1.3.1 Program Content and Design

Conference presenters continued to highlight the problem that young job seekers continue to lack (relevant) technical skills, workplace experience, career navigation skills, and (some) basic soft/interpersonal skills.

This issue of inadequate preparation and “skills mismatch” has become a near-consensus, and was highlighted in research by ManpowerGroup Inc., the McGraw Hill Foundation, Kelly IFC/IsDB, and numerous other reports and studies this year. In summarizing the current situation, ManpowerGroup’s1 assessment of the situation is bleak.

The world stands on the brink of a global employability crisis—an over-supply of available workers and an under-supply of qualified talent. Faced with the most acute talent shortage since 2007—before the start of the world’s first global recession—one in three employers worldwide confirm that they cannot find the talent they need to fill key vacancies within their organization. This is a frustrating and complex conundrum for job seekers in the short-term as unemployment remains high, and employers in the long-term as forces, such as the demographic landscae, dictate the availability of talent. According to ManpowerGroup's 2011 Annual Talent Shortage Survey of nearly 40,000 employers across 39 countries and territories, the overwhelming majority (89 percent) of companies cited a lack of experience, technical skills deficiencies or poor soft skills among available candidates as a bar to employability.2

Other private sector analyses such as those performed by Kelly Services, and the McGraw Hill Foundation
also reported severe skills mismatches and inability to find qualified employees in high-demand occupations.3 So serious is the skills mismatch that ManpowerGroup has begun advising employers to settle for a “teachable fit,”—candidates that meet about 80 percent of the job requirements but appear to be willing to learn. Given this situation, this year’s workforce development learning track presenters appear to be on-target in addressing a combination of hard, soft, and employability/career navigation skills.

  • Hard Skills  

Technical or “hard” skills are the traditional province of E&T systems, and as such occupy a central role in workforce development. Past (2010) Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference (GYEOC) topics focused strongly on hard skills, on assessing labor markets to align training offerings with current and future occupational demand, and on ensuring relevance by focusing on skills that are relevant to local growth sectors and industries and their upgrading trajectories. The 2011 GYEOC provided more specific guidance in these areas, as well as showcasing useful labor market information tools and interactive pedagogical methods to make classroom-based training more interactive and practical to assist in transition from “learning” to “doing.”

  • Understanding global industry position and upgrading trajectory can help ensure that training is relevant to current and future skills needs

RTI International presented preliminary findings of a research program Skills for Upgrading: The Workforce in Developing Countries funded by RTI and conducted by Duke University’s Center on Globalization Governance and Competitiveness in collaboration with RTI. Upgrading is the process by which industries move from lower to higher-value activities by adding or changing functions, improving products or processes, or entering new industries. Each has implications for the workforce, and much of the interest in workforce development from the industrial competitiveness community stems from the need for qualified workers to sustain and upgrade industries. The RTI-Duke program developed case studies on the workforce requirements for upgrading in four industries: (1) offshore services, (2) tourism, (3) apparel, and (4) horticulture for export. These global industries are of high interest to developing countries and donors due to the role of developing countries in their global value chains (GVCs) and their role in generating large-scale employment, either present or future.4

They found that for apparel and horticulture, there are extremely well-defined linear upgrading trajectories that present a “peak into the future” of workforce needs in a relatively predictable fashion. Developing countries that start out with only basic fruit and vegetable growing always upgrade to packing, and later, perhaps to processing. In apparel, cut and sew operations must move to “full package” manufacturing before countries can build their own brands and designs. As a result, much can be anticipated about future skill demands by characterizing these industries according to three factors: (1) current upgrading phase/stage, which relates to the level of value-added of existing activities; (2) the upgrading “ambitions” of local businesses and entrepreneurs; and (3) the expected pace of this upgrading. For global industries, this information can help implementers structure their “market surveys” so that maximum information is gained, and so that employers see that implementers understand their business, leading to more productive partnerships and better employment prospects for clients.

Industries like tourism and offshore business services have less linear upgrading pathways, but the number of possible upgrading directions is not infinite, and can be effectively understood using similar methods. This means adding one additional area of inquiry regarding the direction of industry upgrading—towards what new activities. Most developing countries today enter the offshore services industry through call/contact centers, and there are only a few historically proven “next upgrading steps” into which industries can effectively move, meaning that only a few skill sets could be required. The “next upgrading steps” in tourism tend to be determined by local natural assets in addition to local workforce and entrepreneurial capacity, and are often well coordinated by local/national tourism councils/authorities. Because industries do not upgrade overnight, awareness of and early partnership with organized industry upgrading efforts should help implementers anticipate future skills needs.

