Category Archives: skills development

Fixing India’s Apprenticeship Regime, Manish Sabharwal, Chairman, Teamlease Services


 ~ Apprenticeships are an important part of most developed skill development regime because they combine ‘learning by doing’ with ‘learning by earning’ ~

Policy makers in India today are facing a peculiar challenge – which sectors will create what kind of jobs in the next 20 years? The answer to this is of course crucial as it will determine the fate of our country. The answer to this question is crucial because educators need to decide what kind of skills and education to impart to young people far ahead of when they hit the labour markets. The answer to this question is also crucial because now in India the notion of district collectors distributing NREGS money as job creators is discredited!

But accepting that most attempts at job forecasting make weather forecasting look like physics is difficult for economists and policy makers who build complex forecasting models. Flawed models – however complex – have dangerous consequences; the physics envy of finance led to huge losses because quantitative models used in calculations like Value at Risk or Credit Default Swaps were precise but incomplete.

A comprehensive and multi-decade review of attempts by many countries including the US, UK, India, Japan, etc. of long-term job forecasting suggests that the accuracy, in hindsight, has been poor. To be fair, just like the higher accuracy of weather forecasting in the very near term (one or two days), these models know where job demand will be in the next one or two years. But this is not enough to craft long term education policy.

India is in skill emergency. Lots of ideas are on the table – in fact they are falling off the table. We need an urgent dose of political courage to resolve regulatory bottlenecks at the intersection of the Ministry of HRD and labour (NVEQF, Sector Skill Councils, etc) and State and Central Governments (Employment Exchanges, Apprenticeships, etc.). We don’t need more money but surgery on how money is spent. Not more cooks in the kitchen but a different recipe. Combining Apprenticeships and NREGS would be a radical innovation at the intersection of education, employability and education. It would co-opt employers in ways that the government has never tried. And it would offer dropouts (50% of the 300 million children enrolled in school won’t finish secondary school) and unemployable graduates (estimated at 58% of the 14 million students in 26,500 institutes of higher education) an alternate pathway to skills and jobs.

India needs a new Apprenticeship regulatory regime that clearly recognizes, 1) apprenticeships are classrooms not employment, 2) stipends are tuition subsidy and not salary, 3) durations for different trades and candidates need to vary from 3 months to 3 years, 4) the partition between the jurisdictions of the Ministry of Labour and HRD is unnecessary because it creates policy orphan like non-engineering graduates and amplifies the apartheid between skills and higher education, 5) we need employer sponsored programs that are allowed to outsource theoretical training, 6) we need educational institute sponsored programs that are allowed to outsource practical training, 7) the current stick of jail is not working and capacity will be higher if employers are volunteers, 8) moving away from the current license raj to nationwide permissions for national employers will increase capacity, 9) removing the size ratios on apprenticeship programs run by employers will accelerate capacity creation because apprenticeships have a lower expansion speed limit than physical classrooms, 10) the most effective labour market subsidy is subsidizing stipends.

These reforms should be designed to counter current opposition. Models that try to predict where jobs will be created in the next few decades have the efficacy of palm reading or astrology – this makes them unreliable input for decisions with long shadows. More than trying to predict the future, we should try architecting our education system to be self-healing in coping with changing employer needs. What better place to start than expanding our formal apprenticeships to 10 million youth?


Vocationalization of Secondary Education at the Crossroads ? Rupert Maclean, the Hong Kong Institute of Education

In 1990, 192 nations of the world, and the education for development community, met in Jomtien, Thailand, and made a commitment to achieving Education for All (EFA) and the eradication of illiteracy.  Although EFA remains elusive, considerable gains have been achieved over the past 22 years with regard to the universalisation of primary education.  Partly as a result of this success, in most developing countries, worldwide, more students are now going onto secondary school in greater numbers than ever before, with secondary education now being regarded in many countries as being part of basic, essential education.

