Lifelong Learning, It’s All About Mindset

Lifelong learning, rather than one-time degrees, will be critical for ensuring that the skills people have match those needed in today’s rapidly transforming employment landscape.

The world of work is changing rapidly, driven by a series of megatrends – globalization, technology, demographics and climate change. These trends affect the composition of the workforce, the nature of tasks, and while they are eliminating certain tasks, they are more importantly creating new roles that were unforeseen even a decade ago. Can our skills keep pace? As we race to answer this question, it becomes clear that we need an agile workforce to unlock the new opportunities these trends create. Frontloading qualifications for a lifetime career is no longer relevant. People will need to update their skills throughout their career. Lifelong learning, rather than one-time degrees, will be critical for ensuring that the skills people have match those needed in today’s rapidly transforming employment landscape.

Yet, the world doesn’t yet have a collective response to lifelong learning and the roles and responsibilities of business, government and the individual are unclear. The Global Apprenticeship Network (GAN), a business-driven multisector alliance, brought together a distinguished panel of thought-leaders representing different sectors to explore the topic of lifelong learning and how to make it a reality. Our panel consisted of: 

  • Roberto Suárez Santos, Secretary-General of the International Organization of Employers;
  • Alexander Maeyaert, Project lead for GAN Belgium;
  • Sangheon Lee, Director for the Employment Policy Department (EMPLOYMENT), of the International Labour Organisation (ILO);
  • Thomas Meyer, Senior Country Managing Director, Accenture Switzerland;
  • Akustina Morni, Policy Advisor at the International Organisation of Employers (IOE), moderated the discussion.
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Question: What are the perceptions of lifelong learning by employers, governments, youth and business, especially in today’s fast-changing world?

Roberto Suárez Santos: Currently, when we consider lifelong learning, we are examining the systems already in place, especially when it comes to how developing countries are tackling this issue. I think we can go beyond this idea and that we can be more ambitious.

We need to consider the idea of “learnability” for “employability.” As individuals, we need to change our mindsets and sense of personal responsibility. We know how difficult it is to predict jobs and we shouldn’t be so obsessed with protecting jobs. In developing countries, they are not yet having these important discussions, although it is happening, and this is something that we’d like to work with the ILO more closely on.

Sangheon Lee: I agree with Roberto that jobs are becoming more and more difficult to predict, although there has always been some degree of skills mismatch. Three points in the current context that I would like to highlight are:

Skills demands are changing quickly and we are not keeping up with the pace. Many of the skills demands are shifting to an increased need on so-called “soft skills”. This skills set is increasingly recognized as an important component of work-based learning, such as apprenticeship. We can leverage this trend in the context of lifelong learning. Lastly, lifelong learning has a transformative potential, facilitating intergenerational social mobility and expanding choices of future generations. Quality of skills is honed at an early age and improved throughout one’s lifetime. We need to revisit training so it is institutionalized and implemented from an early age through to adult learning so we can maximize its impact, and people have an improved potential for better earnings and job opportunities. 

Alexander Maeyaert: To keep up with the pace of the quickly changing skills demand, a stronger collaboration between the labour market and educational institutions is needed. Work-readiness programmes will be key in developing the soft skills employers require so it is without question that the creation of competence curricula will become a joint venture in the future.

We need to allow youngsters to acquire job-related competences in a challenging work environment and the CEO for One Month initiative by The Adecco Group, an edition of which took place in Belgium in 2015, is the kind of work-based readiness programmes that we need.

I agree with Mr. Lee when he says that it starts with early education because lifelong learning is not just a collection of learning periods, it’s an attitude which is best developed at a young age. We shouldn’t be thinking of using lifelong learning to empower people. It should be the other way around with people adapting lifelong learning as an attitude, taking part in lifelong learning to empower themselves and the employers they work for. It’s a cycle that can be broken down into various needs such as upskilling and reskilling, depending on the environment you need to adapt to.

Thomas D. Meyer: As a business, Accenture is continuously reinventing and innovating, and as new people join our global and diverse collective of talent we find new ways to improve the way the world works and lives. This is our brand promise and purpose, and it is fundamental to that purpose that our people be motivated to learn, to challenge and to innovate day to day. As part of this there is a mindset of deliberate and continuous learning – to enhance the understanding of the world around them and to drive greater opportunities for clients and their careers. A 360 view of the world around them in order to lead and drive the right changes.


Question: What are some of the challenges in promoting lifelong learning? What approach and steps does your organization take to overcome these challenges?

Roberto Suárez Santos: Lifelong learning goes beyond the formal context, with an explosion of digital tools, it’s more accessible than ever. How are existing systems adapting to the reality of the labor market? Coming from Spain, I have seen first-hand a failure of existing programs, as they are not tailor made to benefit companies or employees. On a national level, jurisdictions risk being outdated too soon.

We need to take those lessons learnt through formal approaches, such as impact assessments. They can be costly, but in the long-term are worth it. Also, there’s a growing trend of global skills mobility, many skills can be outsourced, but we don’t have the systems in place to recognize skills mobility and more research needs to be done on understanding skills trends. At the IOE, we are working on a project for good guidance on skills anticipation, to be launched by the end of the year.

