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YOUTH SKILLS AND JOBS: Foundation and Transferable Skills

This is the third 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 to the ADB International Skills Development Forum in Manila from 10-12 December 2013. Edited, Shanti Jagannathan, ADB.

The 2012 Global Monitoring Report on Education says that: ‘People need foundation skills to stand a chance of getting jobs that pay decent wages and becoming a productive force in the economy’. It argues that these skills are best acquired through formal education and policies and practices should encourage young people to stay longer in formal education. Foundation skills usually refer to language literacy and numeracy.

In developing countries in Asia, the lack of adequate foundation skills makes vocational training less effective. As per UNESCO, in East Asia and the Pacific, over 28 million people aged 15 to 24 have not even completed primary school and need alternative pathways to acquire basic skills for employment. It is well known that South Asia is home to the world’s largest numbers of adult illiterates. When the attainment levels of the work force are below secondary or even primary education, skills development institutions are challenges to remedy the lack of adequate foundation skills. This is not only a matter of concern for developing countries.

A recent report by the Australian Industry Group finds that 93% of surveyed employers identified a wide range of impacts on their businesses from low level literacy and numeracy skills. Raising the levels of workforce foundation skills is identified as an urgent national priority to life the Australian economy’s productivity.

Yet, strengthening foundation skills are not included as an important priority in skills development institutions. This despite findings in skills audits that the technical skill associated with a vocation is rarely more than half of overall skill requirements required: both in terms of effective performance in the work place, and with regard to what employers are looking for when recruiting.

Lack of adequate of foundation skills combined with poor life skills (referred to in a number of ways such as transferable skills, 21st century skills, soft skills – problem solving skills, creativity, work ethics, inter-personal skills and ability to work in teams and so on) further impede skills development on a continuum and at the work place.  Specific examples of the types of attributes in high demand among employers include: the ability to think critically and creatively, process information, make decisions, manage conflict, and work in teams. Furthermore, in many vocational and professional contexts, competences associated with the following are gaining ground in importance – management, leadership, information and digital technology management, negotiation, selling, marketing and public relations.

An Asia Society Report on partnership for global learning suggests that students are not learning 21st century skills because they are not explicitly taught, the traditional method of teaching is not suited for teaching such skills and adequate methods to assess learning of 21st century skills are not universally available.

What are the implications that skills development and training institutions need to consider?

  • The teaching of foundation skills in a remedial context. This can be through separate programs or through opportunities to practice and further develop literacy and numeracy skills that have supposedly been already acquired. This will help to strengthen the uptake of higher order skills development. At the same time, efforts need to be made to strengthen language and mathematics teaching in secondary schools
  • Diversification of content. The explicit inclusion of transferable and life skills in a systematic way to the basket of foundation+ skills would help to maximize returns

  • Use of modern pedagogies.  Emphasis on active learning, cooperative learning and group work, constructivist and communicative approaches are far more conducive to the development of foundation skills than traditional classroom teaching.

  • ncreased use of ICT. At one level, ICT competence is increasingly regarded as a life skill in its own right. In addition, modern and contemporary approaches to training can be facilitated through ICT.  skills can again be developed through two different strategies, neither of which needs to be mutually exclusive. The first option is to offer a separate ICT module as a mandatory part of any more narrowly defined vocational training programme. The second option is to increase the use of ICT as part of the way the vocational content is itself transacted, in order that hands on experience is gained and skills and knowledge to do with ICT are developed.