A strong labour market depends on a workforce that possesses current, relevant skills and knowledge. But there’s an issue facing the world of work: there’s a growing gap between existing and required skills in the workforce. This challenge is further exacerbated by educational interruptions as a result of the covid pandemic. To face these challenges, we need broad collaboration between businesses, governments, educational institutions and individuals.


It takes committed actions from all sides to solve the skills challenge in the World of Work - and to advance the progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The World of Work is uniquely positioned for this as the labour market is the central source of livelihood and security, and in the context of achieving the SDGs, it has a large responsibility – and opportunity for benefit.


In our third publication of our ongoing series on #WorldofWorkforSDGs, we look at SDG 4 - Quality Education for all - and what should be entailed to achieve Sustainable Employment.


The UN recognises that education is paramount for successfully joining and remaining in the labour force. SDG 4 defines ten targets to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” many of which interconnect with the World of Work.


Acquiring the right skills and having the ability to update them on a continuous basis determines the contribution that all of us can make in the world of work, and ultimately, enables sustainable employment. So how can we reach SDG 4 and unlock sustainable employment? The answer is threefold: Work-readiness Programs, Lifelong Learning and Career Development.



Understanding what SDG 4 means for the labour market


SDG 4 stipulates that everyone must have access to free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education. Its targets also include to “increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills” and ensure that “all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development.”


But it is not enough to provide education to enter the workforce. Technological advances and other shifts in how we work, coupled with gaps in education, have created a mismatch of available and required skills. Bridging the education system and the labour market has become of paramount importance, making the role of Work-Based Learning even more crucial.


Additionally, once in the workforce, we need an emphasis on Lifelong Learning to continuously grow and succeed in it, over the course of one’s working life. To give individuals the tools to adapt their skillsets, it is vital that Lifelong Learning opportunities are actually widely accessible - to everyone, regardless of their current employment status or level, and career guidance can shed a light on the existing skilling possibilities.



VET: Vocational Education & Training


Currently, the World of Work faces a labour shortage, in which the skills workers have do not match the skills employers need. This skills gap, apparent long before the outbreak of Covid-19, has accelerated as a result of the pandemic. The OECD Skills Outlook 2021 report emphasizes the need for stronger connection between the labour market and educational institutions to help ensure students are learning the necessary skills required by the World of Work. To prevent “skilling into the void”, close alignment between the labour market and educational curriculae is key.


To strengthen ties between school and the labour market, there needs to be a shift of focus that currently equates academic achievement to employability, to one that champions skills that can be immediately taken and used in the workplace. In other words, it has become urgent to invest in people, not only jobs, and to provide them with Quality Education. Vocational Education & Training (VET) and apprenticeships have proven perfect vehicles for investing in people and their skills.


It is in the employer’s interest to offer apprenticeships, Work-Based Learning, and internship opportunities. It has been shown that engaging young talent through these programs is a true win-win, as it enables labour market access and brings innovation and fresh perspectives into companies. In France, The Adecco Group created “La Grande Ecole de l’Alternance”, bringing together the needs of companies, the expertise of training partners and the career aspirations of youngsters and job seekers to provide work−based training solutions tailored to address scarcity of competencies in high demand. Since its launch in 2015, more than 20,000 persons have been enrolled. And with high impact in terms of employability: 85% of the people trained with the GEA remain in employment 12 months after completing their training.
Moreover, to enable agile adaptation to the rapid transformations in the economy and the work of work, employers should foster a culture of skills transparency in their organisations by mapping existing and required skills in the workforce.



Lifelong learning and career guidance


As skills are expiring more rapidly than ever before, the need for upskilling (learning new skills to build on current ones) or reskilling (learning new skills to train for a different job) becomes even more crucial – and needs to be more highly prioritized across the world of work. The current mismatch between the skills employees have and the skills employers need has resulted in serious and growing labour shortages. By investing in re- and upskilling programs, employers could engage with new talent pools. In fact, Reset Normal, a recent study by The Adecco Group for which 14,800 knowledge-workers across 25 countries have been surveyed, shows that 66% of workers believe they need to gain new skills to stay employable in the years ahead, but only 37% of non-managers feel their company is investing in their skills development.


But skilling alone might not do the trick. In light of the rapid transformation of the global economy, labour markets get increasingly complex and actual skills requirements more difficult to identify and address. Here, drawing on career guidance and coaching can help make skilling more effective.


A recent OECD report shows that 57% of the interviewed individuals did not feel the need to use career guidance services, and 20% said that they weren’t aware it existed. Yet a recent Lee Hecht Harrison report shows that 86% of recipients of career guidance believe it helped them make better use of skill-boosting programmes. The study highlights that receiving career guidance can increase the chances of a worker engaging in meaningful skilling activities.


Furthermore, partnerships between Public and Private Employment Services can help to ensure that the best and most relevant labour market insights reach workers, especially the ones the most in need, such as the inactive or unemployed. Offering tailored, personalised advice that leverages the networks of all labour market stakeholders can make a meaningful difference in helping jobseekers identify suitable employment opportunities. But more importantly, career guidance can prevent workers from falling into unemployment in the first place by pinpointing the skills at risk of becoming obsolete and directing the worker to the right re- or upskilling program.



The Adecco Group’s commitment


To contribute to achieving SDG 4, The Adecco Group in early 2020 committed to re- and upskilling 5 million individuals by 2030 and leveraging its labour market expertise to facilitate better alignment between education and employment. The Group offers training, upskilling and reskilling both as standalone services and in combination with other solutions, such as placements or as a part of a broader workforce transformation offering.


The Adecco Group is dedicated to promoting and creating learning opportunities through apprenticeships and work-based education, as reflected e.g. in its Board membership in the Global Apprenticeship Network (GAN) and the Nestlé Global Alliance for Youth and the multiple programmes and initiatives across the globe, be it in Europe (with a focus on France, Germany, Switzerland, Romania, Spain, Italy, Belgium), the US or Latin America (in Mexico, Argentina and Colombia). Through its expert brand LHH, the Adecco Group also enables the successful transition of workers globally by working with clients to map skills and guiding workers in building their skillsets and moving towards sustainable employment.


In response to the Covid-19-accelerated need for continuing education, The Adecco Group flagship youth programme, ‘CEO for 1 Month’, added digital learning tools for all participants in the form of free online assessments, virtual workshops, webinars, and feedback reports.



Taking action for change


A better future for all is heavily dependent on the existence of a sustainable, strong labour market that is driven by workers equipped with current, relevant, adaptable knowledge and skills. The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in accessing the labour market and more than ever, Work-readiness programs, career guidance and opportunities for re- and upskilling are key to closing existing educational gaps.


Stronger connections between the labour market and educational institutions ensure that workers enter the labour market with the skills they need to succeed and contribute. We stand ready to support our clients to benefit from the opportunities that re- and upskilling their workforce might offer, and to help them take their responsibility in this area. We therefore call on all stakeholders in the World of Work to refocus their efforts on skilling and education and to leverage their influence for progress towards SDG4.