How can business make a difference to the employment and skills crisis? A collection of almost 80 case studies points to three areas where business can take the lead:

  • Collaborate with education and training providers to help people develop the skills they really need in the world of work, and promote lifelong learning
  • Foster entrepreneurship by supporting start-ups and smaller enterprises
  • Connect talent to markets by closing the gap between jobseekers and employers

The case studies also point to eight factors that can make programmes and practices most effective.

  1. Build multi-sector partnerships

Multi-sector partnerships, by drawing on complementary expertise, are indispensable for implementing scalable solutions. For example, while a single business can create a partnership with a local academic institution for its own talent needs, partnerships between several businesses and academic institutions can increase the quality of the talent pool available to all, often in a more cost-efficient way and with greater societal benefits. While potentially more complex to implement, such partnerships take into account the widest range of interests. About two-thirds of the featured case studies involve civil society organizations in their partnership model, which helped incorporate the views of students, teachers and others whose voice is important in designing sustainable solutions.

  1. Develop win-win approaches

Initiatives that match the public good with private interest are often most sustainable in the long term. Several featured case studies demonstrate that business can align external initiatives with internal organizational priorities and combine short- and long-term talent considerations with an enhanced impact for both the business and society. While many types of business-led initiatives can have a positive impact on communities, they are more likely to be sustainable if they are connected to a core business area. For example, initiatives that support entrepreneurs in a business’ own value chain or initiatives that connect the business’ employees to local educational institutions are more likely to last than those that are disconnected from a business and its employees.

  1. Understand the talent value chain

In each industry or economy, there are critical points in the talent value chain that provide an opportunity to make a long-term difference. For example, the transition from education to employment is often a make-or-break juncture in the lives of young people and a core determinant of the talent pipeline for many industries. Before designing an intervention, it is important to have a clear understanding of the full talent value chain and the impact a business wants to achieve.

  1. Be relevant to the context

Tailoring interventions to the local culture and socio-economic context and taking into account the specific needs of the target audience is critical to achieving sustainable results. For example, investment in vocational training programmes is unlikely to be successful in cultures where there is a strong premium placed on university qualifications. In such a case, a combination of vocational and academic education with communication around the practical benefits of vocational training is critical to enhance impact.

  1. Commit leadership to the cause

Support from leaders and managers is crucial to sustain initiatives, engage partners, gain broader buy-in and mobilize employees. For example, initiatives that connect employees as mentors or lecturers to local entrepreneur hubs or universities need CEO communication, HR monitoring and management support if they are to work.

  1. Design for the future

With ongoing technological and economic disruptions, jobs and skills interventions will only be successful if they are designed with a proactive, long-term approach rather than one that is reactive or based on past successes. For example, apprenticeship programmes where young people are placed in traditional jobs seem pointless if those job categories are likely to be obsolete within five years. Instead, it might make more sense to create apprenticeship programmes for new high-growth occupations.

  1. Leverage ICT

Using ICT offers a number of advantages when implementing jobs and skills initiatives. It can enhance impact, especially when on- and off-line elements are combined, and can increase scale by reaching a much larger and more diversified group of beneficiaries. For example, while networking events connecting aspiring start-ups with established entrepreneurs can have a positive impact on those able to connect physically, an online platform for knowledge-sharing and networking would have a wider reach. ICT can also significantly lower the costs of execution and delivery, allow for faster adaptation to geographic and socio-economic contexts, and help engage younger generations.

  1. Test first, scale second

Testing activities with a small group before rolling them out on a larger scale is helpful for anticipating potential problems and understanding what success looks like. Clear objectives and quantitative metrics must be defined by all involved parties and communicated clearly in the earliest phases. It is also important to collect qualitative feedback from all involved, including the beneficiaries. This helps draw lessons from the pilot phase and adapt the next steps as needed.

The full report, Disrupting Unemployment: Business-led Solutions for Action, is available here.

Authors: Saadia Zahidi is a Senior Director, Head of Gender Parity and Human Capital and Constituents at the World Economic Forum. Kristin Keveloh is a Senior Project Manager, Employment, Skills and Human Capital at the World Economic Forum.

Image: Thousands of job seekers visit booths at a job fair in Chongqing municipality, October 11, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer