When skills training is everyone’s baby – nurtured with concerted synergies between individual firms, social entities, educational institutes and governments, that’s when real impact starts to take root.
In this concluding section of our two-part article we explore policy recommendations for effective collaboration from the World Economic Forum report – Matching Skills and Labour Market Needs – Building Social Partnerships for Better Skills and Better Jobs.
A skills-jobs mismatch affects all. From lower wages and non-aspirational work for an individual, to reduced productivity and increased staff churn for firms, to structural unemployment and slow GDP growth for economies. Ergo, it follows naturally that for things to work, more needs to come together. Such as, from workforce advancement policies, better labour market information, improved training opportunities; to fitter hiring practices, better job design and not least the pivotal role of a vocational educational system on par with mainstream education.
Has India managed to effectively develop and leverage its workforce comprised of a surging youth populace with a median age of just 28? Numerous accounts- anecdotal or evidence-based suggest otherwise. What more can be done to close the gnawing skills shortages, the lack of aspirational jobs, or indeed the mismatch between skills and existing jobs. A comprehensive medium-long term strategy to address the skills imbalance requires the coming together of all key stakeholders.
Apprenticeships – This report strongly recommends “apprenticeships for all” as a way out of the no-experience-no-job vicious cycle that primarily traps the youth population. With run-of-the-mill degrees and no work experience the struggle of young people is akin to climbing wind turbines. Apprenticeships and learning-on-the-job build crucial links between youth and the labour market. With employers offering apprenticeship experiences in sectors and job roles where there is a need, a massive opportunity is created for supply chain matching. Apprenticeships and work-based learning thus become vital stepping stones to acquire relevant skills for the world of work.
In 2013, the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Employment called out for increased action to step up apprenticeships for youth. In 2015, India announced the National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme.
Education Link – How can education become better sensitised to labour market needs? By exposing children to skills acquisition early on. This requires syncing of the schooling and higher education systems with relevant labour and education ministries, and the private sector. Isolated or one-dimensional policies are of little benefit. An education that makes children future ready is not happenstance. It comes as a result of close partnerships with private sector leaders taking the reins to create their own workforce. This leads to better quality career counselling and informed career choices in alignment with future jobs. And the government has the overall responsibility of providing the mechanisms through policy or direction to make these partnerships possible.
Private Sector Onus – Employers often lament lack of work experience as a primary contributing factor to youth being unfit for employment. In the Manpower Group’s 2018 Talent Shortage survey 27% of firms globally said candidates did not have the necessary technical or soft skills. What employers fail to realise is that on-the-job learning and training programmes are key to linking youth with work. How many firms actually do something about creating work-based learning opportunities? And how many even realise the value of effective workplace training to resolve recruitment challenges?
The WEF report calls for building ‘knowledge clusters’ where companies work with educational institutes to imbibe relevant skills in youth. This requires the private sector to be much more visible and active in solving the skills shortages they face rather than wait for government policies alone to work magic.
Recruitment – The Manpower Survey found a 12-year high talent shortage globally with a whopping 45% of employers stating that they are unable to find the skills they need. Often surveys do not dig deeper to explore what other factors can be contributing to skills challenges reported by employers. Is there something to be said about same old recruitment practices not having the desirable effect? Will improved job design and new hiring processes yield better results?
Employers looking to hire on a wage advantage, poor working conditions, lack of training and development opportunities, poor human resource management practices all contribute to losing out on acquiring and retaining suitable candidates. It is unrealistic to expect employees to have the full set of skills at the point of recruitment. Whilst aiming to get the closest fit, employers need to be more involved in nurturing and developing skills over the course of an employee’s career.
Government Onus – The WEF report further calls for a labour market policy shift from “work-first” to “learn-first”. Activation strategies often fall prey to quick-fix solutions. A learn-first approach focuses on re-skilling or up-skilling of workers with low attainment of qualifications and skills. In India where over 90% of the workforce is informal, bottom up skills development holds the key to true economic progress.
Skill development and matching is a long-term strategy requiring synergistic working between public and private partners. A responsive training and education system at the heart of policy planning will ensure continuous linkages between learning, training and the labour market resulting in lasting effects in reducing skills shortages.