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YOUTH SKILLS AND JOBS: Careers Education and Employment Services

This is the fifth of a five-part article series by Dr David Smawfield, an international expert on technical and vocational education and training, exploring different dimensions of youth skills development for jobs and employability. This discourse leads up to the ADB International Skills Development Forum in Manila from 10-12 December 2013. Edited, Shanti Jagannathan, ADB.

It is now recognized that in addition to skills development, there is need for ancillary support such as employment services, career guidance, job placement services and back to work programs to bridge the distance between training and productive employment. These cannot be provided by government alone and there is need for partnerships between the private sector and service providers with training institutions.

An OECD publication of 2009 titled ‘Relationship of Career Guidance to VET draws distinctions between ‘career counselling’ which is a one-to-one dialogue; ‘career education’ which is a curriculum offering; and ‘career information’, which can be provided in various formats.  The report argues that career guidance is relevant to the quality and effectiveness of VET at two distinct stages: prior to entering a VET programme and within the VET programme. In respect of the former creating awareness of options and providing support to make informed choices are important principles. Careers guidance within programmes should be available at all key decision points and on exit. It also has an important role to play in helping students to understand the transferability of their skills and options open to them.

Achieving greater clarity on all of the above concepts can be an important part of formulating an appropriate development response.  Developed and developing countries are engaged in putting appropriate initiatives in place.

Employment services have a vital role to play in easing the transition from school to work and much can be done to enhance their functions through developmental interventions. As an example of what can be possible, the recently concluded EC funded ‘Labour Market Information Project’ in Vietnam included the reinvigoration of ‘Jobs Centres’, including their full computerization and the development of the capacity of staff to generate and analyse data. According to a final evaluation, this resulted in the production of a ‘treasure trove’ of important data for skills manpower planning. It highlighted, for example, a set of occupational areas that comprised the easiest vacancies to fill (suggesting skills oversupply) and a set of occupational areas that were most difficult to fill (suggesting skills under-supply, with attendant implications for training programme response). It was also recognized by project stakeholders that this kind of information was of vital importance for feeding back into careers guidance work: helping young people to make informed decisions about where their best opportunities lie. Reinvigorated job centres are also now bringing together employers seeking recruits and those looking for work. One means of achieving this is the organization of regular ‘jobs fairs’, in which employers make presentations and do their interviewing and recruiting at the jobs centre.

Australia’s employment service system delivers unemployment-related assistance to approximately 1.6m Australians annually. These services are delivered through Jobs Services Australia (JSA) by more than 100 contracted providers at more than 2,000 sites across Australia. This crucial support is enabled through the large investment made by the federal government, approximately $1.3b per annum. A recent paper on reforming employment assistance in Australia argues for a comprehensive re-design of the system from 2015, favoring a truly competitive market for employment services provided by a range of private contractors.

Skill development coming of age in India, Dilip Chenoy, CEO & Managing Director of the National Skill Development Corporation

As 2012 draws to a close, it is a good time to introspect on how far India has progressed on the skills issue.

Admittedly, a number of positive developments have taken place since the start of the year, the most significant of which is a greater realization among many key stakeholders about the key role that skills-related training could play in India being able to leverage its favorable demographics.

The leadership of the Prime Minister’s National Council for Skill Development is enabling coordination and cooperation efforts among stake holders. A national target of skilling 80 million has been set for the next five years.

A lot of effort has gone in to ensure that skilling initiatives – irrespective of whether the delivery was through the government or private mechanisms – became more outcome-focused, with the emphasis on jobs and employability. For example, partner institutions of the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), for instance, placed over 70 per cent of their students in decent, well-paying jobs following the completion of the training.

Capacity augmentation received a fillip with skilling centers opened across the length and breadth of the country, including in many remote and far-flung areas that had been largely left untouched in the past. Several Partners of NSDC embarked on the process of setting up large vocational training centers capable of skilling a million-plus people over a 10-year span. Special training programmes were introduced in Jammu & Kashmir and the North-East to ensure that the people living in these parts could obtain the skill sets that would empower them to participate in and contribute to India’s growth.

