1.2 Where are the Donors on Workforce Development?

World Bank

The World Bank is ramping up engagement with employment and workforce development-related issues, with the World Bank’s 2013 World Development Report to address “Jobs,” and with Bank leadership taking very activist position(s) on the role of workforce development in industry upgrading and growth.

Addressing “who should pay for workforce development”—a key issue discussed in the workforce development chapter of Making Cents International’s 2010 State of the Field1 publication—support for an active government role in orchestrating and financing workforce development, at least indirectly, is found in the growing New Structural Economics (NSE) field, the principal “spokesperson” for which is World Bank Chief Economist Justin Yifu Lin. Lin wrote, “A well-designed policy on human capital development should be an integral part of any country’s overall development strategy. The new structural economics goes beyond the neoclassical generic prescription for education and suggests that development strategies include measures to invest in human capital that facilitate the upgrading of industries and prepare the economy to make full use of its resources.”2 Writing in a January 2012 blog entry, Lin also explicitly linked NSE to youth employment, advocating that developing countries use the Bank’s Growth Identification and Facilitation Framework (a manner of guidance on industrial policy) to identify promising sectors and strategically support industry upgrading to stimulate creation of higher-productivity employment opportunities for youth.

World Bank researchers examining the informal sector in the MENA region offered salient guidance to program designers and implementers in less formal settings. Summary findings of a forthcoming major report confirmed that “how training is delivered (hands-on, community-based, combining learning with earnings) matters,” and that, “training is most effective if provided with placement services, i.e. job search assistance and soft skills training,”3 providing further support for an array of public or semi-public interventions.

In late 2010, The World Bank also offered broad guidance for designing “Active Labor Market Programs for Youth,” which encompasses the entire range of youth-focused training and non-training interventions to which we refer as WfD.4


Closely related to World Bank activities pertaining to the Global Partnership for Education (formerly the Education for All Initiative), UNESCO annually publishes the Global Monitoring Report tracking progress towards six core “Education for All” (EFA) goals. According to UNESCO, “the 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report will examine how skills development programs can improve young people’s opportunities for decent jobs and better lives,” particularly focusing on how skills training can create opportunities for marginalized groups. The report is expected to focus specifically on the role of technical and vocational education and training in providing labor market-relevant training to vulnerable youth and young adult populations, and on the question of providing skills to those without the basic literacy and soft skill preparation necessary for participation in the workforce. The report will be published in September 2012.5


Likewise, the USAID Education Strategy 2011-2015,6explicitly recognizes hard (technical) skills; soft skills (and attitudes), and partnerships and linkages as key to workforce development success. Goal 2 of the strategy, which was released in February 2011, calls for “improved ability of tertiary and workforce development programs to generate workforce skills relevant to a country’s development goals,” and gave mention to the need for both hard and soft skills. Under goal 2.3, USAID notes, “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. Establishing extensive business, nonprofit and public sector linkages and partnerships at all levels–local community, national, regional, and international–are likewise central.” Many issues highlighted throughout Making Cents’ 2011 Global Youth Economic Opportunity Conference’s (GYEOC) Workforce Development learning track, including promotion of skill standards, industry-based certifications, career counseling, and mentoring also figure prominently in the new USAID strategy.

Asian Development Bank (ADB)

ADB’s good practices guide was extensively reviewed in last year’s State of the Field publication. In 2011, ADB’s Women and Labour Markets in Asia: Rebalancing for Gender Equality provided useful contributions to the policy-level literature on skills for employment. Recognizing women’s status in developing Asia as a “buffer workforce”— particularly vulnerable to economic shocks due to their status in the labor market as “flexible” or “expendable” and within households as secondary earners — the ADB and International Labour Organization (ILO) made recommendations to address the vulnerability to discrimination, exploitation, and abuse highlighted by the 2008-2009 global economic crisis, including recommendations for improving “gender-responsive skills development,” summarized in the accompanying text box.

1.2.1 Workforce Development Prescriptions for Girls and Young Women

Gender-responsive skills development should seek to improve the quality of the workforce to meet the needs of today and build and sustain competencies for future development needs. There is a need to:

  • Address gender norms that stream girls into “suitable” occupations and restrict their employability;
  • Get women who have broken the “glass ceiling” and “glass walls” to act as mentors to girls and young women in the labor market;
  • Improve the quality of education to benefit both girls and boys. Evidence is growing that the quality of education, as assessed by tests of cognitive skills, is significantly more important to economic growth than the quantity of education;
  • Ensure that girls and women have equal opportunities as boys and men to vocational education and training and skills development that is connected to the world of work an and the evolving reality of labor markets, enterprises and workplaces in different economic sectors (e.g., it is important to equip them for emerging "green jobs");
  • Ensure that women have access to lifelong learning, taking into account how their lifecycles differ from those of men;
  • Facilitate the transition of young women and men from school to work, taking into account that young women face greater barriers entering the labor force;
  • Institute systems for recognition and certification of formally or informally acquired skills and competencies. The “portability” of skills would make it easier for both male and female workers to move into new jobs; and
  • Target particularly disadvantaged groups of women through specially designed skills training programs, for example, through community-based and mobile training programs to reach women in the informal economy.

International Finance Corporation (IFC)

IFC is the world’s largest multilateral investor in the private education sector. As of early 2011, IFC had provided over $500 million in financing to 68 private education projects—both for-profit and non-profit— in 33 developing countries. These include private primary and secondary schools, universities, e-Learning providers, local financial intermediaries lending to educational institutions, online/ICT service providers, business institutes, and vocational education and training institutions. IFC also works to promote rational and transparent regulation of the private education sector.

IFC partnered with the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) to support a timely research effort focused on Realizing Arab Youth Potential7 under the Education for Employment: Realizing Arab Youth Potential, Education for Employment (e4e) Project, and based on work by McKinsey & Co. The report documented low employer satisfaction with graduates’ technical and soft skills across the Middle East, and widespread dissatisfaction among graduates with their academic preparation. It highlighted just how poorly the region’s universities and technical schools are doing in preparing Arab youth for employment.

1.2.2 Noteworthy Results: Employers Survey questions in MENA: Do Graduates Hired in the Last Year Have the Appropriate Skills?

Source: e4e Employer Surveey, 2010, in e43, Realizing Arab Youth Potential, 2011.

The e4e project also reported low and declining expectations of the labor market to provide well-paid employment. The report called for major investments by private sector training providers to supplement (failing) public systems in the Arab world.8

United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID)

DFID released practical guidance for workforce development program design and implementation in the form of a Guidance Note focused on Engaging the Private Sector in Skills Development.9 This note is a fairly extensive review of skill development practice, also addressing questions of policy and system/institutional reform. The authors caution against hasty commitments to develop National Qualifications Frameworks due to high resource costs, and provide a checklist of workforce development activities that may be useful in different development contexts.