SkillingNow Podcast: Episode 7 - English Transcript

Audio in Spanish

Transcript Podcast GAN Argentina – Episode 7

Cecilia Sleiman: Welcome to the new episode of the Skilling Now Podcast. My name is Cecilia Sleiman, I am the Coordinator of GAN Argentina. We are joined today by Bettina Schaller, Head of Global Public Affairs of The Adecco Group, and Daniel Funes de Rioja, Vice-President of the Argentine Industrial Union and President of the B20 of 2018. María Del Mar Munguía, the GAN Costa Rica Coordinator, will also join us to ask our interviewees some questions.

The first question I have for Bettina is: what are the main incentives for a company to incorporate work-based learning (WBL) programs into its policies?

Bettina Schaller: Thank you very much Cecilia for this question and this opportunity to participate in this Global Apprenticeship Network (GAN) podcast of the SkillingNow campaign. It’s a pleasure to be here.

If I understand the question correctly, you’d like to know what are the incentives for companies, right? The truth, Cecilia, is that more than incentives, we talk about necessity. A necessity because, talent is the most important element for each company and, unfortunately in many countries when graduates complete their education, they do not have the skills needed for the labour market in general, and companies in particular. On the other hand, there's the tech element. It requires more specialized skills on the one hand, but they also need to be practical on the other. And so, we see that a company no longer has any choice but to implement policies, and above all to have skilling programs, to transmit relevant skills to the people that join the company. This is a very important element today, and of course, we know that it also has an impact in regard to financing, but I think we will talk about this later.

Cecilia Sleiman: Thank you very much.

Maria Del Mar Munguía: Thank you very much. My question is for Don Daniel. Don Daniel, you are a representative of the business sector. What policies do you think the government of Argentina, and governments in general, can adopt to create an environment conducive to lifelong learning? What could work and what couldn't work?

Daniel Funes de Rioja: First of all, thank you for this interview, I think this dialogue is very important. The first thing I have to say is that governments need to be aware of this problem. And that’s not always the case, because there's no vision. In many cases there is a lack of vision, a lack of timely understanding of the needs. Even the growth of the informal economy in many of our countries and in Latin America as a whole, is often linked to the skills gap. Because lower skilled jobs are usually at a higher risk of moving into the informal sector. So there's a misconception. Once you become aware of this, you have to have a vision of where to go.

Furthermore, we need to motivate all actors in society to search for solutions. Experience has shown us a lack of a timely response, for example by trade unions, which caused them a loss of membership in the energy crisis of the seventies. And in 2008-2009, during the financial crisis that became global, the European governments that responded with training and learning, and the unions that responded seeking to improve competitiveness and impact on employment levels, were more effective.

Vision, political definition and determination of means of action: What means of action do we need to use? Should action only come from the education system? No, we have to act through the education system and through labour legislation, or the tools we have. We cannot, in many of our countries, have a nineteenth-century education system for 21st-century education demand. Nor can we have a workforce trained with a first and second Industrial Revolution mindset when we are in the fourth Industrial Revolution.

The union of both elements is what has led our Japanese colleagues from the G20 to talk about "Society 5.0". That is, for an Industry 4.0, you have to have a society, a community, to advance to 5.0. And from a political point of view, we have to demand the right tools for this, so that work-based learning programmes become a link between education, employment, enterprises and society.

Maria Del Mar Munguía: Thank you very much.

Cecilia Sleiman: And also thinking about the concrete examples, and the experiences of companies, we’d like to ask you, Bettina, what programs or initiatives in lifelong learning, does The Adecco Group have in Latin America?

Bettina Schaller: Thank you Cecilia for this opportunity to share what The Adecco Group does in Latin America. The truth is that, on the one hand, colleagues in Latin America have the advantage of being part of this group based in Switzerland. So the concept of apprenticeship is something we share a lot with colleagues. A clear example is what we do together with the GAN. This, for colleagues in Mexico, Argentina, Colombia (we are looking at other countries, of course), is the basis of the work they are doing.

