. Due to rapid technological advancements, boosting production no longer immediately equates to more employment opportunities. To further, job-skills mismatch was also seen to negatively impact migration policies in pursuit of job preservation. When local employers cannot fill their skills demands using local workers, they will hire from abroad which will further compound local unemployment.
Ms. Lone Folmer Berthelsen from DI emphasized that industry representatives must have direct links to academic institutions because this is the only way to ensure that curricula and the skills of workers are tailor-fit to local industry demands. Furthermore, the similarity in problems faced despite the varying contexts allows for the sharing of tools and responses among countries.
How can employer and business membership organizations contribute to the skills agenda?
The final panel discussion of the conference discussed the necessity for EOs and BMOs to contribute in scaling up the interventions on skills development and in shaping the policy environment. The session “Role of Employer and Business Membership Organizations: Advancing the Agenda on Skills Development” were participated on by representatives from Myanmar (UMFCCI), Singapore (SNEF), the International Organisation of Employers (IOE), and the Philippine Business for Education (PBed).
Two main roles of EBMOs were identified by the panelists: (1) lobbying and advocacy, and (2) provision of services, training, and technical support to employers.
In terms of lobbying and advocacy, EBMOs have the obligation to make sure that skills development is at the top of the legislative agenda because this is an issue that will affect the general employment situation as well as both employers and workers. They need to make sure that when the appropriate legislation is passed, employers must be involved in its implementation.
EBMOs should also take it upon themselves to provide services and trainings for their members so they will be able to capacitate to participate in training modalities such as apprenticeship and the dual training system.
To further, EBMOs are also seen to be able to contribute to the enrichment of the labor market information by being able to identify present and future skills demands of employers.
In conclusion, the panelists encouraged the body to take part in the promotion of continuous learning in the workforce. Employers were also encouraged to provide opportunities for further education to their employees.
The highlight of the Conference was the presentation of the ACE Framework on Skills Development or the Manila Declaration. The Declaration was adopted by the Conference participants as the official position of ACE on skills development.
Ms. Cathy Yang of the ABS-CBN News Channel and Mr. Graeme Buckley of the ILO Decent Work Team served as moderators for the various sessions. The International Labour Organisation, the Dutch Employers Cooperation Programme, the United Nations Population Fund, the Philippine Exporters Confederation, Toyota Philippines Inc., SM Investment Inc. and PMFTC (Philip Morris) Inc supported the event.