Chapter 1: Workforce Development

At-risk youth and college graduates alike continued to be affected by a two-part jobs crisis in 2012. Many could not find jobs that aligned with their interests or training, and available job training systems were largely misaligned with the labor market. Presenters and participants who engaged in the workforce development (WfD) learning track at Making Cents International’s 2012 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference (GYEOC) deliberated the challenges they experience when designing, implementing, evaluating, and funding WfD programs that aim to support young people in their efforts to secure decent employment where they live. This chapter explores these challenges, while revealing programmatic and policy approaches designed to address them. Among those challenges cited were defining and supporting soft skills development, ensuring education and training are geared towards the learner and actually lead to jobs, establishing stronger connections between job skills training and employers’ needs, and working with and serving specific youth populations in diverse contexts.

Such challenges were echoed in abundant new research that emerged this past year from leading stakeholders in the field, such as the World Bank, UNESCO, ManpowerGroup, McKinsey Consulting, and others. The following graphic from the 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report (http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/leading-the-international-agenda/efareport/reports/2012-skills/) shows the various “pathways to skills” that stakeholders attempt to effectively build through programming and policymaking.

WfD systems will not, in themselves, fix the employment situation that is caused by depressed economic conditions, but addressing skill mismatches is one of their core functions. WfD systems are concerned principally with mediating skills and employment opportunities, and are often referred to as a “dual client,” since they must simultaneously respond to the needs of job seekers and employers alike. The World Bank’s Skills Toward Employment and Productivity Framework (http://go.worldbank.org/4BNLP4Q4V0) defines workforce development as “building and upgrading job-relevant skills.” It references “a national, regional, provincial, or sector-based system that serves a dual function: of enabling individuals to acquire technical knowledge, practical skills, and attitudes for gainful employment or improved work performance in a particular trade or occupation; and of providing employers with an effective means to communicate and meet their demand for skills.."1

Significant financial, technical, capacity, and political barriers continue to prevent both academic and vocational systems from aligning more closely with labor market needs. Nonetheless, there is a growing consensus—reinforced by the experience(s) shared at the 2012 Conference—around which donor, government, and private research initiatives are beginning to coalesce.

Throughout the 2012 Conference, a consensus emerged that if WfD is going to play a role in re-aligning skills mismatch, programs and initiatives must become more tightly integrated with labor markets, work collaboratively with the private sector (increasingly on employers’ own terms), address both hard and soft (non-technical) skills, provide school-to-work transition and relevant practical training, measure effectiveness, and often do so without meaningful assistance from severely broken/inadequate national vocational education systems.  Compounding this situation, special challenges arise where programs (attempt to) serve non-traditional clients such as disabled youth, girls living in traditional cultures, marginalized youth, and youth in post-conflict situations. Program implementers (and many of the presenters at 2012 Conference) have responded with ambition and fresh thinking. Their lessons learned and promising practices, along with related research findings, offer guidance for future initiatives.

 Noteworthy Results: Select Characteristics and Principles of Effective WfD Systems
Based on its programming experience, Creative Associates, 2a 2012 Conference presenting organization, shared the following WfD promising practices:
  • Focuses on student learning with outcome measures
  • Integrates instruction in relevant technical, soft, basic education, and employability skills
  • Fosters authentic, persistent, and consistent caring of all
  • Connects to employers for relevant learning and jobs
  • Provides access to mentors and guided internships
  • Enables autonomy, mastery, and purpose
  • Provides access to psychosocial and career counseling
  • Incorporates staff with strong technical and pedagogical skills
  • Uses self, peer, and external assessment methods
  • Is based on international standards and certification
  • Focuses on student learning with outcome measures