Towards a brighter future of work in the digital economy - Global Research Webinar

Co-organized by the ILO and the Sophia University of Japan

This webinar was the culmination of two-and-a-half years’ of research conducted under the “Future of Work in ICT” project, which was funded by the Government of Japan. The purpose was to share the main findings of the ILO research project on skills shortages, skills development strategies, and the governance of international labour migration of ICT specialists in Canada, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand. Based on the main findings, experts from the seven countries and Japan exchanged their views and expertise on these topics.

The webinar was attended by over 270 participants from countries all over the world. Due to this large turnout, interesting presentations and excellent moderation by Ms Nozipho Tshabalala (Conversation Strategist & Global Moderator), there was a lively exchange of views on skills shortages and development as well as international labour migration of ICT specialists.

Key takeaways:

1.    Investing in skills is becoming increasingly important in the rapidly changing global digital economy

  • Digital technologies and the ICT sector have become the backbone of our economies. In her opening remarks, Ms Alette van Leur (Director, Sectoral Policies Department, ILO) highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the critical role of digital technologies in the world of work. For many women and men, these technologies have enabled remote work and distance learning.  Ms Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa (Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, ILO) emphasized the role of technology and investing in human resources in helping countries build back better in the aftermath of COVID-19.
  • However, digitalization can also pose several challenges, including but not limited to,  job losses due to automation and growing inequalities. In this regard, Mr Kazuhide Okuma (Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) Japan) highlighted that it would be necessary to shift employment from industries with high risk of unemployment to the digital fields, where skills needs are expanding. Additionally, Mr Yoshiaki Terumichi (President, Sophia University) mentioned that digitalization raised concerns about increasing inequalities between “those with digital skills and those without”. Addressing this gap was necessary in working towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth.
  • The world is facing a shortage of ICT specialists. The shortage is not just limited to the ICT sector but to other sectors of the economy as well. In her keynote speech on the ILO research project’s main findings, Dr Nicola Düll (Managing Partner, Economix Research and Consulting) mentioned that more than half of all ICT specialists were working in non-ICT sectors.
  • The ILO’s research also found that rapid technological change necessitated investments in not only technical skills but also soft skills. The increasing role of technology in other sectors also meant that education and training institutions needed to increase the focus on interdisciplinary approaches.

2.    Several countries have innovative measures in place to tackle skills shortages in the digital economy

  • Numerous countries are facing a shortage of highly skilled ICT workers, including Japan. It is expected that by 2025, Japan will face a shortage of 430,000 ICT workers, also known as the “Cliff of 2025”. Mr Masaaki Iuchi (Senior Assistant Minister, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) of Japan) shared that MHLW had provided IT related vocational training for job seekers and workers as well as financial support to small and medium sized enterprises, as shortages are especially serious for them.
  • If Japan fails to realize digital transformation, the economic loss would equal to 12 trillion JPY by 2025. According to Mr Toru Harukawa (Director of Policy Making Department, the Federation of Information and Communication Technology Service Workers of Japan (ICTJ)), barriers to achieving digital transformation in Japan included lack of investments in new technology, and concentration of ICT specialists only in the ICT sector instead of other sectors of the economy.
  • Mr Naotaka Saimei (Senior Director, HR Development Division, Global HR Management Unit, FUJITSU Japan) also indicated that promoting digital transformation is of high importance for employers’ organizations in Japan. The company established a “Digital College” to accelerate the development of ICT human resources. The training also underscores the importance of ‘design thinking’, which is crucial in promoting digital transformation.
  • Ms Alexandra Cutean (Senior Director, Research & Policy, Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) Canada) noted that it was important to invest in systems that can anticipate in-demand skills to tackle skills shortages in the digital economy. The utility of such a system had been demonstrated by the aftermath of the oil and gas slump that occurred in the city of Calgary, where numerous high-skilled workers were displaced. Due to the presence of effective skills mapping systems and focused training camps, displaced workers successfully found new employment opportunities in the ICT sector.

3.    Promoting a more diverse and inclusive ICT workforce is at the heart of tackling skills shortages

  • ICT remains a male-dominated field. The ILO’s research showed that in most countries examined, the share of women working as ICT specialists was much lower than the average share of women in other occupations across the economy.  Ms Cutean from the ICTC echoed this concern and gave examples of some helpful initiatives, such as, promoting female role models and generating new career possibilities in ICT fields by strengthening cooperation between universities and companies.
  • The number of gig workers in the ICT sector has been increasing. Their protection has become an important issue. Mr Harukawa introduced a recent initiative by ICTJ, which provides counselling services for non-unionized ICT workers, including freelancers, to improve their working conditions.
  • The ILO’s research found that ICT workers tended to be younger and that older and mid-career workers represented a pool of untapped talent. Mr Patrick Tay (Assistant Secretary-General, Singapore National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Singapore) further highlighted the importance of promoting older and mid-career workers in the field of ICT, and mentioned that NTUC has several initiatives to support their upskilling and reskilling. 
  • Skills shortages and the fierce competition for ICT specialists has led to an increase in international labour migration. Mr Marian Dünkler (Placement Officer, German Federal Employment Agency, International & Specialized Services (ZAV) Germany) noted that sectoral level shortages were a major determinant of international labour migration to Germany. Experienced ICT workers were needed by German companies. Several initiatives had been implemented including providing detailed profile matching to address skills mismatches and exemptions to certain visa regulations. Language support was also provided, as basic German language skills are crucial to integrate into society.
  • Ms Natalia Popova (Labour Economist, Labour migration branch, ILO) pointed out that the recognition of foreign qualifications was a major impediment to international labour migration. In relation to this, Dr. Maulahikmah Galinium (Dean Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, Swiss German University Indonesia) shared that his university had collaborated with other universities abroad for internships and double degree programs to facilitate the recognition of qualification in partner countries, and promote the careers of students.
  • However, large emigration of high-skilled workers could lead to concerns regarding ‘brain drain’. In this regard, Dr Partha Banerjee (Director, DEFT Advisory and Research India) shared that establishing Global In-house Centers (GIC) in sending countries could be a good solution to tackling ‘brain drain’ and facilitating ‘brain circulation’. This is because GICs call for the in-house provision of all business operations and hence require a pool of high-skilled workers. This  increases the scope for skills transfer and create knowledge networks. Ms Popova of the ILO added that cooperation with diaspora could also help tackle brain drain concerns.
The webinar also benefitted from insightful closing remarks delivered by Mr. Yoshiteru Uramoto (Distinguished Professor, Sophia University), Mr. Toshio Arima (Chairman of the Board, Global Compact Network Japan), Ms. Maki Omori (President, The ILO Association of Japan) and Mr. Shinichi Takasaki (Director, ILO office for Japan).