Lifelong learning

Why Trade Unions should act on Skills Development – and how?

To build a ‘better normal’ in the post-COVID-19 world of work, skills development and lifelong learning need to be part of economic transformation. This responsibility should not reside with governments and companies alone. Trade Unions have an important role to play in shaping the professional development of workers at any age. A new, easy-to-use ILO Resource Guide illustrates how Trade Unions can engage more effectively in skills development policies and practices.

News | 19 February 2021

Skills development, in particular Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Lifelong Learning (LLL), are essential to enhance workers’ capabilities to participate fully in decent work and socio-economic inclusion. Young people and workers at all levels should have the chance to acquire skills that will help them to obtain employment, to keep a job, and to manage employment transitions.

Trade Unions can effectively advocate for creating quality training and lifelong learning opportunities. In fast changing labour markets, the nature of jobs will change. Technological innovations will affect the tasks and skills compositions of most jobs, generate new occupations and transform the demand for skills of young and older workers. Skills updating and upgrading is essential for workers not to become obsolete but to remain qualified.

Professional competences play an important role for company productivity and competitiveness. Skills are therefore an important factor for Trade Unions when negotiating better work conditions. There is hard evidence that the willingness of companies to train and the participation of workers in company training  increase with the rate of unionisation.
“We are involved (in skills development) because more skilled workers means more productive collective bargaining. Workers who can bargain based on their skills - according to the demand of the labour market - reach better results, higher salaries and more decent work conditions.”

Vasyl Andreyev, President of the Construction and Building Materials Workers Union of Ukraine during the official launch of the Resource Guide

The new ILO Resource Guide Skills Development and Lifelong Learning: Resource Guide for Workers’ Organizations aims at enhancing the capacity and engagement of Trade Unions in skills development. It addresses leaders, advisors, facilitators and trainers of Trade Unions who wish to strengthen the role and influence of Workers' Organisations in skills development and lifelong learning. The Resource Guide is the result of a partnership between the ILO Skills and Employability Branch (ILO/SKILLS) and the Bureau for Workers' Activities (ACTRAV). It is structured along the following questions:
  • Why should Trade Unions engage in skills development and lifelong learning?
  • What issues affect Trade Union involvement? How can they engage effectively?
  • What should be the priority areas?
  • What areas of skills and lifelong learning require the engagement of Trade Unions?
Through concrete examples, users learn how Workers‘ organisations can get more actively involved in key areas of skills systems. They will understand the importance of a rights-based approach to lifelong learning and identify best practices, key priorities and main challenges for Trade Union action. In particular, the Resource Guide provides:

► Short, informative overviews over the important technical issues and policy areas;
► Workshop materials and learning activities to define policy messages and areas of action;
► Information on developing and extending Trade Union services on Skills Development;
► Examples of Trade Union action in different countries around the world.

In Central and Eastern Europe, Trade Unions participate in social dialogue. Many countries have established Economic and Social Councils, VET or Employment Councils for policy consultations, including at local level. In North Macedonia, for instance, some Local Economic and Social Councils analysed labour market developments and, in cooperation with local VET schools, updated training curricula. In Montenegro, Trade Unions actively contributed to the development of the dual VET system. The Construction and Building Materials Workers Union of Ukraine engages with VET students already during their vocational training, to ensure training quality and inform them about unionisation. However, in most countries of the region, active Trade Union participation in VET and LLL remains a challenge, as they often lack the staff, financial means and knowledge of the subject matter.

The ILO Office for Central and Eastern Europe assists countries in strengthening social dialogue and the role of Trade Unions through advice, capacity building and concrete action. In this context, an ILO technical cooperation project in North Macedonia facilitated training on skills needs anticipation and matching for tripartite Local Economic and Social Councils. In Ukraine, ILO actively included trade unions in the modernisation of VET curricula. Meanwhile, in Moldova an ILO-project supported the establishment of six tripartite Sectoral Skills Committees (SSCs) and train them in project development and skills needs anticipation.

The Resource Guide was lauched during a Global Webinar on November 19th 2020 and forms part of a comprehensive ILO support program for trade unions in preparation of two major events:
We encourage Trade Unions, trainers, facilitators and activists at all levels, as well as ILO officials and institutions working on social justice to use the Resource Guide, to strengthen the strategic role of workers’ organizations all promote skills development for all workers throughout their working lives.