Then we have as a group a global initiative called "CEO for One Month", which seeks to expose young people to this work experience, bringing together work and learning. This initiative is also supported by colleagues in Latin America and made available to the GAN, for example in Colombia, where a very similar program has been set up.

In addition, colleagues in Latin America have made a commitment, together with the ILO (International Labour Organization), within a specific program of The Adecco Group called "Empowered". It is aimed at young people outside the labour market that don’t have many opportunities, and creates approaches to the world of work through, again, education.

These are only a few examples, but in general the great work that is being done in Latin America is, building awareness and convincing companies and partners to create these types of programs together. Because if there is no connection between the world of work and the education, we are not going to move forward. This awareness raising process is going to take a long time, because apprenticeships and work-based learning programs also have an element of stigma, where people need to be persuaded, and this area is where colleagues are spending a lot of time on.

Cecilia Sleiman: Thank you, Bettina. In regard to the stigma, how it affects teachers, students, their families; how it impacts work-based learning and also apprenticeship in the trades; how there is an expectation of having a university degree as a first degree of training, which is a topic that we work on as GAN Networks and where we try to showcase that an apprenticeship in trades, a work-based learning program, does not prevent a person from moving on to university. In the specific case of women and vulnerable populations, what is the vision on the future of employment for these particular groups?

Bettina Schaller: What a difficult question; I think if we had the answer, we'd be one step ahead. All I can say is that in the countries where the system works – and of course it is difficult to compare, each country is different – but we see that the key element is that the private sector is very involved, when there are no hesitations about the return on investment, and there is a role to play. When the structural system of education is made in such a way that allows permeability, apprenticeship is not perceived negatively because it is not the end of a pathway, it means that you can go on learning, and this lowers the stigma. Another important characteristic is that in countries where it works well, just completing an apprenticeship means that even if you don't want to go on studying, you will still have the foundation for a very rich and well-paid professional life, too. So, they're all important elements.

There are many important elements, but I want to say one thing here: I am optimistic because I think that the institutional world in general, has never paid so much attention to these issues. In addition, inclusion has never had such a key role. I am thinking now of the Argentine presidency of the G20, where the world was looking at Latin America, and spectacular work was done just to bring these concepts to the table. Time will tell, but I think now more than ever the foundations have been set to allow us to include more people through, among others, these models of work-based learning.

Daniel Funes de Rioja: I’d like to comment, because I think there are things that Bettina has said that are very important from a practical point of view. First, the issue of stigma. I fully agree. But there is a stigma from politicians and from society itself. The politician’s stigma stems from the fact that he is not in contact with this issue and then prefers to avoid it rather than to engage in it. And on the side of society, because it believes that if education is controlled, in some way, it is a submission. You’ll recall that phrase from Robert Reich, Clinton's great Labour Minister, who said "job security is achieved through the development of skills of the trades". That's where you have an added value for the company itself. A clear example is when a company goes through restructuring: those who are offered more protection, are the people that have developed the right skills. Therefore, in the real world, and in the Argentinian experience it is very clear, to have benchmarks such as Adecco or others, successful experiences that serve as positive examples. It is important for societies, especially in Latin America, that are a little sceptical about what a great company can offer.

And companies do give, like the unicorn companies. Latin America is producing major tech developers that have become Wall Street stars. Who would have thought that this was going to happen? They are developing tech services with many employment and development opportunities for personnel. So, these examples of big companies are not the only important element, but they set some guidelines. They increase the appeal of these types of programs for other companies, and they help transition towards a fundamental model - the value chain. That is, SMEs and even self-employed individuals integrated with large companies in large production and knowledge chains.

