ILO’s global publication on “Work for a Brighter Future”.
My respects to HE Minister of Labor and Vocational Training, Dr. Ith Samheng;
President of Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations;
Worker Representative and President of Cambodian Labour Conference;
Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen
It is an honor to welcome you, on behalf of the United Nations in Cambodia to the national dialogue on “Future of Work”. I would like to thank the Royal Government, in particular, the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, as well as the Supreme National Economic Council, for co-hosting this important event.
Today we will be covering a fascinating topic, which will be introduced through ILO’s global publication on “Work for a Brighter Future”. The discussion sessions that follow will explore implications on what the future world of work will look like in Cambodia and what skills will be required in five to 10 years-time. At the heart of the discussions will be the attempt to answer the question of how best government, business, educators, workers, students and, I must add, families, prepare to navigate a rapidly changing present to thrive in an uncertain future.
For my initial interventions during this opening, I would only highlight two and a half inter-related sets of questions that you may wish to consider:
First, the what and the how we imagine the future, not just the future of work, but the Cambodia that we want to see in 2030, in 2050 and beyond, will shape what society will value, how it behaves and how it utilizes its resources to reach its aspirations. How is Cambodia equipping itself with the skills and tools that will allow it to imagine different possible futures?
Second, there is no longer separate compartments of working, learning and living. The future of work is inextricably linked with the future of learning and how learning workers navigate markets and life itself. What if we consider the future of work and learning – as joint undertaking rather than separately? Why does it matter?
And the second and a half point, how do we start imagining the different possible futures of learning workers? What do young people say about this?
On the first set of questions,
If Cambodia aspires to become high-income country by 2050, what would it take for the country to do so? In a highly simplified way, the current strategy calls for Cambodia to focus on industrialization for job creation; to invest in technology and innovation for economic diversification; and to promote skills development for productivity improvement and value addition in industry, agriculture, services and tourism.
But in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, or VUCA, the ideas that have historically guided us — hierarchical structures of society and organizations, top-down governance, segmented industries, intellectual property, personal ownership — are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Technology isn’t the only arena experiencing rapid change: the unprecedented shifts seen in experiential consumption, the generational workforce, globalization and many other areas are transforming the way organizations and governments operate, respond and evolve.
What does this mean for Cambodia? In order to achieve high income country status by 2050, Cambodia should hold tight to its long-term vision. But it must be willing, at the same time, to let go of rigid and linear strategies. In a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment, the government’s strategies must contain pathways that allow it to respond to new trends or changes in values, and that promote breakthroughs for the economy’s next stage of growth.
For example, if today’s organizations are being disrupted from outside of their conventional boundaries—think of famous cases from the music industry (Apple), the automotive industry (Uber and Grab), and even finance (Blockchain)—then we must intentionally look broadly across social, technological, economic, environmental and political forces of change before we attempt to think strategically about areas of focus, and certainly before building any plans.
This may sound simple, but it will require courageous leaders who understand the necessity of reframing strategy for a brand-new world. Futures thinking and foresight are some of the tools and skills that will allow us to navigate today’s global turbulence — and transform its challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities
My second set of questions revolve around twinning learning with work. My proposition is that in the future there will be no transition between learning to working, rather a seamless convergence to become learning workers. This means collapsing the traditional educational pipeline with the world of work and allowing work+learn paths to converge.
Learning workers. Think about it. If the future is about learning workers, then it elevates lifelong learning as both the end in itself and the means to an end.
How? Let me just mention a few:
Incentives, what motivates learning workers are shifting from job opportunities, career advancement and growth earnings to creating impact, opportunities and generating multiple income streams. Learners will not use traditional institutions as primary path to work.
Credentials are changing from degrees and certifications to fan base, followers, ratings, endorsements and social connections. Celebrity will be the new credential.
In terms of instruction, today’s formal system utilizes credentialed teachers in classrooms. Tomorrow’s transition is heading toward crowd-rated teachers, coaches, performers and peers in MOOCs (or massive online open courses), demos, forums and community workshops. Startup ventures will be the classrooms for learners of the future.
In the future, infrastructure will transition from educational institutions to social platforms (Twitch, YouTube and WhatsApp). Smart mobile devices will be a learner’s best friend.
Why does it matter to focus on learning workers? It matters because knowledge truly becomes society’s only currency in a future likely dominated by machines.
This brings me to my last set of questions, how do we start imagining the futures of learning workers? What do young people say?
In the Global Youth Skills Report, published earlier this year by the Institute for the Future, it found that “lead learners around the world are remaking education and work for a new global economy. They are assessing the world they will face in the future and making work+learn choices that redefine not just the basic skills that everyone will need but potential lifelong work+learn paths.
In an era of rapid change, today’s lead learners are cultivating skills for continuous learning. As part of a generation that will experience ever more scarcity of full-time, lifelong jobs, they are creating unique sequences of work identities and strategies for building those identities.
In short, today’s young people—today’s lead learners—are laying the tracks for tomorrow’s work+learn paths. They are building futures for themselves that promise just the right amount of economic security within lives that allow them to achieve other life goals ranging from community building to artistic expression.
By observing the choices of these young lead learners, we can expand the scenarios for the labor economy of the future, for the ways that individual workers and learners will create new social and economic value, often as part of their ongoing learning strategies. We can define the skills that young people will need in these various scenarios and begin to create ways for them to assess their readiness for the paths they choose. We can anticipate how these emergent work+learn paths will evolve over the coming decade—and how we, as a society, can champion the social and technological infrastructures to support them.