1.1.2 “Hard” Technical and Vocational Skills and Related Credentials

While traditionally WfD focused on technical and vocational skills, greater emphasis is now being placed on the development of soft skills. That said, within most transition to work and other active labor market programs, hard skills are still critical to creating employment readiness. ManpowerGroup reports that employers are becoming more demanding about applicant skill profiles, seeking to hire multi-skilled candidates to reduce headcount and save money. And, as skills themselves become more complex and specialized in various markets, programs must ensure that technical skills are oriented towards real labor market needs. In this section, we draw insight from the two most curriculum-intensive programs showcased at the GYEOC 2012— the Information Technology Training Program for People with Disabilities (ITTP), implemented by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and the USAID/Liberia Excellence in Higher Education for Liberian Development (EHELD) program, implemented by RTI International.

ITTP is a cooperative effort between CRS Vietnam and two Vietnamese higher education institutions under the USAID-funded Inclusion of Vietnamese with Disabilities (IVWD) project (2005–2014), uses information technology (IT) training to increase participation of people with disabilities (PWD) in the labor force. Launched in 2007, the program provides training, scholarships, living stipends, and social support and development to PWD, ages 16 to 30. By February 2012, 24 groups (509 PWD)—many with little or no previous experience with computers—had completed advanced IT courses in software engineering and computation at two sites in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. An additional 225 people with visual and hearing impairments had completed three-month basic IT courses.

EHELD is a five-year, US$18.5-million effort launched in February 2011 to help rebuild Liberia's universities and infrastructure after 15 years of civil war. It is led by RTI International in partnership with the University of Michigan, Rutgers University, North Carolina State University, and TetraTech. EHELD equips top-performing young Liberian women and men for professional careers as leaders, managers, extension agents, researchers, and small business owners in the two most critical development sectors in the country: agriculture and engineering. The project is assisting the leaders and faculty of the University of Liberia and Cuttington University, respectively, to develop centers of excellence (CoEs) in engineering and agriculture. EHELD also works to develop the pipeline of secondary school students to attract and adequately prepare equal numbers of young Liberian women and men for Agriculture and Engineering CoE programs. Through a mix of summer programs, the project reaches out to high school students to ensure they are prepared for college and to attract students—especially girls—to agriculture and engineering programs. The summer programs deliver academic material, while also focusing on life skills such as teamwork, project management, and interpersonal communication. Internships, service learning, and work study opportunities build pathways to permanent job opportunities for students. EHELD focuses on strengthening the capacity of faculty at the universities through extensive degree training programs as well as short courses and mentoring in areas such as curriculum development, pedagogical techniques, use of computers, recordkeeping and fiscal management, applied research, grant writing, and monitoring and evaluation. Improvements to equipment and facilities, funded by the EHELD project, will add to the hands-on elements of study, increasing student confidence and improving the work readiness of graduates.

Appropriately-structured applied-learning experiences can help overcome low academic preparation and catalyze rapid skill development.
Low academic preparation of program participants is a widespread challenge, particularly where disadvantaged, at-risk, marginalized, and special needs youth are concerned. Poor foundation skills and academic preparation have historically slowed progress toward employment and called for expensive and time-consuming remedial efforts.

Prioritizing which aspects of education quality are most critical to children, young people, and global development is an important step in advancing a global agenda for education quality and relevance. Coordinating the education efforts of a wide range of development and humanitarian practitioners, as well as national governments, remains a significant challenge. The Center for Universal Education (CUE) at the Brookings Institution, a private, non-profit organization dedicated to independent research and policy solutions, has begun this task, using global research as a starting point.

Research Spotlight: The Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution Identifies Priorities for Quality Education

A number of governments, civil society organizations, foundations, and corporations approached the Center for Universal Education (CUE) reporting the difficulty of providing quality education to children in school, vast inequalities in education, and the fact that millions of students leave school without the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they need to lead healthy, productive lives. In response to these common challenges, the CUE developed the report A Global Compact on Learning: Taking Action on Education in Developing Countries (http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2011/06/09-global-compact), in order to mobilize stakeholders to identify and act on fundamental challenges to education. They identified three priorities for collective action to ensure all children and young people are in school and learning:
     *Help children get an early start on learning in life
     *Ensure basic literacy and numeracy are learned in lower primary grades
     *Equip young people with relevant livelihoods and life skills

In relation to youth education and skills-building, they identified the following key actions and strategies based on the latest evidence and input from more than 100 stakeholders from around the world:

In order to promote collective action, CUE is working with partners to advance key recommendations in the report, including:    
     *Building a shared research agenda on learning to identify critical gaps in the evidence base related to access, equity and quality
     *Convening a global learning metrics task force to recommend global learning goals and targets to help inform the post-MDG process
     *Facilitating a network of private and public donors to strengthen collaboration and increase the amount and effective use of resources for education in low- and middle-income countries For more information, see www.brookings.edu/universal-education.