Maria Del Mar Munguía: Thank you, Don Daniel. And right there in what you just mentioned about the value chain, I think comes the importance of the collaborative work that can exist between the business sector, big companies, and their own small or medium-sized enterprises, which are the ones that provide the input, are the ones helping and contributing to the generation of that value chain. I have also considered the following - sometimes when you think, or at least in my case, about lifelong learning, you think about the generations that are starting to study, the youth graduating from university, or from school, and are making their decision about which career they will choose. But in a world where we are facing the Revolution 4.0, where technological change is happening so fast, where we also have to pay attention to the population approaching 40 years or more, whose jobs are at risk, who are outdated, so to speak, because of this technological change, but have a rich professional experience: how do we, as a society, encourage these people to reskill and upskill, to acquire new skills that allow them, within that lifelong learning, to continue to generate value, to continue to contribute to new technologies, and at the same time to take advantage of the knowledge and experience that they have?

Daniel Funes de Rioja: Let me begin with the second part of your question. I believe that the first thing to be aware of in any professional activity, from classical to new trades, is that today continuous training is an absolute necessity for any professional of any domain. Therefore, there are obviously no earned positions in and out of themselves, with a few exceptions. Our societies are very dynamic. Education is a path to social improvement, and work-based learning opens the doors to economic improvement. The dynamics of today's societies show that we must remain active, and that leaning has to be permanent, it has to be dynamic. In addition, the system has to offer you alternatives to continue to skill or upskill. I always say that Homer Simpson is not the example for this, that at 5 pm he goes to have a beer and meets his friends, and that's it. With this kind of attitude, frustration ensues, as one’s professional relevance starts to decline, instead of grow.

Secondly, on the link between small and large enterprises - I think it's practically impossible today to think outside the logic of production chains. Production chains are integrated with micro, small and medium links. This happens and we must ensure that this works not only from the point of view of culture, but of institutionalism as well. Because in a production chain that exports, we will probably find para-tariff barriers to that export if we have micro-enterprises that aren't as neatly organized, or that could potentially breach fiscal regulations. So from the point of view of policy makers, this requires the responsibility to combine these elements so that everyone can emerge, whatever their size, and can integrate into those chains. To understand this, you have to start from education, not politics. That is, politics per se does not understand this if it does not seek to connect these links at the same level.

Bettina Schaller: I of course agree with you, Don Daniel. You've talked about government and education, but again the private sector in this model is key. One discussion we have, for example, is whether the apprenticeship contract is another education, training or employment contract. For us, with the Swiss system in mind, it's an employment contract. And for this you need, of course, first, a demand, and the workspace where you can then develop the model. This, again, requires a specific mindset of the employer, be it a company or public sector.

What I wanted to add is that today, and in the foreseeable future, not everyone is going to be an employee, there might not be an employer. And there are several elements that we see in this situation. First, professional life is no longer going to be linear, starting at something and then always organically turning into growth. There will be interruptions in our professional lives. And the interruptions are going to be voluntary and involuntary. We’ll have interruptions when we’re unemployed, but also when we’re having kids, becoming parents, when we want to be self-employed, independent, or when we want to go back to being a staff employee. A key aspect, as Don Daniel mentioned, for the legislator, is to make this system fit for various forms of employment. A structure that will allow individuals to have, regardless of their way of working, access to certain elements, precisely to training and education.

There is another element that we are giving importance to: the individual learning accounts (ILAs). That's a concept that puts the individual at the centre and that anticipates that a government creates an individual fund for each person where, either the government pays every year (as is the case in Singapore, for example, already today) or, it could be that, if there is an employer, the employer pays, as is the case in France already.

So, to go back to the question, we must recognize that at the end of the day it is the individual who is at the centre of what is also the future of work, employability, and this model of work readiness, of lifelong learning. But for this, an essential point that needs to be done well is funding, how the individual will be able to pay for this ongoing training. And, for this reason, the instrument of the individual learning account is something that we find very interesting and the development of which, by the way, we will continue to monitor very closely.

Daniel Funes de Rioja: I fully agree. But I want to go back to one of the points that Bettina has developed. It's the issue of whether we’re talking about a contract of employment or not.

