Monthly Archives: September 2012

Is there a different skills development model in Asia? Cristina martinez-Fernandez and Kyungsoo Choi, OECD LEED Programme

The OECD has recently launched the OECD Skills Strategy with a clear message of the need to continue investing in education and addressing the demand, supply and utilization of skills. The strategy reinforces the message that skills and educational development for inclusive and sustainable growth are becoming significant drivers in OECD countries. Are Asian countries lagging behind on the challenge? In a just released report on Skills Development Pathways in Asia: Employment and Skills Strategies in Southeast Asia Initiative (ESSSA),  the OECD LEED program argues that Asian countries are working towards developing integrated pathways of skills and employment and that these pathways can be different form OECD countries. The report is an initial insight into the skills challenges ahead for Asian economies but also of the originality of the approaches and the pathways they are choosing.

The report focuses on current efforts in 15 countries in the Asian region: Australia, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. Together, these countries represent one of the most dynamic regions in the world, with steady growth, even during the recent financial crisis.

The strategic and policy pathways Asian countries are developing do not duplicate the approaches we can observe in other OECD countries. The Skills development pathways in Asia have a significant focus on developing skills infrastructure in an integrated way with physical infrastructure, taking greater advantage of the synergies of capital investment and industry growth for large infrastructure projects. Asian countries are utilising different strategic approaches to skills development:  Strengthening TVET systems, fostering knowledge intensity through workplace training, developing local skills ecosystems and integrating skills and technologies for green growth.

Emerging policy themes in this approach

The skills development programmes and policies analysed in the report indicate four levels of policy concern for a more integrated approach to skills development:

More investment in skills infrastructure and governance…

Asian countries face common challenges of building up skills infrastructure for creating a training market with quality suppliers, reducing skills mismatches, improving links between training and industry needs, upgrading outdated training systems and increasing industry participation.

Agriculture is still a significant part of many Asian economies. Five countries have large agricultural sectors, which account for over 50% of employment: Cambodia, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Viet Nam.Services sector is overtaking manufacturing. Services employment shares have grown significantly in China, Mongolia, Thailand and Viet Nam during the last decade.

…while addressing the composition of skills and jobs,

The higher skilled occupations such as professionals, technicians, associate professionals and clerks are significantly advanced in the developed countries of Australia, Hong Kong, China, New Zealand and Singapore while Cambodia, Pakistan and Viet Nam are struggling to supply these types of skills.

Indonesia and Pakistan have a high percentage of labourers with either less than one year or only pre-primary education.  While Australia, Japan, Korea and New Zealand have the highest percentage of labour force with a tertiary education, indicating a highly skilled workforce,  in Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Nepal and Viet Nam, colleges and universities do not produce sufficient numbers of graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

…promoting more knowledge intensity in the workplace

To move to higher value‑added production and towards a sustained growth path, increasing the level of workplace training and the quality of training is becoming a key issue.  There  is an urgent need to address knowledge intensity and skilling professional in firms that are embedded in global value chains and technological innovation networks.

SMEs need to be equipped with knowledge of sophisticated financing, and this should be built in in different ways for firm training. There are alternative ways for skills development and knowledge-intensive service activities already well utilised in OECD countries (OECD, forthcoming) but how they relate to developing countries has still not been investigated.

…and integrating skills strategies at the local level

Asian countries are developing skills plans as national statements and frameworks. In most cases there is little specification of how the plans will be implemented at the local level where they need to reach the workforce, firms and organisations. Some countries are now realising the advantages of developing local skills ecosystems and therefore integrating the local implementation into policies and programmes.

Skills development for transition to a green growth economy presents a useful example. At the  national level, it is about setting the right prices and guiding the direction of investment (OECD, 2009), but on the local level it is about training and job placement in a changing environment (Martinez-Fernandez et al., 2010). The cases of Korea and Thailand show the importance of national strategic policy related to sustainable development and climate change.  Demand for new “green” skills and supply need to be balanced and strategically timed. Skills are wasted if they are supplied before industry is ready to use them, a situation which could lead to skill migration from the region.

For the local training dimension, collaboration and flexibility are critical. Facilitating skills and training ecosystems at the local level provides an invisible skills infrastructure that largely reaches stakeholders in connected activities to build capacities in human capital.

From skills for employment to learning for employability. Michelle Engmann, Senior Program Associate, Results for Development Institute

The premise is relatively simple: 75 million youth in the world are unemployed, and while macroeconomic factors take some of the blame for insufficient job creation, many youth remain incapable of taking advantage of existing job vacancies due to a lack of desired skills.