In the past it was widely accepted that secondary schooling was for the few, for a relatively small number and proportion of students who were mainly concerned with receiving an academic-type education, for entry to universities and high status professions.  With an increasing proportion of  relevant age groups now wanting to go onto complete a full cycle of secondary schooling, for its own sake, and not necessarily go onto university,  schools have had to modify their curriculum and entrance procedures to become more comprehensive.  They have done this by providing a wider range of courses, which are both academic and (increasingly) vocational in nature, to accommodate the more diverse study interests and range of capabilities of students. As a result, more emphasis is being placed on economic productivity, with secondary schools increasingly stressing skills development for employability, and preparing students more directly to meet labour force requirements.

This trend, which is referred to as ‘the vocationalisation of education’, often enjoys the support of governments who promote the (generally incorrect) argument that this is an effective way of reducing youth unemployment.  This view is generally incorrect because youth unemployment will only be reduced if there are sufficient jobs to absorb youth who have the specialized skills in demand in the labor market, rather than the general skills most likely provided by vocationalised secondary schools.

There are some, such as Professor Steven Schwartz, Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie University in Australia, who recently lamented this trend, and who argues that the programmes offered in many secondary schools are ‘being reduced to mere vocational training’.  Prof Schwartz and his supporters believe that secondary schools should stress a general education and the intellectual development of learners, mainly  through traditional academic subjects. Such critics want to wind-back the clock to a time when secondary schools focused almost exclusively on academic learning.

Others (including myself) disagree and believe it is both desirable and appropriate that secondary schools are more accountable to meeting the economic and labour force needs of society through placing a greater emphasis on skills development for employability.  The pro and anti vocationalisation of secondary education camps are currently locked in a war of words, with secondary education being a cross roads concerning likely future directions.

Skills development – Lessons from the Canadian Community Colleges. Paul Brennan, ACCC

As policy makers we almost always approach issues top down and not often from the learner’s or employer’s viewpoint in the many communities that we are ultimately trying to improve. Years later we wonder why things have not changed dramatically in the communities.  It is important to ensure taking the learner, employer and community perspective to elucidate what policy issues should be focused upon.

What students or learners want above all these days is to be able to find or create quality employment. Without a job, talking about citizenship is quite abstract. This means that institutions  must be closely linked to the employers and their communities, who know better what the job opportunities will be and what specific skills will be required going forward. Decentralizing authority to institutions is a key policy decision as that is the only way to allow rapid responsiveness to change.

As the knowledge economy replaces the agricultural and industrial ones, and the high value-added service one replaces basic manufacturing, the institution will also have to pay close attention to equipping its learners with the specific technical skills required by ever more demanding employers, along with essential employability skills (‘soft skills’) related to their profession, as well as opportunities for work placements to allow learners to obtain the experience which most employers are asking for these days.

To keep up with the constant imperative for innovation coming from global competition, institutions need to equip their learners with attitudes that encourage them to constantly,innovate and entrepreneurial skills to set up small businesses that can grow out of the informal economy into the formal one, or that lead to the creation of new businesses that take on the world of new global opportunities. In a world that requires constant upgrading of skills to remain competitive, and mobility when jobs move elsewhere, institutions and systems need to provide their learners with easy pathways to continuous learning and certifications that are recognized in other countries.

And as the positive economic development in a highly skilled global context is also creating a sub-class of people who cannot even get onto the first step of the escalator of skills acquisition, institutions need to be providing those marginalized populations with very practical, job-focused basic learning, allowing them to get onto the escalator.

The decentralized Canadian system, and particularly its highly responsive college and institute system, has allowed and indeed forced institutions to constantly adapt in order to better serve their employers, communities and especially students and adult learners,. What are the indicators of success?