First, many laws, or the practice or judicial review of laws, have led to very rigid one-size-fits-all models and it's really very difficult for everything to go into one module. In the case of international conventions, Latin America has a history of monumental ratifications. This does not mean application, but simply automatic ratification. There has to be a realistic proposal so that these new forms of employment can be introduced into those frameworks. Because if not, one sees that, coincidentally, the most competent, better-trained workers who today are active in activities related to technological services or the industrial process, or to any other tech related activities, prefer to be freelancers. They prefer to be freelancers, because that gives them more freedom and independence. We’re also failing to adapt to the Asian reality, where there's 30% of the market that's self-employment.

What we have to look for are new forms of labour recruitment that are attended to by legislation and practices, and on the other hand that there are socially protected models of self-employment. Somehow, there must be a social protection for everyone. On the other hand, I am not denying in any way the responsibility of the private sector. I actually see two types of responsibility: those leaders who take this responsibility on themselves because they have the possibility of doing it on the one hand, and small businesses on the other.

At GAN Argentina, for example, what we have done is bring together the large chambers of small enterprises that add a very important critical mass in terms of employment, or employment potential. We need this kind of leadership to know what the path is, because one thing is theory, and another is practice. If not, what we have seen many times is "training for I don't know what"; that is, and unions do so frequently, people are trained but not for what is needed, or for what they have the possibility of developing in the environment in which they are given. So obviously your experience, the experience of those great leaders in these issues, helps us to think globally; then we will act locally.

Cecilia Sleiman: I wanted to return to the subject of training on the job as well. Regarding acting locally, and companies taking responsibility for training and education, we often find ourselves when we try to expand our GAN Argentina network and the number of companies that offer work-based learning programmes, with reluctance and certain misgivings, regarding legislation, or training of young people, or asking someone from the company to be responsible for that program. With Adecco's experience and also knowing the experience of other companies, what could be the message for companies to encourage them to take this step, to be more involved in work-based learning programmes for young people?

Bettina Schaller: Again, a rather complex question. The message in my opinion is that, again, at the end of the day there is no other option but to start getting involved in training your people. I know it's difficult, because companies are there to respond to economic needs, which is clear.

But there is also an element of almost solidarity, and of thinking about the future on this issue. There is no secret here it is something that we must do, through personal relations with entrepreneurs, through a lot of work and sometimes also of conviction and patience. Because, again, I think everyone agrees that the model and the system can hardly be criticized.

The only element that I always see, apart from the stigma, is that of funding. It may be that here I have had a slightly one-dimensional experience, but at the end of the day even if an entrepreneur is given the vision and the opportunity, they will see that the cost in the end is going to be positive. I think this helps immensely to already convince the entrepreneur to support that kind of model.

Cecilia Sleiman: Thank you very much.

Daniel Funes de Rioja: I would make a little comment to finish on my part. I think the first piece of information that the business community must be aware of is that this is partly our responsibility. If we are the private sector, and we want the recognition of society and politics of private initiatives, we must also have responsibilities, especially in these times of dizzying transformation and rapid change.

And the second is that, in terms of financing, incentive instruments, especially for small businesses, are easy to create from the point of view of fiscal policy. Therefore, it seems to me that through that responsibility and political awareness, creating financing mechanisms does not seem so difficult to me if we combine these three factors: the role of politics and policymakers, the role of the company as such, and the role of people, or their representatives, to attract them to this idea that we must prepare for the world that is no longer the world of the future, it is the world of today.

Maria Del Mar Munguía: Well, unfortunately we have reached the end of this episode. We would like to thank our distinguished guests, Don Daniel and Bettina, for sharing your time and these ideas with us. From GAN Argentina, GAN Costa Rica and GAN Global we will continue to work to contribute to the improvement of the conditions and the enabling environment to continue promoting lifelong learning in our countries and in the world. Thank you very much!

Daniel Funes de Rioja: Thank you.

Cecilia Sleiman: Thank you.

Bettina Schaller: Thanks to you and, for my part, as a member of GAN, I can only tell you that GAN is fundamental in this work and count on us to carry forward in Latin America but also in other parts of the world. There’s still much to be done!

Maria Del Mar Munguía: Let’s get to work!

Bettina Schaller: Let’s get to work!

Cecilia Sleiman: Thank you very much!

Maria Del Mar Munguía: Thank you!