The Indian Banks’ Association – the nodal association for banks operating in the country – based on discussion with the Office of the Advisor to the Prime Minister’s Council, came up with a model vocational loan scheme to serve as the basis for member banks to introduce vocational loan products in order to ease financial access to skills training centers, particularly for those at the bottom of the pyramid. Many private organizations, including NSDC Partners, also came up with innovative financing schemes with employers, in some cases, promising to reimburse the training costs after the trainees completed a certain minimum period of service.

A pilot project of the National Vocational Education Qualifications Framework (NVEQF) – that would ensure a seamless migration from a vocational to a formal education framework – was formally launched in 40 schools in Haryana, with plans to replicate it in other states of India. Four Sector Skill Councils (SSCs) formed by the NSDC are involved with the NVEQF pilot.

For all these positives, though, many of the underlying challenges to the creation of a skills culture in India continue to remain unresolved. Skills still don’t command a premium in India. Deep-rooted misconceptions that skills-related training is only intended for those who could not make it in the formal system have affected enrolments at vocational education facilities with admissions in these centers continuing to be seen by many as a last resort.

Leadership to transform this now lies with the employers to promote the skills cause in their own set-up. Enterprises need to accelerate  the practice of hiring skilled and certified employees at all levels and then create an attractive salary differential between skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labor. Leadership is also needed to increase in-service skilling in the manufacturing sector which continues to be low.

The Government has introduced attractive fiscal benefits such as permitting a weighted deduction of 150% of expenses (not being expenditure in the nature of cost of any land or building) on expenditure incurred on skill development projects, and also exempting training partners of NSDC as well as some designated private sector skills training providers from service tax.

The Government has provided space for leadership and action by Industry. Industry has the unique opportunity to being the voice that would determine how trainings should be conducted, and the standards that should prevail, besides deciding how the assessments and certifications should happen. As part of the National Policy on Skill Development, 2009, industry can do all these things through setting up Sector Skill Councils.

Industry has to collaborate and lead the formation and operationalization of SSCs and moving fast on this. The SSCs approved by the NSDC need to accelerate the  buy-in from among their own membership for the concept of devising National Occupational Standards (NOS) for the top job roles in their respective domains.

Stakeholders are looking to Industry leaders to start taking ownership of driving the Sector Skill Councils and the NOS exercise in their respective domains through greater involvement with the SSCs, as without the occupational standards, the accrediting system, and certification in place, skill development would be reduced to just another futile exercise. The more actively we can lead, collaborate and execute, the more chances there would be of India being able to realize its vision of skilling and up skilling 500 million people by 2022.

(The author is CEO & Managing Director of the National Skill Development Corporation, a Public Private Partnership of the Government of India).

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.

