Through the Lehigh University-United Nations Partnership, Lehigh has developed strong collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO), a UN special agency that brings together representatives from the government, employers and employees to advance social justice and promote decent work by setting international labor standards.

Representatives from the ILO have presented to students on campus and at the UN, and in April 2019 the ILO chose Lehigh as the North American destination for its centenary conference, An Equitable and Sustainable Future of Work. The inspiration for the conference was “Work for a brighter future,” the ILO’s January 2019 report from the Global Commission on the Future of Work. This spring, Lehigh will host the world's first Model ILO simulation – in an event similar to the Model UN, students from local colleges and universities will convene to investigate issues around global supply chains – and looking forward, Lehigh and the ILO are exploring additional opportunities to collaborate, such as a visiting lecture series or joint research on emerging labor-related topics.

We sat down with Kevin Cassidy, Director and Representative to the Bretton Woods and Multilateral Organizations for the International Labour Organization (ILO) Office for the United States, to discuss his thoughts on the future of work and the value of partnering with universities like Lehigh.

Why does the ILO partner with Lehigh?

The ILO’s rationale is to work with students and young academics to help them understand more deeply about development issues and the most important aspect, a decent job. They need a deeper understanding of how work will impact them over the course of their lives. We want them to understand the economic and social aspects of work.

Lehigh offers dedicated and interested students, a multicultural, global student body that we have been impressed by for a while. Lehigh students not only excel in their own disciplines but are also interested in taking an interdisciplinary approach to issues around work. Our relationship with Lehigh is not one off – and we have developed long-term engagements.

Does the ILO partner with other universities?

The ILO has established collaborations with 10 colleges and universities. Lehigh was the first. We identify schools that offer studies relevant to the ILO, which is really quite broad – international relations, law, public policy, labor relations, business studies and more. We look for universities that provide excellence in that training. And then we look at the geographical distribution. It’s important to me to have a wide cross section of universities to align with. Most UN agencies don’t do much outreach in the United States. As the director of the ILO Office for the United States, it’s important to me to have relationships with universities across the country.

How does it partner with universities?

We start by engaging faculty and students with research, perhaps producing some reports together. Then we partner on outreach like a lecture series or conferences to expand the interest of the student body and faculty. Then we look at graduating to a more formal relationship, perhaps providing internships for students at the ILO, inviting university faculty to work as visiting researchers at the ILO in Geneva or in the field, and developing curriculum for the university.

Why is connecting with universities important to the ILO?

When we look at the world of work, employers are looking at the talent pipeline – they want to find the next generation of leaders. We want to provide students with a more global perspective on work and a broader understanding of the multidimensional aspects of development. By working with students and providing them with a global view, it prepares them better for the global workforce. We are keen to play a catalytic role to prepare students for the future of work, and to impact the curriculum to provide an entry point into the workforces.