Ten ways to invest in people for a brighter future for work

Cover art Erka Inciong

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Digital Reporter

Entrepreneurs know that making the right investment is key in growing their businesses. A simple technology or infrastructure upgrade can completely transform operations for the better. Unfortunately, human capital — that is, the people behind the economic model — are often overlooked in those investment decisions. This can pose problems not only in the workplace, but also in society-at-large.

Both the private and public sectors need to take steps today in order to avoid these problems escalating in the future. Providing specific action points, the International Labor Organization (ILO) Global Commission on the Future of Work outlined ten recommendations to help address these problems. By improving the labor sector, ILO hopes that the positive effects of a truly comprehensive, collaborative effort will help alleviate the quality of workers’ lives.

“Governments, trade unions, and employers need to work together to make economies and labour markets more inclusive,” said Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, co-chair of the commission. “Such a social dialogue can help make globalization work for everyone.”

Here are ILO’s recommendations in a nutshell:

Recognize a universal entitlement to lifelong learning

If there’s anything that the fresh graduate or even the seasoned executive knows, it’s that learning doesn’t stop after school. The ILO recommends a lifelong learning system that teaches not only technical knowledge but also foundational, social, and cognitive skills. This system would aid workers in reskilling and upskilling when necessary, and even teach them to anticipate the need for continued learning as they progress in their careers.

The establishment of an “employment insurance system” or “social fund” will assure paid time off for workers to engage in training. Education and training funds must likewise be provided for the informal sector. While technology will certainly be a useful tool in these efforts, it must be used more as a supplement rather than a replacement for the expertise and mentorship of real-life teachers.

Support people through future-of-work transitions




Transitions in work can bring about mental and emotional challenges that aren’t often discussed in classes or training sessions. Quality apprenticeships can serve as a good training ground for the youth who are anticipating employment in the near future.

As for older workers, flexible work arrangements such as reduced hours and remote work can help keep them productive as they transition to retirement.

Implement a transformative and measurable agenda for gender equality

Women need an open and safe space for their thoughts and concerns to be heard. The public and private sector can provide this by ensuring active female participation in work operations and eliminating violence and harassment in the workspace.

Companies can further strengthen their initiatives by being accountable for their progress on gender equality, which includes adoption of pay transparency policies. Expansion of leave benefits can also encourage the sharing of home responsibilities between men and women. In the case of women who want to start their own business (especially those in rural areas), access to finance and credit through mobile banking can help provide the funding that they need.

Strengthen social protection systems to guarantee universal coverage of social protection from birth to old age

Problems like hunger and poverty have been realities for many workers since birth and continue to persist even past their retirement. Since these problems distract them from giving their 100 percent at work, their careers are often stunted, keeping them from actualizing their full potentials.

A strong social protection systems will help alleviate these burdens from workers. The government must guarantee a “social protection floor” which they can complement with contributory social insurance schemes. Companies can also provide their own social insurance to increase protection for their employees. With so many new work arrangements cropping up, it’s important that these systems cover those outside the traditional employment setup as well. This includes the informal sector and workers who move between wage employment and self-employment.

Establish a Universal Labor Guarantee

Regardless of social circumstance or sector, every worker has basic needs that need to be addressed. Much like a social protection floor, a “labor protection floor” will ensure the protection of their fundamental workers’ rights, such as the right to organize and freedom from forced labor. It will also guarantee basic working conditions, namely adequate living wages, a limit on hours of work, and safe and healthy workplaces.  

Expand time sovereignty of workers

Time is a resource that many workers aren’t able to maximize or control. A mother may become “time-poor” due to juggling work and home responsibilities, or an on-call remote worker may be getting work beyond their compensation due to “flexible” work hours.

Since these are problems that employers may not personally realize, it’s important to hold dialogues with their workers in order to determine an arrangement that still benefits both parties. For example, time-poor employees may be afforded shorter work hours if they can guarantee that they’ll produce the same amount of output. Or remote workers can request to work only during a specific time period as long they’ll be able to service their clients.

Promote collective representation of workers and employers and social dialogue

History has shown the power of representation in the workplace by giving workers the voice to criticize questionable policies and guard against corporate corruption. Unfortunately, several factors such as disregard of corporations for labor representation have contributed to its weakening over time.

To overcome these challenges, workers’ organizations can start by utilizing digital technology to grow their numbers and communicate with workers in other areas. On the end of enterprises, they must establish consultation and information arrangements with their workers, placing worker representatives on their boards.

Adopt a “human-in-command” approach to harnessing technology in support of decent work

Technology has been mankind’s tool in improve their quality of life — and the same must hold true for the labor sector. This doesn’t stop at using equipment to do the dirty and dangerous work. Technology can also be utilized to provide valuable insights (such as data mining to identify improvements for labor inspection systems) and guaranteeing compliance with regulations (such as blockchain double-checking that employees are paid at least the minimum wage).

While it has definitely become more intelligent and sophisticated over time, the final say in any decision must still come from the worker. By adopting this “human-in-command” approach, technological decisions are kept in check by the human touch. For instance, algorithms used for job matching may reproduce prejudices which can only be identified by a human being.

Create incentives to promote investments in key areas for decent and sustainable work

Infrastructure, if neglected, can stunt the growth of the labor sector. Poorly-constructed roads can reinforce the urban-rural divide, while slow telecommunication connections can cost work opportunities abroad. Governments need to invest in high-quality infrastructure which ultimately will positively impact all kinds of industries.

Once achieved, further investments should be done in key economies that promote decent and sustainable work, such as the care, green, and rural economies. These investments will not only create work opportunities but also affect positive social change. For instance, the care economy is expected to not only generate 475 million jobs by 2030 but can also help empower women to join the workforce. By strengthening these economies, both economic and social needs of society will be satisfied.

Reshape business incentives to encourage long-term investments in the economy and develop supplementary indicators of progress towards well-being, environmental sustainability, and equality

Because of their large scale, enterprises must be held accountable for the impact of their activities on sectors such as the environment. Unfortunately, strong pressure to meet short-term financial targets may keep them from seeing the bigger picture.

To help encourage long-term planning, corporate governance must extend stakeholder representation in operations and establish incentives for long-term success. This way, businesses can focus on making their operations more sustainable instead of worrying about meeting the bottom-line.

In the same way that profit isn’t the sole standard of a company’s success, GDP alone shouldn’t account for the country’s progress. New supplementary indicators need to be developed, such as those measuring household income growth and access to education and health care.



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