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International Conference on Skills for a Just Transition

When: Thursday, 11 May 2023 - Friday, 12 May 2023
Where: Braamfontein Campus West
Start time:9:00

Stephanie Allais on 


Please join REAL on 11-12 May 2023 for a conference on skill formation, industrial transformation, and job creation for sustainable and inclusive economies.

This conference aims to build insights and collaboration amongst researchers, policy makers, and social partners on skill formation systems, industrial transformation, and job creation for sustainable and inclusive economies and societies, and a just transition. 

Historically, industrialization has been critical for economic growth, development, and poverty reduction. Yet in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) industrialization has not materialized and some are seen as prematurely deindustrializing, without ever having industrialized at all. While some pockets of services and agricultural sectors offer the possibility of productivity that leads to extensive structural transformation of economies, historically structural economic transformation has largely been achieved through industrialization. Industrialization is also seen as key to creating more and better jobs—a focus for all LMICs. One of the defining challenges for LMICs as the world moves towards carbon-free energy, more careful stewardship of the environment and sustainable production,is to combine these with economic growth that creates employment, raises standards of living and reduces poverty while leaving no one behind. This is the essence of a just transition where some sectors will decline, others will grow, and many will transform through new technologies, modes of production and work. Skills, occupations, and jobs will be transformed or substituted, some will disappear and new ones will emerge.

Lack of skills is often seen as a key hindrance to productive workplaces. But causality between skills and productivity is complex and even more daunting when the greening of enterprises and the transformation of processes and workplaces must simultaneously meet productivity and carbonneutral production goals. The complexity of managing industrial policy as well as company-level transformation requires ‘learning by doing,’ as foregrounded in literature on economic development. Research that is influential on ‘skill formation systems’ through which skills development and lifelong learning take place shows that the ways in which companies engage with formal vocational education training, as well as the nature of training that happens inside companies, is embedded in a complex mix of economic, political, social, and cultural factors. To-date the research has been shaped by researchers in wealthy countries of the global north, and has been largely historical.

Policy makers and researchers in LMICs need better analysis of the factors shaping skills in a rapidly changing world of work, as well as the potential levers for improving both the ways in which skills are developed and utilized to support industrial transformation and growth—bearing in mind that many of these levers are not to be found inside of education institutions and systems. This challenge is made more complex by the need for structural transformation countries need to undertake in the transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies[1], and that is located in an analysis of the ways in which work is changing.

Issues to be explored include: 

  • Factors shaping skill formation in LMICs; factors that enable vocational skills development programmes to support structural/industrial transformation and growth 
  • Skills and jobs in the transition to environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economies 
  • Transitions from learning to work in industry, taking into account productivity and environmental sustainability goals, including cleaner production and resource efficiency in enterprises; circular economy; greening of enterprises and transformation of process and workplaces 
  • The digital economy, the gig economy, the internet of things and how it is transforming the world of work and skills formation 
  • Social dialogue and the role of social partners Complementarity of informal/non-formal TVET provision with formal provision; TVET for the formal economy and informal economy 
  • Stimulating local economic development through green enterprise development 
  • Relationships, institutions, and the role of the state 

The conference is hosted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Centre for Researching Education and Labour (REAL) Centre in conjunction with the Zurich University of Teacher Education, the South African Presidency (PMO/PYEI) and Department of Trade, Industry, and Competition.

The Skills for Industry research team, of which the REAL Centre is part, is an international research team currently analyzing data from four years of research in two African countries (Ethiopia and South Africa) and four Asian countries (Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam). Commencing in 2017, and concluding in 2023, the aim of the research has been to explore the factors that enable vocational skills development programmes to support industrial transformation, inclusivity, and growth in LMICs. The ILO has been leading research on just transition over the past decade, starting from the understanding of skills and jobs for a green economy and, since 2016, under the more encompassing “Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all.” It works with countries in all regions to support the identification and implementation of just transition pathways, through research, technical advisory services, and development cooperation projects.

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