  • Canada has the highest proportion of its population accessing post-secondary education, half of those are now doing so via a college or institute, and parents no longer consider colleges as a second-class option;
  • The 130 public colleges and institutes of Canada have an overall average of 91% of its graduates who obtain employment within six months of graduation, and a 95% rate of satisfaction of their employers with the quality of their new hires;
  • Institutions are measured by independently verified  and publicly available  indicators of performance, such as obtaining employment, and are funded accordingly;
  • Colleges and institutes have had the authority to rapidly develop new types of offerings and modes of learning that match the pace of change, including:

–       Pre-technology programs to allow secondary school drop-outs to catch up and acquire the basic skills needed to start a program, in dignity and with plenty of support services;

–       Two and three year diplomas for technicians and technologists or mid-level managers,

–       Four-year Bachelor degrees with mandatory supervised work internships amounting to one year of time,

–       Post-graduate certificates and diplomas for university graduates who cannot find employment and adults wanting shorter-term specialized upgrading, and

–       Applied research and technology transfer services for industry, and particularly small and medium sized businesses and start-ups.

  • Over 1,000 learning centres were set up across our vast country, to bring learning to the learners in remote communities, instead of waiting for the learner to perhaps travel to us;
  • Blended learning solutions were offered to reach out to more learners, including e-learning options, mobile workshops for practical training, and web-based strategies for the connected learner of today;
  • Green campuses were created across the country saving energy, training professionals for the new energies of tomorrow and acting as demonstration sites and centres of expertise on the green economy in their communities.

What about quality control and qualification frameworks?  Provincial ministries of education have very rigorous traditional quality control process frameworks, but are moving to control quality more by results, via employability and employer satisfaction rates, Decentralization does not mean losing all control, but rather that control shifts to measuring outcomes and allowing institutions the autonomy to adapt rapidly so that they can meet the changes in the market.

Is such a system a useful reference point for Asia?  Apparently as ACCC and Canadian colleges have been selected to help design and set up new or reformed TVET skills systems in Vietnam and Cambodia, to help open up institutions to poorly educated citizens in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and to help develop leaders, not only managers, but leaders of more responsive, community-driven and accessible systems by China.

A recently published forty-year History of ACCC in International Development: From Education to Employment, will be available shortly to see how some Canadian ideas were adapted and adopted in Asia, as well as countries like Brazil, Chile, Morocco, Jordan and South Africa, to name a few.

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.

Secondary Schools – the neglected middle in skills development. Shanti Jagannathan, Senior Education Specialist, ADB

Vocationalization of secondary education is much more expensive than general education and there is no widespread evidence that vocationalization has contributed to better outcomes at the secondary level. Yet, governments and policy makers are investing in it as an important means to improve relevance of education and increase economic benefits from education. Out of 41 Asia Pacific countries included in UNESCO statistics, 22 provide vocational programs at the upper-secondary level and 16 at the post-secondary, non-tertiary level.

Improving the skill level of the work force to ensure more jobs is a driving force.  Skills development for a globalized and knowledge economy has become a pressing concern. However, inadequately resourced and poorly performing secondary school systems in developing countries are not geared to effectively take the load of vocationalization. Countries are struggling with establishing the appropriate balance of general, vocational and technical skills at secondary level.  The increasing priority given to vocational education and training by most countries in the region is exerting its pressure on secondary schools to provide the foundation for post secondary TVET but also to complement skills development for employability.

The Results for Development Institute (R4D) with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, is implementing an interesting research project on Innovative Secondary Education for Skills Enhancement (ISESE). The study aims to identify skills that secondary school students in developing countries need to position themselves better for employment opportunities and covers sub-Saharan Africa (with country case studies on Ghana, Kenya, Benin and Burkina Faso), South Asia (with country case studies on India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) and South East Asia (with country case studies on Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand).  It aims to locate innovative models and develop a strategy to scale up the most effective models.

The R4D project on secondary education and skills is exploring skills for employability from three perspectives: what employers (in both the formal and informal sectors) are looking for in prospective employees; how skills are currently defined and taught in secondary school curricula; and what models currently exist for delivering  skills at the secondary level.

Anecdotal evidence appears to point that while cognitive, non-cognitive and technical skills are taught at secondary education, there is insufficient integration of the three. While cognitive and technical skills are covered well in the curriculum, there is not much of a link with the world of work. Non-cognitive skills are largely lacking, or at least not explicitly covered and constitute a major gap as far as employers are concerned.

