1.1 Defining the Issues and Key Participants

The World Bank’s Skills Toward Employability and Productivity Framework, 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…” The former function is often associated with technical and vocational education and training (TVET), while the latter is associated with arrangements for employer involvement in workforce development at both the strategic and operational levels.”1 According to the current USAID Education Strategy, “An effective workforce development strategy must include demand- driven systems that offer a wide range of education, training, and information for skills development and creation of a new mindset for work.”2

It is difficult to capture the state of the entire field because workforce development may be used to refer to an extremely broad array of programs and practices. The education and training (E&T) sub-field alone can refer to a range of interventions including “general basic education…through secondary education, vocational education, post-secondary education, higher education, and beyond to lifelong learning, [as well as] preemployment training, off- and on-the-job training, apprenticeship training, formal and informal training, time-bound or competency-based training, industry cluster, value chain, or occupational focused training, independently (public or private) or employer-provided training, training funded by government or by business, labor unions, or individuals, entrepreneurship training, and so on.”3 Furthermore, each of these sub-fields may regard itself as a discipline in itself, with its own debates, practices, and structures/hierarchies.

The main providers involved in workforce E&T programs include: 1) formal vocational training and technical schools and community colleges, public and private; 2) non-formal institutions include private firms and nongovernmental organizations; and 3) informal education through on-the-job training and firm-based training.”4

Workforce development is beginning to experience some competition from the term “Education for Employment (E4E),” and in some cases the two terms are being used interchangeably. E4E is an excellent term when used to encompass a more limited set of interventions that relate more directly to the skills challenges youth currently face in seeking entry into and advancement within the labor market, including traditional hard skills training, “skill infilling” focused on interpersonal (soft) skills, and the skills required to navigate the labor market. It does not, however, encompass the active labor market policies serving diverse youth clients, nor does it explicitly recognize new roles for technology in facilitating labor market information, exchange, and intermediation.

  • 1. Jee-Peng Tan, Robert McGough, Alexandria Valerio. Workforce Development in Developing Countries: A Framework for Benchmarking. World Bank, Human Development Network. January 10, 2010.
  • 2. Education: Opportunity through Learning. USAID Education Strategy (2011-2015), p.13. February 2011.
  • 3. Peter A. Creticos, Michael Axmann, Amy Beeler. Labor Market Exchanges, Human Capital Formation Strategies and Workforce Development Practices: State of the Art Review. Report to RTI International Center for Governance and Economic Growth, Revised May 2009.
  • 4. Malcolm F. McPherson and Caroline Fawcett. The Context for Workforce Development Programs. USAID Educational Strategies Research Papers, Pathways to Learning in the 21st Century: Toward a Strategic Vision for USAID Assistance in Education. Volume II: USAID Educational Strategies Research Papers. Washington. JBS International. June 2009.