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The Widening Global Skills Gap

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The global skills gap -- the difference between the type of skills students and workers currently possess and the skills employers will need in 2015 and beyond -- continues to widen.

Earlier this week came the announcement that International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector development arm of the World Bank, would "launch a $2bn initiative aimed at narrowing the skills gap among young people in the Arab world." The situation is acute in Arab countries:

"The region suffers from the highest youth unemployment in the world at more than 25 per cent, while labor force participation rates are only 35 per cent compared with 52 per cent internationally, according to a report by McKinsey, the consultants, commissioned by the IFC."

The problem is not confined to less developed countries. The Australian cites a government report calling for an "overarching blueprint for action on language, literacy and numeracy," and goes on to say:

"International studies have shown that over the past two decades, Australia's literacy and numeracy skill levels have stagnated while those of other countries, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, have improved."

One country with a bold plan is Kenya. The Business Daily (Africa) reports employers in Kenya are finding "the abilities of many job-seekers are falling short of industry requirements... Currently Kenya is ranked at position 108 out of 134 countries on global competitiveness." This threatens the country's standing in the global community, its ability to attract investment, and its very livelihood.

In response, Kenya has undertaken "Vision 2030,which anticipates that Kenya will become a newly industrialized and middle income country by 2030. This is a goal that requires heavy commitment and investment. One of the main factors necessary to propel the country into realizing the Vision is skilled manpower." The plan for Kenya calls for a nationwide skills mapping, and a broad reliance on partnerships to narrow the country's skills gap and improve its position as a global competitor.

The problem is clear. So what's the solution? Plans like Vision 2030 are steps in the right direction. Public and private sector organizations can collaborate to attack this challenge on several fronts:

• New talent architecture that lays out specific talent that is desired within countries and the hiring industries along with development plans and funding
• Roles-based training that prepares students to meet specific employer and industry needs
• Entry level programs to recruit, capture and assist disadvantaged students and ease entry into the educational system and the workplace
• Opening up access for young people to secondary and post-secondary education through virtualized education institutions
• Retention programs to get students to the finish line
• Public/private partnerships to share the risks and rewards of training people to prepare for the workplace of the future
• Close attention via local presence to changing industry trends to ensure ongoing programs are designed to meet current and future employer requirements
• A non-partisan commitment to making job education a priority, and to funding such efforts
• Take advantage of blended live learning and virtualized instructor solutions (next generation strategies and technologies that remove physical barriers to education)
• Make learning available to anyone anywhere at any time, to reach students where they live, on their schedules, the way they like to learn, and to scale instructor expertise, a scarce resource

The gap should have been addressed 10 years ago, and some steps were taken, but both public and private entities need to increase efforts now if we are going to catch up. Increasingly, the narrowing of the skills gap will be a key factor in determining which nations and economies are the most competitive in the next five to 15 years.