In terms of work in this area, some key issues worth considering in improving secondary school systems:

(1)  Secondary education is both an important foundational stage of education for further education or training and a potential exit level for employment. In both instances, there is need to ensure a good base of foundational skills in both general academic and vocational streams – how can all graduating secondary school graduates attain such foundational skills irrespective of the stream they follow? Is there a universal way to define such foundational skills?

(2)  Incorporation of generic, transversal skills into the curriculum and pedagogy is an important need that will strengthen general education as well; what are the issues with regard to investing in teacher training and appropriate teaching learning materials, recognizing that such skills are constantly evolving?

(3)  Collaboration with employers and industry is a valuable avenue to strengthen skills required to succeed in the labor market; employer-led collaboration with secondary schools, establishing entrepreneurship schemes can be valuable even in general education systems;  what could be good incentives to enable such partnerships?

(4)  Assessment and examination reforms that accompany such new trends in pedagogy and soft skill development in secondary schools are crucial to ensure legitimacy as well as their recognition at the work place, yet high stake exit examinations continue to dominate. How can assessment systems be improved for foundational, technical and soft skills at secondary stage?

(5)  ICT can play a substantial role in the sector, not just in terms of distance learning but also through blended on-line courses, employability portals and social networking platforms that seek to address the concerns and aspirations of youth. What are the investments required to enables these?

(6)  Secondary schools need to better facilitate  school-to-work transitions but also equally back-to-school programs for re-training and up skilling that will increasingly become important as the employment market moves away from ‘job for life’. What are the shifts required in the management of secondary schools?

(7)  Given that better employment outcomes are also strongly linked to aspirations of youth, a number of ‘intermediate’ and ‘ancillary’ services and activities need to be in place, such as student counseling, career guidance and placement services.  Who are best placed to provide such services?

Secondary education is often a neglected ‘middle’ in the education system – not attracting as much as attention and priority as basic education (it is considered beyond the right to education stage) or TVET and skills development (which is prioritized for improving employment), but  it is a critical middle that should get its due attention.

Rio+20 and Education and Training, Shanti Jagannathan, Senior Education Specialist, ADB

Going by reports in the press, the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development did not quite set on fire new commitments for sustainable development. The outcome document from the Summit lacks the punch for extraordinary next steps. However, two Es, Economics and Education in the context of sustainability, captured the imagination.  The Guardian reported that “beyond Rio, green economics can give us hope”.  UNEP argued that green economics would bring the environment within the “visible spectrum” of economic activity. It is believed that the participation of 1,500 corporate leaders compared with only a handful in 1992 signals that there is plenty of green business to be done.

Education for sustainability was actively discussed. The conference outcome document calls for the development of sustainability curricula and training programs for careers in fields related to sustainability.   It advocates support to higher education institutions to carry out research and innovation for sustainable development. Entrepreneurship and technical and vocational training to bridge skills gaps to meet sustainable development objectives are also stressed.

 250 higher education institutions joined together to issue a declaration  at Rio in support of sustainable development, by agreeing to take actions to teach sustainable development concepts across all disciplines, encourage research on sustainable development issues to improve scientific understanding and transfer of technologies and undertake greening of campuses by reducing environmental footprint and promoting sustainable practices.

A number of side events at Rio led to discussions on education and training for sustainability. The UN report ‘Shaping the Education of Tomorrow: 2012’ reviewed gains made during the ongoing UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development  (2005-2015) and called for unifying different aspects of sustainability such climate change, disaster risk reduction and biodiversity in education. The International Business Leaders Forum released the report ‘Partnerships for Education: Building the foundations of a green, prosperous and equitable global economy’.  A number of UN organizations participated in the side-event “UN Multi-stakeholder Strategies for Scaling-up and Mainstreaming Learning for Sustainable Development”.  UNITAR drew attention to the role of training in the side event ‘National Learning and Skills Strategies to Advance a Green Transition Organizing partners’. The UN CC:Learn seeks to advance global knowledge sharing and national capacity development to strengthen climate change. The recent creation of the Inter-agency Working Group on Greening Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and Skills Development advocates international partnerships for green skills and capacity development.

