Chapter 1: Workforce Development

Recently, workforce development gained a new prominence in the development discourse while shifting emphasis to a non-traditional group of clients: unemployed and “unskilled” (or improperly skilled) university and technical school graduates. These “better-prepared” youth stood alongside the more traditional workforce development clients—at risk youth, unemployed school leavers and young informal economy participants—at the barricades of the Arab Spring, toppling regimes and announcing that the youth employment situation had reached a crisis.

The Arab Spring certainly did not occur because of shortcomings in the education or workforce development systems of the region, but rather, at least in part, because of the systematic lack of opportunities for economic participation and advancement, a frustrating element of which is the continued un-employability of university and technical education graduates. There is growing recognition among multilateral institutions, politicians, and private sector leaders that this constitutes a crisis at many levels: in (national) education and training (E&T) policy and finance; inside of E&T institutions and their often outdated pedagogical approaches; and in the homes/families of students where there continues to be a preference for university degree-oriented education despite uncertainty over whether it will provide relevant skills or an entrée into the labor market.1

Yet, persistent high youth unemployment in the U.S. and Europe—including widespread skill mismatches in countries recognized for excellence in workforce development—suggests that structural issues and features of the economy are also at play, and that even the most effective workforce development initiatives can’t solve the world employment crisis. Improvements in workforce development can, however, prepare youth to participate in constructing the next economy, contributing to more rapid growth in employment and prosperity.