SDG 8 Review Highlights Need for Life-long Learning, Leaving No Worker Behind

Lynn Wagner, Ph.D.

Delegates at the July 2019 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) discussed progress and challenges related to SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), one of a sub-set of SDGs that received special focus during the session. Presenters and delegates discussed the importance of attention to youth unemployment, life-long learning, just transitions, accountability in business operations, and an enabling environment through regulations and policies, among other issues.
The discussion opened with a statement by moderator Moussa Oumarou, International Labour Organization (ILO), who highlighted that progress on SDG 8 has not been encouraging. Faryal Ahmed, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), presented a statistical snapshot of SDG 8, highlighting: an increase in economic growth globally, with the least developed countries (LDCs) falling short of their 7% target; 22% of the world’s youth are not in education, employment or training; and an increase in labor productivity with high variation across regions.
The value added will go to those who have skills to benefit from digital technology.
Panelist Fu Xiaolan, Oxford University, noted a new wave of income inequality. She said the value added will go to those who have skills to benefit from digital technology. She said regulations and governance require coordination between domestic and international policies, including between trade and investment policy. Panelist Mamadou Diallo, International Trade Union Confederation, highlighted the importance of inclusive growth based on collective bargaining.
Panelist Peter Robinson, US Council for International Business, highlighted the need for good governance and rule of law in creating enabling environments for business, and said that intergovernmental organizations need to ensure all voices are heard. Panelist Darja Isaksson, Vinnova, said lifelong learning is not a future skill; we need to start learning now and to set incentives for changed behaviors. She added that “our task is to co-create the future that is radically different from the one that we grew up in.”
Discussant Olga Algayerova, UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Executive Secretary, highlighted the need for regulation, standards and norms to achieve full and decent work. Discussant Matthias Thorns, International Organization of Employers, said a recent report by the UN Joint Inspection Unit shows that many UN agencies are not agile or entrepreneurial enough to work with the private sector.
During the discussion, speakers welcomed the adoption of the Convention on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work. Participants highlighted the importance of a just transition and more efficient use of national and global resources, to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, and one said many developing countries are eager to move forward in implementing sustainable consumption and production as a means to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation. Similarly, the discussion drew attention to efforts to increase the efficient use of global resources, including through the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10YFP on SCP). Speakers also discussed the need to prioritize incentives based on the principles of circular economy.
Speakers also discussed the importance of ensuring that no one is left behind in the labor market, with particular attention drawn to the needs of youth employment and participation in the labor market, women’s participation in the labor market, and the integration of persons with disabilities into the workforce. A speaker highlighted efforts to reintegrate older workers into the labor market. The need to support migrants and refugees in the context of decent work and economic growth was also underlined.
Additional messages related to: linkages between SDG 8 and SDG 13 (climate action), and the need for a just transition to climate resilience; the need to value the quality of work and expand the formal sector; the need to predict the changing skills demanded by technological innovation; the need for access to energy and education; the role for region- and country-specific solutions; capital-focused, rather than profit-focused, investment; and an enabling environment through regulations and policies.

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