These are promising trends in a hitherto neglected area. Article 6 of UNFCCC had been somewhat limited in only advocating awareness building. A more active and long-term role for education to advance climate change implementation but also to find new and innovative solutions for greening economies is very timely.

Leading educational institutions are already on this track. Stanford University now has 500 courses that include a component of sustainability embedded across the curriculum for various disciplines – medicine, mathematics, economics, engineering, law and life sciences. The University’s Sustainability 3.0 strategy aims to reduce the environmental impact of students and campus buildings.  Columbia University has a Master of Science in Sustainability Management and an extensive array of sustainability management courses. Columbia and IBM have partnered to launch a green tech skills initiative to provide next generation entrepreneurs access to skills needed to accelerate sustainability projects and to be competitive when they enter the workforce.  Hong Kong University proposes to start a Master of Arts on Education for Sustainability. TERI University of India as a specialized institution focuses on courses in climate science and policy, natural resource management, environment studies, renewable energy engineering and management, sustainable development practices etc. The Petroleum University of Gujarat has established a school of solar energy.  Much more work is at hand to increase the global availability of qualified and skilled professionals.

Boosting productivity by harnessing skills, Robin Shreeve, CEO, Skills Australia

 Individuals, enterprises and governments all intuitively recognise the links between completing a training program and getting a job. Large numbers of research reports have charted the impact of qualification completions on workforce participation. As a result individuals, enterprises and governments are all prepared, to varying degrees, to invest money, time and effort in both vocational education and training and higher education.

Skills Australia believes, however, that skills development is only part of the equation.  How skills are utilised in the workplace is critical to maximising the investment of all the participants . At a national level, Skills Australia has recommended that both the Australian Government and individual enterprises use increased amounts of public and private funding to leverage workforce development initiatives at industry and enterprise levels, with a special focus on small business.

In  our National Workforce Development Plan, published as Australian Workforce Futures, we outlined how our modelling indicated that the Australian economy  will need by 2015 over 2 million more people with qualifications at Certificate 3 and above if employers are going to have  the skills they need to keep  a booming economy going. It should be stressed however that we are not saying there will be over 2 million more jobs in 2015. Part of the demand will be for upgrading the qualifications of those already working as well as reflecting that labour force entrants tend to have higher levels of qualifications than those who are retiring.

It is therefore somewhat ironic that the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that 30 per cent of Australian tertiary education graduates have qualifications exceeding the occupation skill classification.   Additionally, while it was a small sample size, the Head of the National Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University, Professor Kostas Mavromaras estimates that approximately 41 per cent of employees believed themselves to be over skilled.

Qualification mismatch, the discrepancy between the qualifications held by workers and those required by their job, has become a growing concern among policy makers. It is also a concern for employers as the effect of qualification mismatch on wages and job satisfaction may have implications for the mobility behaviour of workers.  Skills Australia encourages organisations to ensure that workers are well-matched to available jobs as this is essential to promoting growth and to make the most of investments in their labour pool.  This is not an argument about an over supply of skills. Rather it is about better organisational and job design at the enterprise level.  A modern economy requires more and higher levels of skills. Those skills are being developed but they also need to be used efficiently and effectively.

There is much scope for improvement by employers and employees working together with assistance from training providers and governments, to re-examine how individual workplaces can be organised to make better use of skills. According to Society for Knowledge Economics: “The fact that people at work are not given the opportunity to contribute to their full potential may well be the biggest ‘skills and productivity crisis’ we face today.”

Enterprises seeking to harness and develop their workers’ abilities should address how work is organised and how skills are aligned to the needs of the business.  Effective practices include conducting skills audits and redesigning or rotating jobs as needed.  I would also like to stress the importance of strong leadership and employee support from management. By enabling measured risk-taking and providing opportunities for staff to have a say in business process, managers can encourage creativity and innovation in their employees. An organisational culture that promotes the development of leadership and people management skills leads to an environment in which skills and talents are fully recognised and used.