Sangheon Lee: I agree with Roberto that we need a more programmatic approach to lifelong learning. The reality is that lifelong learning as a system remains an aspirational, long-term goal. One of the very few countries that we see as being close to having a formal governance approach to lifelong learning is Singapore, which considers lifelong learning as a basic education service, with allocated learning accounts for employers to invest in their workers.

The question is how do we encourage businesses and workers to embrace the idea of lifelong learning? Allocating resources for training takes time and money, and so the other question is how do we finance lifelong learning? While the ILO emphasizes the importance of providing incentives for companies to promote lifelong learning, I also appreciate Roberto’s viewpoint on the need for skills recognition. As workers are more mobile, skills recognition will be more needed, and this requires systematic change.

We see that technology can render lifelong learning training opportunities as more accessible and less expensive. But even with these new opportunities, states and governments can play a bigger role in financing and other incentive mechanisms. This is an issue we are exploring at the ILO through social dialogue, and including workers in the debate.

We also recognize that work-based learning in general is an important vehicle for training and acquiring new skills. We are exploring how to integrate work-based learning concepts with lifelong learning programmes, through apprenticeships for example. The general perception is that apprenticeship is only for youth, however, it can be leveraged to train other populations, for more senior workers, and more data would be appreciated on this topic.

Before going into our work at the country-level, we need to get policy frameworks right. To do this, we need to build incentive structures in these frameworks as well. As a follow-up to our Future of Work report, this is what we are following up on.

As we approach our centenary anniversary, we envisage to have a declaration, which will most likely cover important topics such as Future of Work and lifelong learning. This declaration would provide us with a direction and a strong set of recommendations. The ILO will then adjust on a country-level to further refine the work and strategy required for training and lifelong learning at the country level.

In addition to the declaration, our framework will also be informed by our upcoming work towards International Standards on Apprenticeships. In this framework, we conceive of work-based learning as an important tool for lifelong learning in an evolving system. Being part of the Global Commission on the Future of Work has also opened up the discussion on training and skills. Internally, we still have hurdles to overcome, in terms of promoting lifelong learning even within our own organisation.

Alexander Maeyaert: At the Adecco Group, we have identified three accounting and investment models to drive change in how companies invest in re- and upskilling. The first model is a separate fund set up by employers exclusively for re- and upskilling. With the development of their apprenticeship system, the UK has implemented a similar model where companies pay a percentage of their salary costs in an Apprenticeship Levy. Every company can apply for funds to set up apprenticeships within their organization.

The second model is based on nationwide, portable and personal training accounts, where companies contribute, based on a national standard. The third model is based on amortization, where employers pay and capitalize on the program as an asset during the benefit period. If the employee resigns, the remaining unamortized cost will be repaid.

Despite the fact that both the first and third model are in some way used in Belgium, recent studies show that 82% of the population in Belgium is not willing to partake in lifelong learning. Only 7% of the population is actually taking advantage of these programs.

This is in stark contrast of our strong and highly esteemed educational system, which may be one of the causes of the challenge we face. A diploma in Belgium is of high value and it feeds the perception that, after all your hard work, you may finally enter the labour market and your learning days are over.

At GAN Belgium we believe that dual learning can arm youngsters with the ability to recognize the workplace not only as a work environment but also a learning environment. While in Belgium dual learning is currently being rolled out in secondary education, GAN Belgium is already building a bridge towards higher education. This way we can give youth the opportunity to make full use of their learning potential and at the same time spark their willingness to learn.

How to incorporate work-based learning in workplaces and in the larger educational ecosystem? It is a long-term process that needs the commitment of the government, employers and of course the learners. This co-creation is definitely driving an exponential growth of which we are happy to be part of.

Thomas D. Meyer: In the same way as Alexander from GAN Belgium/ the Adecco Group references – the biggest challenge is that only a small percentage of the population want to engage with continuous learning and fully understand the importance of doing so in its fullest sense and the broader benefit that it drives. Also – and particularly where it is already well established – apprenticeship are stigmatized to be an element of “youth” education and to extend to model to lifelong learning and more mature levels of the workforce is neither established nor socialized.

So how do we engage a larger population in continuous learning, how can we make this a positive statement to ensure we are developing young AND old people to upskill and succeed? How do we bring back experienced talent to the market place by investing in reskilling to drive a greater diversity of thinking and leadership. I believe we have been asking the wrong question – instead we need to ask how we can enable continuous learning through technology in the learning environment and on the job and how technology can support that longer career journey. How will it help me manage and sustain a diverse workplace? How will it enable a pipeline of the right talent for now and future businesses?

As business leaders many of us have just about got comfortable with how digital has upended how we interact with customers – and now it’s transforming the way we engage with our people and how we need to start talking about how technology is no longer something that is done TO us but through focusing on building faster and smarter technology that enables learning rather than replaces people – allowing us all to continuously learn, be more creative and drive more innovative solutions.



Original article published by GAN Global on 29 March 2019