Future of work

Entrepreneurship skills training essential in 4.0 era to promote decent work

Director of ILO ENTERPRISES Department, Vic van Vuuren, shared his views as he represented ILO at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on ASEAN which took place in Hanoi on 11-13 September.

Comment | 12 October 2018
Director of ILO ENTERPRISES Department, Vic van Vuuren

What do you think about the 4th industrial revolution, the main theme of this year’s conference?

There is a recognition that the 4th industrial revolution is about technology-driven changes, or digitalization and automation. All of those technological advances are going to impact on how we work. There are however a lot of other linked debates that are equally important, and that's where the ILO debate comes in. It doesn't help that the 4th industrial revolution enables the rich to get richer, the poor to remain poor with many people unemployed. It has to link to the sustainable development goals where we change the world for the better. The fine line about success is between enabling businesses to grow and flourish but at the same time reducing the global social deficit through inclusivity and sharing of wealth. How you distribute this wealth among those who need it is going to be a key challenge.

The debate on the 4th industrial revolution is emphasizing the importance of technological advances. One key success factor moving forward is having the right skills for the future. What needs to be done is to analyze the market and to match skills to the market needs. Many countries are producing unemployable youth and will need to readjust the education and development policies to address these future markets.

There are two important components – actual skills, such as the skills of technology or the ability to do business, and soft skills. The world needs a lot more soft skills. Once again, the debate is so focused on technology that I think we need to remind ourselves that soft skills are going to be equally important.

What were the ILO’s key messages to the WEF?

The World Economic Forum is at the forefront of economic thinking in the globe. We cannot teach the World Economic Forum players what to do on the economic front, they teach us. We are the custodian of a decent work agenda. Our message is that we support all of this change but as mentioned we want to see economic growth bringing about a reduction on the social deficit whilst creating and promoting decent jobs for all.

We also want to ensure that in the global debate there is a recognition for fair and just labour practices. Remember that almost 100 years ago, the ILO was established after the First World War where there was a lot of unfair labour practices. Since then, we've been driving the decent work agenda which hasn't changed through the Second World War and through all the turmoil that'sgoing on in the world now. And with the Industrial Revolution we need to continue with that message.

How do you think this particular WEF can support the decent work agenda? And what are the roles of governments in this?

Leadership is going to be key and it was Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc who quoted the ILO saying that ILO needs to continue researching into the data of what's available in the markets, where jobs are being lost, where jobs are being gained, where there are bad practices and where there are good practices. He referred to the job shift in his speech and so we need to continue providing country and business leaders with the information that they require to make sure that there's a decent work agenda whilst enabling them to provide the necessary regulatory framework that encourages economic growth and decent jobs.

Government is the catalyst to everything because that regulatory framework creates the space where people can do good business, access to finance and is monitored through labor inspection. The government has to create that space. The private sector on the other hand needs to be a willing partner with government in ensuring positive growth to the benefit of all.

ASEAN countries have many small and medium enterprises which are weak in terms of finance, management and technology adoption. So how can they survive in this industrial revolution?

Governments have to invest in affordable training schemes because small businesses normally cannot afford that. The nature of training has to be participatory. The governments will have to bring technology to the small businesses and give them access to finance that enables them to upgrade their businesses. Small businesses are extremely vulnerable and need support in order to become sustainable.

Some are worried that many young people will be out of job because of automation. Which demographic group is the most vulnerable in this industrial revolution?

Young people in Asean countries can be optimistic about the future as the countries are producing skills for the future. The important component is to continually up-skill and introduce lifelong learning in order to meet the demands of an ever changing labour market. However, young people need to be trained in entrepreneurship skills and at the moment not many countries have entrepreneurship as part of the schooling system and their students haven't been taught how to start a business or to be part of a business. In the long-term, you need to make sure that your students are going to bridge the gaps in the market.

In Viet Nam, I spoke to young people at a technology conference. There was a vibrant energy that was extremely positive. The young faces that I met there were just looking for opportunities and it's the Government's responsibility to create the space for them.

If you have a positive young generation that is prepared to work hard, you have a catalyst for big things to go forward and for me that's what the 4th industrial revolution is about. It is about producing creative and innovative thinkers who can say: “Give me enough opportunity and I will help to change the world in a positive way.”