1.5 Where Do We Go from Here? Strategy and Implementation Challenges facing the Workforce Development Field

Evaluate scalable, technology-based education and training solutions.  Now they’re here—platforms, portals, mobile services and training, and hybrid online-in person services—but do they make a difference in employment and wage outcomes of youth?  The best-tested technology solutions, such as the Souktel’s mobile job matching and information delivery platforms have delivered impressive results in organizing labor market exchange in remote and underserved areas, automating some of the complex but ‘routine’ tasks of active labor market policies.  Yet, there’s more enthusiasm than evidence on the impact of the current generation of e-learning and other scalable, technology-based solutions. As of the writing of this chapter, early results of the deployment of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in the developed world are beginning to report less than stellar outcomes. However, these technologies and approaches are in their infancy, and it is impossible to deny that technology—particularly interactive technologies offering custom information and services delivered on-demand, increasingly to mobile devices—continue to transform work, the economy, and society in other domains.  The crucial task of measuring the impact of these technologies remains. The good news is that these digital and wireless technologies also offer more cost-effective ways to continuously evaluate impact (i.e. through digital surveys, at log-in, etc.). Harnessing these quickly is in the interest of implementers and technology providers alike.

Institutionalize and/or bring scale efficiencies to work-based learning.  Active labor market programs can be expensive, and many core activities – particularly those dependent on relationships with employers—are notoriously labor intensive, difficult to automate, and time consuming. While online or SMS-based job matching has become more prevalent and sophisticated, most youth-serving implementers continue to face high costs and low prospects for scaling-up in areas like job placement, internships, apprenticeships, and other work-based learning, usually negotiated with employers. Additional costs arise from the need for due diligence in ensuring adequate workplace conditions for youth beneficiaries, and the need to continuously cultivate and maintain employer relationships. These programs will increasingly face cost competition from scalable technology-driven initiatives (though they are yet untested).  Given the small numbers of beneficiaries served by most training and placement programs, implementers are seeing growing pressure to institutionalize these activities within local education and training systems, or in business communities. Many local systems do not have the capacity, resources, or private sector orientation to easily incorporate these functions, and there are few good, replicable models available for doing so.

Embed soft skills in curriculum that emphasizes 21st Century skills, rather than doing remediation later.  By now, the prevalence of soft skills deficits—shortcomings in interpersonal, intra-personal, and workplace skills—is well established in the WfD field, and there are numerous credible (remedial) training methodologies offered by participating organizations in the Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conferences, including IYF, EFE Foundation, Creative Associates, and others. Disadvantaged and marginalized youth the world over can benefit from these programs, while several examples offered at the 2013 Conference are moving these offerings to scale. However, where these programs are implemented to serve well-educated and/or highly trained youth populations (e.g. those who have graduated from pubic education systems), the question naturally arises as to why established curriculum is unable to prepare people for work.  One conclusion that is gaining credibility is that curriculum and pedagogy have not kept pace with the world of work, and are in need of more fundamental reforms to effectively serve youth. If the 21st Century skills movement is to be believed, this might entail a wholesale movement towards project-based, learner-directed, team-oriented learning, and is now more practical than ever due to the ability of technology to provide access to high quality learning resources at declining cost.  A grand challenge to implementers is understanding the challenges and defining the strategies for moving towards this vision, while acknowledging that this kind of wholesale reform would be a massive undertaking.

Motivate reform of public education and training systems. This remains a challenge, despite the soft-skills and placement messages apparently getting across.  There is no evidence of big curricular reform occurring in public training institutions to address skills mismatch.

Recognizing that donor and NGO-driven programs can only scratch the surface of the training requirements of youth worldwide, but faced with the widespread failure of national institutions and systems to prepare youth for the workplace, 2013 Conference participants agreed that the greatest challenges exist in national workforce development institutions and systems. Reform of these systems also appears to have the greatest potential for achieving scale and transferring meaningful skills. Practitioners seek insights in several areas:

  • Defining national systems: The absence of well-defined systems in many countries, and non-recognition of key NGO actors, calls for rules and guidelines for understanding and defining the systems in a way that includes all relevant actors. UNESCO echoed this need in its 2012 Global Monitoring Report 1, noting that diffuse systems with multiple agencies and non-profit actors can create confusion for learners and planners alike, and result in “cracks” through which disadvantaged youth often fall. Defining the ecosystem-- mapping these systems and understanding who is responsible for what in each country of intervention—is an important first step in identifying reform opportunities.
  • Systems of quality assurance: A better understanding of effective accreditation and quality assurance models, and the relationship between those processes, is required. In many cases, accreditation does not guarantee quality or labor market relevance of programs, and may be stuck on ‘input’ and ‘output’ measures and be silent on employment and income outcomes. Alternate systems of quality assurance would be very useful. Practitioners also seek useful models in which the government has moved effectively from direct provision to a role that facilitates broad public, private, and non-profit participation in the sector. 
  • Stimulating institutional change: Recognizing that even in the best of circumstances many failing institutions will not be replaced immediately, practitioners sought methods for stimulating institutional change within higher education and TVET institutions, particularly with respect to capacity building for more effective teaching and working more effectively with employers. 

All of these efforts rest upon host-country government commitment to WfD, which is often lacking.  Improving incentives for governments to allocate and maintain adequate resources for WfD systems over the long term remains a major challenge. One promising direction might be tools for organizing private sector employer advocacy for enhanced WfD funding, while another approach, articulated by Mckinsey’s Mona Mourshed at the 2013 Conference focuses on designating national or sectoral “integrator entities” responsible for looking across workforce systems, identifying needs, and providing guidance to public systems.