1.3.1.1 Practical Tips: Use O*Net for Information on Skill Requirements of Current Jobs and Those That Do Not Yet Exist in the Local Labor Market

A presentation on the Occupational Information
System “O*Net” by the U.S. Department of
Labor demonstrated a powerful resource for
understanding the world of work and defining
occupational competency requirements. Among
its vast array of features, the system provides
foundational, industry related, and occupation
related competency (knowledge, skill, and ability)
definitions for approximately 1000 occupations,
which are updated by surveying a broad range
of workers from each occupation, with no
occupational definition more than five years old.
O*Net can be used by businesses anywhere in the
world to define job requirements according to
global good practice, by international governments
and NGOs in establishing the occupational
definition basis for their own formal and informal
labor market information systems, and by
implementers in designing skill-based programs for
sectors that are not yet well-defined and discussing
skill requirements with local businesses.
(www.onetonline.org)
  • Industry standards—from both global and local industries — can guide curriculum development to ensure industry relevance and skill portability for learners

Standards are requirements placed on businesses that determine how work is done and, ultimately, how companies and countries participate in markets. An active debate among observers of globalization relates to whether standards present insurmountable challenges for developing countries’ participation in global markets. Regardless of the outcome of this debate, linking training content to international standards can create an skill levels.

When analyzing partner industries and companies, implementers should try to understand the most important standards that govern business behavior and success, and align training to those that are most relevant to local industries’ situation. 2011 GYEOC presenter Rebecca Prokity, Director of the Workforce Development Program at Bridgemont Community and Technical College in the USA, noted, for example, that Bridgemont Community College must constantly monitor changing industry standards in construction, electrical, and other trades to ensure that technical education curriculum reflect workplace realities, directly engaging local industry through ongoing program-level advisory councils and ensuring that courses are taught by industry professionals whenever possible. Standards may be equally relevant to secondary and post-secondary technical education and incumbent worker (in-service) training content.

There are three (key) types of standards—each present in both global and local markets to some degree, and each holding industry-specific implications for workforce development.

Official/Legal Standards: Companies may have to comply with official “legal” standards—such as pesticide residue limits on imported vegetables, processed food product labeling, or housing codes stipulating construction materials and methods—or risk being excluded from their markets altogether. These final market standards tend to become more prevalent as countries become more developed, requiring trained workforces with specific knowledge and skills to comply.

Voluntary standards: Organic, fair trade, and corporate codes of conduct (responsibility) such as “sweatshopfree pledges” and “green” certifications are voluntary standards that are typically developed and enforced by private, non-governmental bodies. Compliance with these standards typically permits companies to charge higher prices for their products, or to avoid distrust by consumers. Because many voluntary standards relate to the treatment of workers, terms of transactions, and production processes, they place skill requirements on suppliers, supervisors, and managers that demand training. These standards are less common in developing country (final) markets, the exception being price premiums for organic foods, which are common in urban markets worldwide.

Commercial Requirements/Norms (Rules of Trade): Buyers tend to set a variety of conditions by which suppliers are measured. These tend to be tangible requirements such as costs, quality, timeliness of delivery, etc. When companies or producers cannot comply, they typically lose customers or receive lower prices for their products. Meeting commercial standards is dependent on the workforce having both industry-specific hard skills that enable productivity, as well as the softer skills related to work ethic, responsiveness, time management, communication, and problem solving.

Implementers should understand the standards that are in play for industries they serve and incorporate relevant training.

1.3.1.2 Checklist: Is Your National Training System Ready for a Standards-Based Approach?

Joseph DeStefano, Senior Education Research Analyst
for RTI International, posed these questions at the
2011 GYEOC:

✔ Certification of training completers/graduates

  • Does national authority use international standards as benchmarks for certifying completers/graduates?
  • To what extent does a national qualifications framework exist, and is it tied to an international one (regional or global)?
  • What role do industry/business representatives play in setting standards for certification?
  • Are there mechanisms in place for ongoingupdating of standards?

