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A North American Workforce Development Agenda: Better Jobs for a More Competitive Region

The Wilson Center's Mexico Institute is pleased to invite you to our conference A North American Workforce Development Agenda: Better Jobs for a More Competitive Region.

Date & Time

Jul. 23, 2018
10:00am – 1:30pm ET


6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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A North American Workforce Development Agenda: Better Jobs for a More Competitive Region

The Wilson Center's Mexico Institute hosted a conference on A North American Workforce Development Agenda: Better Jobs for a More Competitive Region, with the aim of bringing together senior policymakers and members of the private sector from all three North American countries to share best practices and examine ways to improve workforce-development strategies in order to strengthen the competitiveness of the region. Specific emphasis was placed on the region's current and future labor market challenges, best practices and initiatives on workforce development across North America, and how to foster and promote regional dialogue and collaboration on these issues.

This conference was part of an effort undertaken by the Mexico Institute to foment a forward-looking workforce dialogue to promote the competitiveness of all three North American economies. It served as a continuation of the recently launched North American Workforce Development Agenda, the goal of which is to forge agreements on ways to better support the preservation and creation of jobs in North America during the technological changes and global competition ahead.


Event Summary

This event began with a panel discussing the challenges facing workforce development in North America. Discussion focused first on the disparity between the skills that workers have coming out of college and the skills that companies desire. “In Mexico, we asked educational institutions, ‘Are your new graduates ready for the workforce?’ Seventy-seven percent told us, ‘Yes, we have the right people.’ We asked employers, and 40% said no, so there is a huge difference [there],” Manpower’s Javier Vargas noted. “We have built, in Canada, a higher education system that is built on a 19th-century logic that everybody must go to university, and we put a lot of emphasis, over several decades, on the issue of affordability of education. We didn’t put enough [emphasis] on employability, and that is now really coming home to roost,” said Nobina Robinson, formerly of Polytechnics Canada. LinkedIn’s Nicole Isaac noted this troubling disconnect, yet sees it as an opportunity for working to bridge the divide between educators and businesses and governments so as to better cultivate skills to match jobs. With millennials working increasingly for companies like Uber and Lyft, the issue of managing the gig-economy phenomenon also played a large role in the discussion.

The event’s second panel, which focused on best practices, similarly noted the disparity between skills supplied and skills demanded. Cecilia Bilesio of Tenaris lamented that once a worker has gone through the educational system in Mexico, he or she still needs “one more year in the company of training to be able to close those gaps, which is a complete lack of coordination between the educational system... [and] the industry.” Additionally, workers have been slow to leave the established educational path, eschewing apprenticeships and vocational schools in favor of university, she said. Sarah Watts-Rynard of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum agreed, noting, “There’s just not a parity of esteem for people who want to go into vocational pathways and into the skilled trades; an apprenticeship is seen as a last choice resort for students that, maybe, won’t be successful in university.” Developing hard skills from vocational schools is crucial, but so is the improvement of soft skills. Welby Leaman of Walmart and Nicole Clifton of UPS stressed the appeal of soft skills and their efforts to encourage them. The ability to diplomatically resolve disputes and complaints and to empathize with customers is something that is not only valuable to these employers, but also is an attractive skill to future employers, they said. In this way, trainings offered by big companies like these act as a public service that benefit societies and workers over careers, they reasoned.

A forward-looking final panel focused on new directions that the public and private sector should pivot toward in light of changes due to globalization. Initiating the discussion, Ambassador Anthony Wayne of the Mexico Institute summarized four central concepts discussed in the two previous panels: work-based learning, credentials, data collection and transparency in collecting, and preparation for unknown technological shifts. Building off these ideas, participants discussed research conducted by New America’s Kristin Sharp, particularly her finding that there is a coming shift in not just how people find their work, but also how people contemplate their identity in relation to their work. Putting Sharp’s conclusions into the context of local government, Enrique Perret of ProMéxico said, “When you talk with a mayor on the border or a mayor in the U.S. or Canada or Mexico, they are all worried about their… young population in their city or state or country. Now, we’re talking about a whole region, and it’s very hard to [create] an agenda looking forward, because we don’t know and don’t understand what is happening or will happen.” While in the current political moment international trade agreements are a difficult sell, it was noted that agreements on the local level between international cities have not only persisted, but have been necessitated by this situation. “I think the Great Recession really kicked this country in the teeth in a lot of ways... I am seeing more openness to learn from what others are doing in other countries and also state to state than I have ever seen before,” said CFR’s Edward Alden. Concluding the discussion, Ambassador Wayne argued that globalism has brought about better resource distribution, which means that countries and regions no longer have the luxury of assuming that they, themselves, have the best policy solutions.

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10:00 a.m. -   Welcoming remarks by Laura Dawson, Director, the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute & Duncan Wood, Director, the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute

10:15 a.m. -   Workforce Development Challenges in North America

Nicole Isaac, Director of U.S. Public Policy and Government Affairs, LinkedIn

Nobina Robinson, Former CEO, Polytechnics Canada

Javier Vargas, Vice President, Right Management Latin America, Manpower

Moderator: Raquel Chuayffet, Research Assistant, the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute

11:15 a.m. -   Best Practices and Initiatives on Workforce Development in North America

Cecilia Bilesio, Corporate Secretary, Tenaris

Nicole Clifton, Vice President, Global Public Affairs, UPS

Welby Leaman, ‎Senior Director, Global Government Affairs, Walmart

Sarah Watts-Rynard, Executive Director, Canadian Apprenticeship Forum

Moderator: Duncan Wood, Director, the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute   

12:15 p.m. -   Looking Forward: A North American Workforce Development Dialogue

Edward Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow, Council of Foreign Relations

Enrique Perret, Regional Director for North America, ProMéxico

Kristin Sharp, Director, Initiative on Work, Workers, and Technology, New America

Moderator: Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne, Public Policy Fellow, Wilson Center

1:15 p.m. - Closing Remarks by Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne, Public Policy Fellow, Wilson Center

Hosted By

Mexico Institute

The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute.   Read more

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