To offset the lack of formal education or academic preparation among their clientele of disabled students in Vietnam, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) focuses skill development not only on curriculum-based content, but also on "learning to learn," using online resources and learning from peers. They also compress training for the trainee population– many of whom lack any formal work experience—into an 8:00am-to-5:00pm schedule to simulate the workplace and communicate the seriousness of the training experience. These training modalities also use group work extensively to encourage students with different knowledge and skill levels to help each other and to practice teamwork skills.

The USAID/Liberia EHELD project approaches skill remediation through community-based experiential and applied learning.  With its engineering and agriculture students, EHELD focuses Summer Start (for incoming freshmen and sophomores) and Fast Start (for grades 10, 11, and 12) learning experiences on finding solutions to community problems such as agricultural waste management and irrigation. Solving concrete problems motivates students to learn whatever is required to develop and implement solutions, so is a ‘vehicle’ for the applied learning of more formal mathematics, physics and materials science. In this case, the underlying purpose is often to remedy deficits in basic math skills by working together with real results and outcomes.

Short training experiences that help learners not only catch-up but leapfrog are, in fact, becoming the rule, not the exception. EHELD project leaders cited their experience in moving youth from “no computer skills” to competent Computer Aided Design operators in the space of two months, demonstrating that rapid skill acquisition does not mean “shallow” skill acquisition.  Similarly, CRS Vietnam reported that their disabled student participants are acquiring advanced computer programming skills, allowing them to compete with university computer science graduates for computer programming jobs, after less than six months in the program.  These successes are very hopeful signs that less-advantaged students with limited skill sets can become competitive in the workforce within a realistic timeframe where educational experiences are appropriately structured, and appropriately experiential.

Engage employers and other stakeholders in curriculum development throughout the process, not as an afterthought or simply for approval.
Given the importance of aligning hard skill development with workforce needs, it is surprising that the process of integrating employer input into curriculum development is not standard practice in all WfD initiatives.  Formalized curriculum design tools do exist, such as the Developing a Curriculum (DACUM) process, “a one- or two-day storyboarding process that provides a picture of what the worker does in terms of duties, tasks, knowledge, skills, traits, and in some cases the tools the worker uses. 1” BBut scant information exists on how to engage with employers around curriculum development.  This may result in part from a tradition/habit of formalized and centralized curriculum development in university and TVET systems that are or may be difficult to overcome. Employers also bear a great deal of responsibility, as they may not have well-conceived job descriptions, a clear sense of the skill profile of desired candidates, or the patience to engage with educators on an ongoing basis.

The EHELD program has invested substantial time and resources in curriculum development and in the creation of an internship scheme, with emphasis on engaging a range of major employers in Liberia who are committed to rebuilding the country. This includes government and business, as well as NGOs, international donors, and the international university community. The key to full engagement is the realization by all parties that partnerships have to be ‘win-win’ and that the universities need a clear ‘value proposition.’ CRS Vietnam also reports a cadre of more than 30 highly-committed employers providing ongoing input into curriculum, as well as sharing information on their skills needs in relevant information technology careers. An added bonus of this engagement is that, in most cases, students meet with several of these companies prior to program completion.

Practical Tip: Enhance Curriculum with Open Educational Resources

The Excellence in Higher Education for Liberian Development (EHELD) program seeks to build the capacity for independent instruction and innovation using open source educational tools. Its Open Educational Resources (OER) provide faculty with direct access to globally-vetted resources that have never before reached the Liberian education system. According to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation 2, OERs are “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.” EHELD is introducing these new and exciting resources to faculty members at the Centers of Excellence, and distributing them broadly throughout the high school feeder system, to ensure that teaching faculty at all levels can access the wealth of freely-available, advanced curricular and educational enhancement resources after the term of the project.

Build local teacher capacity through consistent professional development and standardized teacher training.
Teacher training programs must be targeted to the education and experience base of teachers, especially in countries where teachers themselves have low education levels and may not be certified. One-off teacher trainings rarely change classroom behavior unless incorporated within a sustainable and consistent delivery mechanism, that includes training, materials, in-classroom follow-up, and monitoring and evaluation. In addition, training must be sustainable and not dependent on short-term projects that do little to build up human capacity. Haiti is an interesting case study for teacher training as a weak educational infrastructure was further weakened by natural disaster. Digicel Foundation, a non-profit organization that builds communities and community spirit in Haiti, is working to standardize teacher training in a way that is accessible to the majority of Haiti's teachers.

