BLOG: Workforce Development: A shift into high gear


This year’s Workforce Development Track of the Making Cents conference saw more than a tenfold increase in proposal submissions and will feature a record number of panelists across nine distinct workforce themed panels. The lineup of proposals and participants provides terrific insight into the range and diversity of workforce issues that the development community and countries at large are grappling with, including public private partnerships, work-based learning interventions, soft-skills measurement, technology applications, career development practices and mentorship programs.     

The growing focus on workforce development at this conference reflects the measurable shift in momentum and interest surrounding workforce as a practice area. The issues that we face as practitioners, employers and donors are coalescing more every day, providing both an opportunity and a need to learn from one another. 

The challenges before us are not easy to tackle and identifying solutions requires an immense amount of innovation, piloting and adapting. And that’s why we especially look forward to the series of lively panels at this year’s conference, which will highlight tangible and thought-provoking lessons and experiences and raise a number of compelling questions. How can we more effectively engage with employers and industry groups to improve employability outcomes for young people?  Can we get beyond the muddle to define and measure the soft skills that are most important for the work place? What has been most effective in integrating work-based learning with course instruction? How can career development theory improve workforce outcomes? Can America’s school-to-work models be relevant and applicable in a developing country context? How are online portals and other ICT applications facilitating scale and efficiency of job-matching?

For RTI, workforce development is a priority program area and we are investing heavily in the field both domestically and internationally in countries as diverse as Liberia, the Philippines, Haiti and El Salvador. What drives us is the opportunity to create and test practical solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing developing nations. With 60 million young people entering the labor force each year, we simply need to know more and act faster. We need data to fill gaping labor market information and research gaps; we need reliable and valid measurement tools to know whether we are succeeding at developing work skills that employers demand; we need prototypes that can help us develop more responsive workforce interventions and activities; and if we are going to make a dent in the employability crises our world is facing, then we need to achieve results at scale.

But perhaps most critical to strengthening the workforce ecosystem, whether at the local, national or global level, is proactive collaboration amongst  a wide range of stakeholders from academia to the private sector, youth development advocates to government officials.  We know this won’t be accomplished by one organization or sector and that’s why we are seeking out collaborative relationships with others to share knowledge, develop solutions, accelerate progress and move the field forward.  The mission before us is too important to stand separately.


Ami Thakkar is a Senior Youth and Workforce Development Specialist within the International Development Group at RTI International. Since 2010, RTI has been the annual sponsor of the Workforce Track of the Making Cents Youth Summit.