Skills Development: Mantra for Many Objectives?

By Shanti Jagannathan, Asian Development Bank.

This ADB-Springer book on Skills Development for Inclusive and Sustainable Growth in Developing Asia-Pacific complemented the plethora of reports that were released in 2012 on Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET), Skills and Jobs (see NORRAG NEWS 48, forthcoming).  Such widespread interest in skills development is a reflection of the prominence that the topic is receiving from policy makers, practitioners and research leaders. On the one hand, skills development priorities are increasingly enshrined into overarching development priorities of countries and on the other hand, skills development is considered the vehicle for achieving many positive economic and social outcomes – more and better jobs, inclusive development, industrial diversification, knowledge intensive manufacturing and services, innovation, productivity growth, higher levels of wages and social cohesion. As expectations from skills development grew, the discourse on promising strategies, urgently needed reforms and investments became more and more strident.

Skills development – high expectations to solve multiple challenges

Some call skills development the ‘master key’ that opens many doors to development. Indeed, reforms in TVET are being pursued vigorously by many nations in anticipation of the developmental spin offs they are likely to bring.  The role of workforce development is an issue that is being pursued in developed economies such as Australia but also in developing countries such as Bangladesh.  Recent evidence revealed that income inequality has grown in Asia and education inequality is a major contributor. Access to skills development can enhance opportunities for employment and thus reduce income inequalities. New industries and entrepreneurial firms require skilled people who are also creative and innovative. To strengthen ‘employment readiness’ secondary school systems are actively considering the agenda of vocationalization. At the tertiary level too, vocational education can provide skilled professionals needed for new occupations that use digital technologies and creative industries.

But skills development alone is not enough

However, it is important to acknowledge that skills development and training alone cannot deliver on all the objectives, while playing a major contributory role. While skills development is central peg, there are a number of other factors that need to be in place to ensure jobs with higher wages, more sustainable occupations and inclusive growth.  The strategies also need to be nuanced according to the specific context of countries. The large informal markets in Asia cry out for more tailored skills development strategies. In addition to education and training other institutions dealing with labor market interventions and social protection measures. Employment exchanges need modernization.  Area based development strategies and aligning skills development with industrial development objectives are needed to translate skills development into competitive strength.

These are opportune times to advance the dialogue on skills development approaches, priorities and strategies. These were further discussed at the ADB International Skills Forum 2012.

Shanti Jagannathan is a Senior Education Specialist at the Asian Development Bank. Email: sjagannathan@adb.org

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