Published on 6th December 2018
In a changing world of work marked by demographic trends, technological innovation and new attitudes to work, how do we secure employability? How do we navigate career paths that are increasingly fragmented? How to we ensure that everyone has opportunities to access the labour markets?
For the World Employment Confederation-Europe, the answer to all these questions lies in two words: social innovation. It was the central theme for the high-level event set up by the organisation in Brussels on 5 December. EU policy makers, businesses, social partners and experts from the private employment industry debated how social innovation could guide employment priorities and policies for the European Union and its Member States in the years to come.
Jurriën Koops, Vice-President of the World Employment Confederation-Europe, kicked off the discussion by introducing the concept of social innovation as developed by the WEC members over the last year. “With social innovation, we mean the implementation of new solutions for working, learning and social protection for the benefits of workers, employers and society,” explained Koops.
Indeed, “we cannot address 21st century challenges with 20th century solutions”, Denis Pennel, Managing Director of the World Employment Confederation-Europe added. Presenting the changes affecting the world of work and the growing mismatch with our social protection systems, he pointed out to a new social model, no longer employer-centred but worker-centred. “Such a model should enable portable safety nets, stable and predictable income, supportive living conditions and labour stability for all individuals”.
Among all the issues to solve in adapting for the future of work, one comes back again and again: skills. As Manuela Geleng, Director for the ‘Skills’ directorate at the European Commission’s Employment department, said “skills are a cornerstone of an inclusive society. 60 million people across Europe lack even the most basic skills. We need to address this and get better at anticipating future skills needs. Boosting skills levels is crucial for competitiveness but also for individuals.”
She also warned for low skilled trap: “The least skilled workers have the lowest chance of receiving training at work. That is clearly an area where we need social innovation and the private employment industry can help there by promoting the motivation to learn and access to training.”
The private employment industry already does so, as demonstrated by the members of the World Employment Confederation-Europe during the “Ideas Lab” session of the event. Federations from six countries presented concrete initiatives they implemented to build a better world of work for all. While some cases are targeted to agency workers (training to ensure healthy and safe working conditions in Spain, new forms of healthcare and pension benefits in France, facilitated access to mortgage in the Netherlands), others benefit a broader range of labour markets participants. In Belgium, the bipartite training fund for agency workers developed a tool helping youngsters to assess and develop their soft skills in Belgium. In the United Kingdom, “Future of Jobs Ambassadors” tour schools to discuss new work realities and future job requirements with the future workforce. In Italy, public and private employment services find new ways of cooperating to bring more unemployed people back onto the labour market.
But social innovation by the private employment industry alone is not sufficient to enable the radical changes we need. A panel debate further discussed how to take it further. New mindset and attitudes, embracing change and empowering people, emerged as a clear prerequisite. Dariusz Sikora from the Social Innovation Academy, explained how his organisation helps spread social innovation best practices and encourage more initiatives through trainings to become innovators.
Regulation can also help but there needs to be certain flexibility, as Alexandra Tzvetkova from the European Commission Political Strategy Centre remarked that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to solve labour market challenges. For Mark Keese, Head of Skills and Employability Division at the OECD, a clear priority is to have “a new social pact ensuring people that they will have safety nets to help them as jobs shift and their career paths move, e.g. because of technology.”
Wrapping up the event, Bettina Schaller, President of World Employment Confederation-Europe, suggested five areas of focus for the European Union and its member states to build more inclusive and sustainable labour markets. Specific policy recommendations are further outlined in “Making Europe the best place to work”, the World Employment Confederation-Europe’ Vision Paper for Europe in 2019-2024. “Europe needs a new focus and strategy to adapt to the changing world of work. We believe that social innovation is the right approach. With the upcoming European elections and the taking office of a new Commission, EU policymakers have the opportunity to embark on this agenda,” Schaller concluded.