Photo credit: VNA

Remarks delivered by Dr Rebecca Sta Maria, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat, at the APEC Workshop on Innovative Skills for an Inclusive Future of Work in the Digital Age on 18 July 2019


I must thank the Government of Viet Nam for the initiative in organising this APEC Workshop. I also want to record my appreciation to the economies that co-sponsored this workshop, namely, Australia, Chile, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, Singapore and Thailand.

Human resource development is a key work stream of APEC. In 1990, just a year after the establishment of APEC, the grouping established the HRD Working Group. Given its launch so soon after the establishment of APEC in 1989 when the region’s ministers first met, you can see that the APEC economies place great importance on human capital development. Clearly, the region’s goal of inclusive economic development is predicated on ensuring that it gets its policy on education and human capital development right.

Allow me to discuss three points:

  1. APEC’s priorities,
  2. APEC’s approach to human capital development in the digital economy, and
  3. initiatives beyond technology.

First, the priorities. In the face of the challenges posed by the digital economy and the prescribed goal of inclusive economic growth, APEC member economies have set out the following three priorities: i)  the future of work in the digital age and labor market policy implications; ii) skills education and training and; iii) social protection. These priorities are addressed not just in the Human Resources Development Working Group but also through the other fora and bodies within APEC. These include the Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group; the Policy Partnership for Women and the Economy; the E-Commerce Steering Group, to name a few. These priorities will be given sharper focus when the Digital Economy Steering Group puts in place its work plan in the near future.

Second, on APEC’s approach to the human capital development in this exciting new age. For us, it is important to provide clarity on what we want to do. In 2017, the APEC Framework on Human Resources Development in the Digital Age was endorsed in Ha Noi, Viet Nam. The framework provides a platform for strengthening human resource development in the region, increasing worker preparedness for the digital age, and ensuring that labor market policies match the changing needs of the region’s labor market. For the APEC region to continue on its impressive growth trajectory, this framework recognizes that APEC must deal with the impact of the emerging digital age and fourth industrial revolution. This year, Chile enshrined this priority into what is known as “Integration 4.0”.

With our hosts, the APEC Secretariat has partnered with the Asia Foundation and Google to hold the APEC App Challenge – an event that engages young developers and entrepreneurs – to solve some of APEC priority challenges through the use of technology.

In Viet Nam, the winning team designed an app to help even the smallest business to establish their own global reputation for trading goods and services by using block chain technology. In Papua New Guinea, participants proposed an app designed to help local artisanal weavers connect with more customers and grow their business. This year, in Chile, the winner envisioned an app that will connect women entrepreneurs with potential investors.

These initiatives are presented to APEC’s trade ministers who consider these examples in their deliberations about how to shape more conducive policies that encourage innovation and inclusion.

My third and final point is about what initiatives we can take beyond technology. All of us, government and business alike, have a responsibility to ensure that our citizens are equipped with the necessary skills and tools to take advantage of the opportunities that come with the digital economy. In this context then, we have to help our people learn how to learn. For ultimately, it is not just about the technology but how prepared and ready we are to use the technology effectively. Ultimately it is about us, the people.

Peter Drucker, a world renowned human resources development expert, once said that the only skill that will be important in the 21st century is the skill of learning new skills. Everything else will become obsolete over time. And long before Peter Drucker, Charles Darwin made an astute observation: It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is most adaptable to change. And this implies two things: one, the ability to learn, i.e., continuous learning; and two, changing the way we think and adapt to the “digital way of life.” So the challenge ahead of us in this “new” world is as much about managing the technology as the management of talent and people. And ensuring that the use of technology will not be at the expense of the least in society; that the we are equally enthusiastic about narrowing the digital divide and ensuring that “no one is left behind.”

In this context,  APEC took another important step to ensure inclusivity in May this year. The Human Resource Development Working Group formally included in its agenda a work stream to ensure that we are inclusive of people with disabilities in our various endeavors. Through this, we strongly encourage economies to take into account a streamlined and effective mechanism to advance the participation of persons with disabilities in the economy; specifically in providing access to education, skills development and labour market opportunities, and to achieve disability-inclusive development through coordination with all member economies and across sectors.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This workshop reflects a key aspect of APEC’s mission, namely, capacity-building for policymakers and key personnel within our economies so that we align our domestic initiatives with that of the region, and in so doing contribute towards deepening regional economic integration. 

I am pleased to be a part of this initiative and I want to again record my appreciation to the organizers, speakers and participants.

Thank you.