RIGHTS TO SKILLS, Manish Sabharwal. Chairman, Teamlease Services

Rights are not reducing poverty. Time to place skills and employment at the heart of policy It’s been raining “Rights” in Indian policy for the last few years; education, work, food, service, healthcare, and much else. This “diet coke” approach to poverty reduction – the sweetness without the calories – was always dangerous because of unknown side effects. Commenting in 1790 on the consequences of the French revolution, Edmund Burke said “They have found their punishment in their success; laws overturned, tribunals subverted, industry without vigor, commerce expiring, the revenue unpaid, yet the people impoverished and a state not relieved”. Not very differently, early results of this “policy revolution by fatwa” – MNREGS, Right to Education, Right to Food, Right to Service, etc –suggests that it has led to 15 interest rate hikes in 12 months, is destroying government finances, fuelling inflation, and encouraging civil society to subvert democracy. It also reminds us that policy entrepreneurship, like all entrepreneurship, is not exempt from the rule that big ideas without execution and resources are ineffective. Outlays don’t lead to outcomes because poetry is useless without plumbing. But there is an alternative for reducing poverty to this impatient state driven idealism; Skills and Jobs. Poverty reduction comes from an individual’s ability to access opportunities. Unfortunately unemployability is a bigger problem than unemployment; 58% of India’s youth suffer from some skill deprivation. India’s skill crisis is a child of a fragmented regulatory regime (state vs. centre, 19 ministries vs. 2 human capital ministries), the dead-end view of vocational training (the lack of vertical mobility between certificates, diplomas and degrees), a broken apprenticeship regime (we only have 2.5 lac apprentices relative to 6 and 10 million in Germany and Japan), a weak job framework (the national occupation codes don’t create a shared thought world for employers and educators), no linking of financing to outcomes (we pay for training not jobs), no separation of financing from delivery (creating competition to government delivery by using government money for private delivery) and dysfunctional employment exchanges (1200 of them gave 3 lac jobs to the 4 crore people registered last year). The policy agenda around skills is not impossible or unknown. Employment Exchanges need to become public private partnership career centers that offer counseling, assessment, training, apprenticeships and job matching. The Apprenticeship Act of 1961 must be amended to view an apprenticeship as a classroom rather than a job and shift the regulatory thought world from push (employers under the threat of jail) to pull (make them volunteers). The National Vocational Educational Qualification Framework must be agreed by the states and the Ministries of Labour and HRD as the unifying open architecture tool for recognition of prior learning and vertical mobility between school leavers, certificates, diplomas and degrees. Delivery systems are in the hands of states and every state must create a skill mission or vocational training corporation tasked with building capacity and quality. States should also create asset banks to make existing government real estate available for skill delivery. All schools must teach English because English is like Windows; an operating system that creates geographic mobility and improves employment outcomes by 300%. Schools and Colleges must selectively embed vocational subjects – particularly soft skills – into their curriculum. The regulatory cholesterol around national distance education (mail order, e-learning and satellite) must be reviewed to offer flexible options for workers already in the workforce and the geographically disadvantaged. We must create a national network of community colleges offering two year associate degrees; these colleges, rooted in the local ecosystem, will serve the informal sector (92% of employment) This missing mezzanine layer – their two years programs are not normal degrees on a diet but vocational training on steroids – would bridge the gap between vocational education and training but make the system more inclusive. Finally, we must created skill vouchers that will allow financially disadvantaged students to get trained wherever they want at government expense. Such vouchers would shift the system to funding students rather institutions should be funded by money carved out of the MNREGS budget. Unlike the skill agenda, the job creation agenda is more complex and controversial. But few disagree about the shame in four employment statistics being exactly where they were in 1991; 92% informal employment, 12% manufacturing employment, 50% self-employment and 58% agricultural employment. Economists do not understand how job are created or why they cluster where they do. But the broad contours of fertile soil for job creation are obvious; a flexible labour market, skilled employees, robust infrastructure, and predictable legislation. A flexible labour market is important; most economists agree that our labour law regime is poisonous. India’s labour laws – our employment contracts are marriage without divorce – have created a labour aristocracy (only 8% of our labour force works in the organized sector) that perpetuates labour laws which cripple India’s ability to compete with China in organized manufacturing. The labour law issue is closely related to the skill issue because expanding formal employment is the key to third-party financing of skill development and expanding manufacturing employment is key to getting people off farms (58% of our people produce 18% of our GDP). It’s late but not too late to change the tragic reality that the two most important decisions a child in India makes is choosing their parents and pin code wisely. Mughal Emperor Jahangir told his gardener in Kashmir that if a tree takes 100 years to mature, that’s all the more reason to plant it as soon as possible. In other words, the best time to start changing our skill system and reforming labour laws was twenty years ago. The second best time is now. India’s new tryst with destiny – putting poverty in the museum it belongs – doesn’t need more “Rights” but more jobs and more skills. And creating jobs and skills doesn’t need new ideas but courage. Not more strategy but more execution. Any takers?

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.