The Digicel Foundation offers a teacher training program to help reinforce both primary education and the field of professional development and continuing education in Haiti.  The program provides a two-year trainer’s certification to 20 trainers who, in return, assist 600 teachers in earning an in-service teacher certification.  Through the Foundation’s program partners, trainers:

  • Learn the most current concepts and techniques in the field of education to instruct standardized modules and give consistent training to teachers in and out of the classroom
  • Adapt the notions, techniques and practices received in the train-the-trainers program to better instruct teachers in the Haitian context
  • Demonstrate these skills and assist teachers in applying them appropriately
  • Offer teachers constructive feedback in real-time experience 

The teacher training program is delivered to teachers in primary schools built by the Digicel Foundation—affording those who may not have had prior training access to quality on-the-job continuing education.  

Checklist: The Digicel Foundation on Teacher Training in Emergency-Affected Contexts

Even prior to the 2010 earthquake, the Haitian education system experienced multiple challenges. In 2009, only 1.4 percent of the nation’s GDP was used towards its educational expenditure, about half as much of its Caribbean neighbors. The enrolment rate of 60 percent was far below the MDGs, with only 30 percent of students reaching the 6th grade. A major issue is teacher quality. Only 25 percent of Haitian teachers have completed secondary school and 80 percent are untrained and not certified to teach 3. The earthquake only exacerbated these challenges, destroying 15,000 primary schools and 5,000 secondary schools. Many teachers were killed and many more displaced, resulting in lost income and jobs.

Given this scenario, teacher training and professional development is critical to Haiti and other emergency-affected environments. The Digicel Foundation addresses behavior change and capacity-building in this context, seeking first to understand some of the challenges in the sector with the goal of identifying practical methodologies that would work despite challenges. After meeting with stakeholders in training institutes, government ministries, and completing desk reviews, they found that many training institutes themselves needed capacity and/or professional development. These entities also lacked materials and funding to provide training, teacher follow-up, and M&E.

Based on its experience, the Foundation offers the following checklist for those working to improve educational delivery in emergency-affected areas:

  • Interviewed stakeholders and completed the necessary research to understand what works and what doesn’t work in current teacher training?
  • Considered the realities, both pre- and post-emergency, of the educational context in which you work?
  • Adapted methodology to ensure that information is transferred at a level accessible to most teachers? In essence, will teachers be able to “get it?”
  • Planned in-service training components followed by in-classroom training to ensure behavior change at the classroom level?
  • Engaged the participation of all stakeholders at all levels?
  • Harmonized expectations at the beginning of the program?

Trainers in the certification program are experienced teachers who are either licensed or certified by local teacher colleges or universities in Haiti.  Realizing the necessity of building local capacity, the Digicel Foundation believes it is best to support the development of talented local individuals who understand the daily challenges of Haitian teachers. Thus, building teacher capacity means building local capacity.  For the future, the Digicel Foundation hopes to develop a sustainable approach to improve the quality of instruction in Haitian classrooms and refine a teacher training program that can be used by any teacher training institute.

For more information, see http://fondationdigicelhaiti.org/news/digicel-foundatioh-haiti-launches-3-year-teacher-training-program/.

Use certificates and competency certifications for current and future credential holders, but invest in quality control and accreditation to ensure credentials are meaningful and relevant.
Several 2012 GYEOC presenters cited the importance of internationally-recognized competency certifications, emphasizing the value placed by employers and intermediaries on measuring skill acquisition through certification(s). This is particularly true where consistency is needed across borders, for example, in assuring the competency of food safety workers or those responsible for transportation equipment safety in multinational enterprises. Certifications offer potentially effective methods of credentialing because they can be designed and issued flexibly by private authorities (e.g., educational institutions, industry).  Likewise, certificates demonstrating the completion of skill-specific training are increasingly popular, particularly where university systems (both public and private) are perceived by employers as not providing job-relevant skills to graduates.

At the same time, the field of credentialing can be anarchic. Without traditional sources of authority overseeing educational credentials, the quality of competency certifications and certificates varies widely.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which is the official U.S. representative to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the U.S. representative to the International Accreditation Forum (IAF), established the Certificate Accreditation Program (ANSI-CAP) to spearhead global efforts to provide accreditation to training and education certificate issuers. ANSI-CAP presenters at the 2012 Conference said that the major uncertainties are whether certificates are meaningful and have any market values—specifically whether holders have been assessed based on measurable learning objectives established the certificate program, whether the curriculum is based on industry-accepted practices, and whether the implementing organization has met the criteria for quality improvement. The ANSI-CAP program was established to begin to provide a third-party accreditation to certificate issuers in the U.S. market, where more than 700,000 are issued annually, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. By assessing both the assessment method and the quality of the issuing organization for conformity to an American National Standard (ANSI/ASTM E2659, Standard Practice for Certificate Programs), ANSI-CAP has begun to provide a framework for professionalizing the certificate marketplace. For more information, visit: www.ansi.org/certificate.