✔ Accreditation of training providers, programs and institutions

  • Is accreditation contingent on producing graduates that meet global standards?
  • Are program content/delivery requirements driven by criteria linked to acquisition of certifiable levels of education and skill?
  • Are public and private institutions and programs held to the same accreditation and quality standards?
  • How frequently are institutions’ outcomes evaluated as a requirement for maintaining accreditation?

✔ Financing of institutions, programs or trainees

  • Does financing create incentives for institutions and programs to work towards global standards?
  • Is financing linked to the certifiability of graduates?
  • Are equity considerations built into financing mechanisms?
  • Is financial assistance targeted based on ability to pay?
  • Are there compensatory funding/programs for segments of population that are educationally disadvantaged?
  • Make classroom-based training more interactive and practical to assist in the transition from “learning” to “doing”

One of the chief barriers to employment, particularly for university graduates, is that their degree curricula focus too much on theory and not enough on practice. Employers across the Middle East also reported that graduates lack adequate understanding of both theory and application (e4e, p.37). Internships are one important part of the solution to this challenge, and are addressed in the next section.

Another, highlighted in a 2011 GYEOC presentation by Creative Associates International, emphasizes bringing the transition from “learning” to “doing” into the classroom using interactive experiences that span academic disciplines. Conference attendees participated in a business simulation designed to demonstrate the potential of new technology-enabled “trans disciplinary” academic and vocational preparation that can be used in the classroom to provide students with applied knowledge of business and entrepreneurship, using technology as the means of creating student-centered learning environments. These approaches hold great promise, but are not necessarily easy. Curriculum integration that blends functional business training and entrepreneurship entails fundamental changes in teaching, and learning, and the right technology infrastructure to support student projects so that they are realistic, robust, and engaging.

1.3.1.3 Noteworth Results: Jordan's MIS-Outline: Business Simulation in a Blended, Interactive Learning Environment

MIS-Online is an education platform developed by the Academy for Educational Development under the USAID/Jordan Education Support program, and now enhanced and supported by Creative Associates under the USAID/Jordan Education Reform Support Program (ERSP). MIS-Online integrates functional business courses5 developed by the Ministry of Education in Jordan into an interactive learning experience for secondary Management Information Systems students, to make business education more practical and relevant. As Jordan decided in 2002 to shift secondary business education to MIS from a more general commercial curriculum, the pedagogical approach also needed to change to encompass new, more technology-intensive skills, and to allow students to apply their learning in a concrete way. The MIS-Online program is used as the centerpiece of a three hour weekly classroom-based blended learning experience based around a business simulation for two semesters in the 11th grade, conducted by MIS subject teachers and culminating in an independent business project for each student group. The students develop and operate micro businesses during the course of the year, under the guidance of the MIS-Online teacher. At the end of the school year, students sell their products (such as handicrafts, food items, etc.) at school exhibitions. MIS integrates approximately 90 percent of Jordan’s curricular learning outcomes in business disciplines including management, accounting, MIS, business statistics, e-commerce, and programming, while extending skills to financial management, marketing, financial and investment analysis, commercial law, and economics. The system has reached 116 schools with over 8,000 students participating, and is slated for nationwide roll-out in 2012-2013 to 27,000 students in 370 secondary schools nationwide. The addition of MIS-Online to the MIS curriculum plans to help the Jordan Ministry of Education produce graduates who are competitive and employable, and able to successfully transition to continuing education and the job market.6

  • Soft skills: enhancing career navigation skills and bridging the school-work transition

The difficulties of educational institutions and systems in providing effective soft skills training—in both the industrialized and developing countries—was a subject of lively discussion among 2011 GYEOC participants. Yet, it is clear that deficiencies in soft skills can be used to refer to a very wide range of abilities and characteristics (attributes), and that this looks much different for graduates lacking career navigation skills than to school-leavers whose basic preparation is suffering. This year’s presenters focused more on the types of active labor market interventions that would serve graduates of university and technical education, rather than at-risk populations.

1.3.1.4 Hot Topic: Why are so Many Institutions Failing to Provide Soft Skills and Why Does It Matter?

ManpowerGroup, a $22 billion global employment services company present in over 80 countries, and conference participants shared the following insights:

Soft skills are not part of the traditional missions of education institutions:

  • Soft skills in many educational institutions areoriented towards classroom success in a rote environment.
  • Teachers may not themselves have the relevant softskills, making it difficult to teach them effectively.

