The 4th Annual Bertelsmann Foundation Conference’s theme “A Return to Jobs and Growth” was relevant and timely. The panels with participants including Sri Mulyani Indrawati (Managing Director of the World Bank and former Minister of Finance for Indonesia), Hilda L Solis (Secretary of Labor), Ursula von der Leyen (Federal Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Germany), Ma Weihua (President and CEO of China Merchants Bank), Marek Belka (President of the National Bank of Poland, former Prime Minister), James M Flaherty (Minister of Finance, Canada), and Congressman Gregory W Meeks (D-NY), were all dynamic, informative and pertinent to issues facing the global labor force and global economic recovery.
Themes covered in the panels ranged from tax reform and education reform to public-private partnerships that bring skills training to populations who would not otherwise have access to them. As Margrethe Vestager, Denmark’s Minister for Economic Affairs and the Interior, stressed, in a globalized economy, we need to have skills training in secondary schools. We can’t afford not to invest in skills training, because as the economy recovers, we will need a skilled workforce. Ursula von der Leyen (Federal Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Germany) added a new dimension of gender when she told conference attendees that for women, a huge factor in the choice to join the labor force is the cost of childcare.
In terms of education, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said that we need to be conservative about budget cuts, and avoid making these decisions under duress. She said furthermore that, in public schools, there is a need for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) training and curriculum reform if the United States is to have a competitive, skilled workforce. In a different panel, United Way international CEO and President Brian Gallagher stressed the need for a worker-centric pipeline approach that uses partnerships between private and public industry as well as citizen interest groups to bring skills training, mentoring and career development to underserved communities.
In today’s economic climate, jobs and equitable economic growth are relevant to people in all socio-economic strata. When the choice is between austerity – an immediate sacrifice for uncertain future gains – and continued investment in public goods such as education and healthcare, the plight of laborers hangs in the balance. The moving parts of global finance – exchange rates, debt service ratios, consumer price indices, among others – have far-reaching effects in a rapidly globalizing world where shocks in one regional economy have reverberations in another region’s. The overall emphasis on education, skills training and creating incentives for job creation is a step in the right direction.