This global skills mismatch might be at least in part solved by discovering what skills employers want, and transforming curricula and educational systems to ensure that students are acquiring these desirable skills. R4D’s Innovative Secondary Education for Skills Enhancement (ISESE) project attempts to address this issue.

As it turns out, the solution may not be as straightforward as matching curricula to employer demands.

As part of the ISESE project, R4D gathered with education and skills development specialists drawn from global multilateral development banks, international foundations and IGOs, business and technology leaders, policymakers, and academia to review the project’s initial findings. While they debated many ideas, all agreed on at least one thing: a sustainable solution to youth unemployment must take into account a rapidly transforming global economy that is surely posing new demands today, but just as surely will be posing a whole new set of demands tomorrow.

Jeffrey Avina, leader of Microsoft’s corporate social responsibility programs in the Middle East and Africa, noted that most of the jobs that youth will be going for in 10 or 20 years don’t even exist yet. In order to address unemployment, we must arm youth with a set of skills that is adaptable as their employment opportunities continue to transform in response to the global economy.

While the ISESE research premise may have in part been challenged in Bellagio, some key takeaways from the review meeting have suggested that the demands of today and demands of the future can be met if we slightly alter our perception of “skills for employment” to consider the kinds of skills we mean when we talk about equipping youth with the means for success.

  • Employment and employability: related, but not the same. If a young man completes a training course on car mechanics, he may be able to get a job in a repair shop, effectively creating employment. However, if that repair shop goes out of business, and there are no other opportunities for him in the same field in his area, that skill is not transferrable to another job. Given that we expect economies to continue to shift and transform in unexpected ways, preparing students for specific jobs feels less dependable than ever as a way to increase youth employment. More effective would be an education and training system that provides students with transferrable or entrepreneurial skills to sustainable youth employability.
  • Non-cognitive skills are as important as cognitive and technical skills – if not more. While the basic 3R’s – reading, writing, and arithmetic – are undeniably critical, so are ’soft’ or ’life’ skills such as leadership, communication, teamwork, flexibility, problem solving, and time management. In fact, one ISESE background study indicates that in the informal economy across both Africa and Asia regions, non-cognitive skills may be more highly valued than cognitive or technical/vocational skills. Considering that in some countries in the developing world the informal economy can account for up to 50 percent of national GDP and up to two-thirds of working adults are informally self-employed, we cannot ignore that the informal sector values these non-cognitive skills over all others is critical.
  • Learning how to learn is a critical outcome of education. Above and beyond any specific skill, employers across formal and informal sectors in Africa and Asia alike are looking to hire employees with the ability to learn. The ability to learn is not a skill that can be dictated by a teacher and repeated by a student in an exam book. Rather, the ability to learn is honed through the learning process itself, which begs the question of how to enhance pedagogy in a way that shapes a student’s ability to receive, process, and apply new information, and also his or her awareness of this process and how to activate it in new and different contexts.

These takeaways illuminate an important aspect of the skills question that may have been overlooked in the quest for a quick and easy answer to the challenge of youth unemployment: while education for employment should be demand-driven, “demand” is not a fixed variable. Mamadou Ndoye, former Minister of Basic Education in Senegal, noted at the ISESE review meeting that responding to demand means considering a dynamic kind of demand, one that includes demands not only of employers, but of the individuals, families, and communities implicated in the equation, as well as the local and national plans for development, and an ever-changing global economy.

In order to keep up with these varied demands, our concept of skills for employment must be transformed. While the 3 R’s and indeed technical/vocational skills remain important, it is the non-cognitive skills that enable workers to learn and adapt these basic skills to different contexts.

The challenge becomes figuring out how to teach these non-cognitive skills. While these types of skills are difficult to teach in the traditional sense of the word, and even more difficult to quantify and assess, they are learned through the process of learning – indicating that this process is as important as the subject matter itself.

This idea has huge implications for the central question of the ISESE project: how can we improve education to increase youth employment in the developing world? Indeed, the solution may not be introducing a set of desirable employment skills into existing curricula, but perhaps transforming the learning system itself. It involves both rethinking pedagogy with an eye to developing a student’s capacity for critical thinking and learning, and as Ndoye notes, rethinking our idea of the learning process to include lifelong learning, self-learning, and learning how to adapt to the global environment.