Implementing change requires time and effort, but when an employee feels their skills are being utilised and their talent nurtured, our research has found that it pays dividends in business efficiency, productivity and innovation.

Skills Australia’s Better use of skills, better outcomes: Australian case studies showcases organisations in industries as diverse as health, finance, resources and manufacturing who have implemented tailor-made initiatives to benefit both the business and employees themselves. Australia’s continued prosperity relies on businesses like these.  One example is Murrumbidgee Health redesigning and expanding the role of therapy aides into allied health assistants. By better utilising the assistants’ skills to take over the routine administrative tasks and implement care plans, which previously only the professionals were permitted to do, the professionals were able to see more patients. It has resulted in positive outcomes such as significantly reducing waiting times from two months to two weeks.

Australian organisations like these are showing us that effective adoption of such practices can provide benefits both to employers, such as a lift in profitability, innovation, and staff retention and to employees, including gaining skills, a higher level of engagement and job satisfaction.

Skills Development – a pressing development challenge. Shanti Jagannathan, Senior Education Specialist, ADB

Skills development is currently occupying center stage in development discourse– to sustain growth, increase employment, reduce inequalities, strengthen human capital and advance knowledge based economies.  Unprecedented interest is directed to policies and strategies that governments and business must adopt for skills development. UNESCO is scheduled to release two major reports on skills this year: the Global Monitoring Report on Skills and the World TVET report.  The OECD’s emerging Skills Strategy talks about skills as the global currency for the 21st century. The ADB’s Education by 2020: A Sector Operations Plan emphasizes strengthening quality, inclusiveness and relevant skills at levels of education. The World Bank’s recently launched Education Strategy for 2020 states that it is knowledge and skills of people, not years spent in a classroom, that contribute more to economic growth.  The skills-employment nexus has become an overriding priority. The G20 Declaration of November 2011 put employment at the heart of policy action to restore growth and set up a task force to tackle youth unemployment. The special chapter on employment in the ADB’s Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific 2011 discusses the transition to higher quality employment as a key link to economic growth and poverty reduction in developing Asia. The Asian Development Outlook 2012 discusses rising inequality in Asia despite high growth rates. Employment intensity of growth in Asia is lower than global average and has declined in recent years.  Inequality of opportunity, particularly education and skills, contributes to growing income inequality.

The writing is on the wall that a major revamp is needed in skills development and training. More of the same will not do in terms of policies and strategies. New thinking is required to handle a complex set of inter-related issues.

Education and training systems are not in step with the needs of the market as witnessed by the paradox of increasing demand for skills co-existing with skills shortages and skills mismatches. Assuring adequate employment is a pressing challenge as students of emerging from technical and vocational education and training are not finding jobs. On the one hand, there is a need for developing countries to increase the skill base of their work force to serve high technology industries and for moving up the value chain. On the other hand, with burgeoning tertiary education systems, problems of graduate unemployment are increasingly surfacing even in developing Asia, which bode ill for countries with youthful populations. The Arab Spring is seen as a possible precursor to more unrest if the youth unemployment issue is not tackled. In countries that are facing an aging population, skills will be the crucial determinant of people’s ability to stay in the labor market for a longer time. Fast growing sectors in Asia, are not necessarily offering growing employment opportunities as well. Employers are looking for not just technical skills but an array of soft skills that encompass problem solving and behavioral skills. The private sector is playing a dominant role in anticipating and contributing to skills development, calling for appropriate regulatory regimes and incentive structures for skills development. The large prevalence of informal markets poses unique challenges to skills training systems that support workers in small and medium enterprises and entrepreneurs. There is a need to mesh together and bring congruence between policies for economic growth and industrial development, education and skills development and labor market and social protection. All easily said than done!

This space will provide an informal platform for individuals and professionals to discuss and deliberate upon pressing challenges and possible solutions. Exchange of experiences and practices can lead to enriching the dialogue between developed and developing countries and peer exchanges within developing nations. We look forward to an active debate on key themes and issues of interest to the community of practitioners in the skills and training sector!