 

Soft skills are becoming more important in the
workplace:

  • Employers have the freedom to hire from anywhere in the global labor market. As a result, they are less tolerant of skill deficits, holding all candidates to similar global benchmarks.
  • Employers may hire for hard skills but will definitely fire for insufficient soft skills.

Soft skills are changing, putting greater burdens on employees. New requirements include:

  • Economy-Relevant Skills: creativity, communication, innovation
  • Self-Skills: self-esteem, self-confidence, self-reliance
  • Internship programs can provide effective entry points for youth entering the formal labor market, but require significant up-front investments to start

Where opportunities for first-time employment are scarce, internship programs hold promise for postsecondary students to build a track record and recommendation base and become more familiar with the workplace and how their skills and education can be put to use. Internships are not a panacea, however, and may require significant up-front work on the part of program implementers. Companies require support and guidance to be effective hosts and managers of interns and to provide useful employment experiences, particularly where a tradition of internships does not exist. As a result, programs should also focus on building an effective and well-respected internship brand, which clients/trainees can carry with them, and which can be used to attract additional employer partners.

1.3.1.5 Noteworthy Results: Joven 360--El Salvador's Technology-Enabled Internship Platform

The Salvadoran National Internship Program, Joven 360 (www.joven360.com), was established in May of 2011 by CARANA Corporation—lead implementer of the USAID/El Salvador Access to Employment Program—in partnership with the ESEN University (Escuela Superior de Economia y Negocios), employment agency, Search, and employer partners Citibank and others to address several challenges in the Salvadoran labor market. First, graduates have difficulty securing a first job due both to lack of practical work experience and to the theoretical orientation of El Salvador’s university curricula. Second, Salvadoran employers typically hire for experience, which graduates uniformly lack, rather than for the skills and attributes they do possess. Third, Salvadoran employers and students alike lack familiarity with internships. Finally, systems for connecting job seekers with employers are poorly developed, so finding qualified employees is difficult and costly (and inconsistent).

Joven 360 created a web-based internship matching

system in which students can register, upload resumes, list their professional skills and personal attributes (in addition to, or in lieu of, experience), and post a polished 30 second video “elevator speech” to present their differentiating skills and attributes. In turn, registered partner employers can request interns and select candidates with appropriate skills from among student profiles screened by Joven 360 staff. From May-December, 2011, 228 interns were placed in 140 institutions (116 businesses, 23 NGOs, and one government agency). Already, more than 3,000 students have registered/created professional profiles and 30 employers (companies) and 14 universities have signed on as partners. Partner businesses report saving significant time and identifying more qualified, motivated candidates through use of the system, while students report that the practical learning obtained through internships is invaluable. Partner universities, in contrast, will be ranked by Search, with input from the participating businesses, based on the quality of their interns, introducing a valuable feedback look into the education marketplace.
  • Focus on “career navigation skills”—especially labor market awareness, job search capacity, and self-presentation—to connect young people to jobs

Several presenters highlighted the near complete lack of skills related to navigating the job market among graduates of universities and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programs. This includes resume preparation, job interview skills, realistic expectations of work, and basic knowledge of the employment opportunities available in local markets. These skills fall somewhere in between “workplace and work-readiness” skills and basic “personal effectiveness” competencies. They are often deficient even among high academic achievers.

Presenters including CARANA and the International Youth Foundation (IYF) focused on establishing active labor market programs such as career counseling and guidance as one element of the equation in addressing this deficiency. Education for Employment and ManpowerGroup highlighted one aspect of their partnership in Morocco, the use of a specific ManpowerGroup proprietary training titled, “Finding a Job Is a Job,” a twentyhour training course aimed at empowering students to more effectively assess their skills, prepare and present their resumes, interview for jobs, and make a job search plan. The course focuses on the skills and discipline needed to conduct an effective job search and action steps that will maximize a candidate’s job search prospects.

Another point the Joven 360 program emphasized is that in the absence of work experience, implementers should shift to assessments of skills and attributes rather than focusing on deficiencies in experience. Because resumes are often empty, the shift from experience-based resumes to skill-based self-assessment and presentation based on skills and attributes, and development of skill-based resumes, strengthens inexperienced workers’ presentation to employers, and increases the likelihood of success in securing internships or employment.