Jobs and the Future of Work

How to close the skills gap: lessons from emerging economies

South Asia and Africa will supply nearly 60% of the world’s new workers by 2030

Sebastien Turbot
Curator and Global Director, World Innovation Summit for Education
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Automation and globalization are reshaping the world economy. Within the next four years, more than 5 million jobs are expected to be lost to robots.

But which skills do we need in order to face the unexpected? And how do we equip today’s school-age children for professions that don’t exist yet?

Employers are revamping their recruitment strategies. With the rise of the gig economy, portfolio career and hybrid job, what businesses want is workers who combine acumen with creativity, collaboration with good communication skills; people who can innovate and solve complex problems. Yet nearly 60% of businesses around the world say they are unable to find candidates who possess those skills.

Developed countries are gradually turning to educational models that cultivate skills such as creativity and grit – but they are yet to crack the skills gap. Emerging economies, on the other hand, face more daunting challenges. High drop-out rates, meager funds, a lack of access and inclusion, and acute teacher shortages continue to plague progress.

At the same time, the skills needed to hold a job in the 21st century are a crucial asset for any individual growing up in these countries. According to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, the economies of South Asia and Africa will supply nearly 60% of the world’s new workers by 2030. But if current education trends continue, the global labour force will contain at least a billion workers who lack secondary education.

This graphic shows how growth in emerging economies will outpace growth in developed nations over the coming decade.

Image: PriceWaterhouseCooper: Closing the Talent Gap in the Emerging World, 2012

Turning it around

On a brighter note, educators and social entrepreneurs from Colombia to Cambodia are on a mission to turn the cheaply staffed workbenches of the world into pools of global talent.

In fact, emerging markets are turning into fertile grounds of innovation in education. Frugally and creatively, partnerships between public and private sectors are drawing up new curriculums that match young people with the real needs of businesses. Here are three examples of creating learning initiatives that are making a difference.

1. The Escuela Nueva, or “new school”, in Colombia, places students’ interests and needs at the heart of learning process, it encourages young people to learn from one another, and work together on global and local challenges such as recycling or care for the elderly.

2. Meanwhile, in Uganda, Educate! works with secondary schools to help young people construct their own career paths. Lessons in entrepreneurship and leadership, combined with practical training, offer students a glimpse into the real world of work.

3. Martin Burt, co-founder of Teach a Man to Fish, with projects in Rwanda, Nicaragua and others emerging markets, has created the “learning by doing and earning approach”, which helps students develop designing, marketing or book-keeping competencies, and run small enterprises and develop skills appropriate to the local market.

Each one is designed to answer a particular need and function in a specific national context – yet they have a lot in common. They look at what students care about, what is important to them. They have students work on local projects and challenges. Teachers are guides and mentors. Tests are about assessing and not measuring.

The global skills gap will not be narrowed without the participation of women. But the social values and staunch cultural traditions of some societies make it tough, not only to allow girls access to school but to equip them with the skills to face the future.

The Campaign for Female Education in African EMs like Ghana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, Educate Girls in India and the Afghan Learning Institute have adopted community-driven approaches to the problems of girls’ education and early marriage. These initiatives go beyond textbook instruction to raise awareness, change mindsets, improve the quality of education and infrastructure to bring more girls into school.

The challenges that education systems face in emerging markets are endless – but the good news is that change is underway.

You can find more blogs in the Skills for Your Future series here

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