Vocational training: a response to COVID-19

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the world of work seriously threatens working conditions and opportunities for current and future employment and access to vocational and technical training and education, jeopardizing the livelihoods and well-being of millions of people.  

While measures to isolate the virus intensify across the region, training institutions have had to suspend their face-to-face activities. In the region, ILO/Cinterfor estimates that between 12 and 13 million people attending training courses have had to give up the opportunity to continue developing their skills in order to shelter at home.  

The ILO and the recommendations that drive training in times of crisis

To cope with the challenges imposed by the current situation, the ILO has proposed a set of measures based on international labour standards and social dialogue as a strong platform to ensure decent working conditions.

In this regard, we should recall Recommendation No. 205 on Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience of 2017; a tool to guide countries on the challenges faced by the world of work in crisis situations. In its section IV.  Employment and income-generation opportunities, this Recommendation states that: “Members should seek to provide income-generation opportunities, stable employment and decent work [...] including through: integrated training, employment and labour market programmes [...]”

Similarly, in Section VI.  Education, vocational training and guidance, it underscores that “[i]n preventing and responding to crisis situations [...] Members should ensure that: (a) the provision of education is not disrupted, or is restored as quickly as possible, and that children, including those who are internally displaced, migrants or refugees, have access to free, quality, public education, including with the support of international aid, in accordance with relevant international law and without discrimination of any kind [...]; and (b) second chance programmes for children and young persons are available and address key needs arising from any interruption of their education and training”.

The recommendation suggests developing or adapting “a national education, training, retraining and vocational guidance programme that assesses and responds to emerging skills needs for recovery and reconstruction, in consultation with education and training institutions and employers’ and workers’ organizations, engaging fully all relevant public and private stakeholders both public and private;  (b) adapt curricula and train teachers and instructors [...] (c) coordinate education, training and retraining services at national, regional and local levels, including higher education, apprenticeship, vocational training and entrepreneurship training, and enable women and men whose education and training have been prevented or interrupted to enter or resume and complete their education and training; (d) extend and adapt training and retraining programmes to meet the needs of all persons whose employment has been interrupted; and (e) give special attention to the training and economic empowerment of affected populations, including in rural areas and in the informal economy”.

The capacity of the VTI Network to provide a meaningful response

In this context, vocational training is at the heart of strategies geared to improving the living and working conditions of our people, opening up possibilities to exploit this window of opportunity, incorporating various mechanisms that will make it possible to implement increasingly inclusive actions, with a special focus on population groups that need it the most.

At this time, it is key to refine mechanisms that will increase access to virtual platforms and distance learning. ILO/Cinterfor estimated the number of participants in these programmes at more than 5 million in 2018.  Now it issues a call to increase access and use mechanisms to detect and anticipate demand in order to provide relevant and quality training.  The demand for courses associated with distance learning, handling online learning platforms, online trainer training and many other occupations involving digital skills is experiencing an unusual surge in the first measurements carried out by some job consultants. Similarly, some self-care activities are being called upon to carry out updates and incorporate health measures in anticipation of working with older adults or children. It is still too early to have a clear idea of the impacts and of what shape the labour market will almost certainly take; however, we must be forewarned, with the necessary devices in place to detect and anticipate demand.

At ILO/Cinterfor we are planning a series of actions to support our institutions during this crisis, based on the close ties of solidarity and commitment that our Network of Vocational Training Institutions in Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain, Cape Verde and Portugal has been able to build and maintain throughout the many years of its existence. In this space we will be announcing meetings, papers and experiences in order to continue to support training and skills development.