Can stronger skills markets contribute to sustainable and decent work for all?

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This document includes three papers.

The first ‘Sector Skills Councils: Can they enhance employer engagement in skills development systems?’ reviews the case of sector skills councils (SSCs).  The authors review the argument that a productive approach to linking skills supply and demand requires a focus on generating and sustaining a high skills equilibrium, a situation which has been contrasted in the literature with the UK’s voluntarist tradition that is seen as having resulted in supply and demand reaching equilibrium but at low levels of skills quantity and quality. One of the tools used in the UK, and increasingly internationally, is the sector skills council, as a way of trying to generate a strong institutional response at an appropriate level of aggregation. This is done by bringing together employers and skills suppliers around the specifics of a sector and its economic potential.

In the UK, the SSCs have had a very variable performance. The authors suggest that UK SSCs were typically most successful in those sectors that were already strong; and poor at affecting a turnaround in those with a weak history of collaboration. Strong leadership also appears to be a key factor in success. SSCs require sustainable funding and good labour market information in order to perform well but this too is in short supply in many settings. The paper argues that SSCs can work, and there are a number of good examples from middle income and transition economies, but stresses that they are not a simple solution. It is important to understand why such structures and/or traditions of cooperation are not already present.

The second paper ‘The role of theories of change in bringing about beneficial and sustainable change in the labour market’ looks at the importance of using evidence to test assumptions that underpin any theory of change, such as how to ensure decent and sustainable work. It uses national qualifications frameworks (NQFs) and training funds as case studies. One of the major issues is that NQFs are typically stronger as a vision of what an education and training system should look like than on a roadmap of how to establish these in the future.

The third paper is titled ‘Skills and Capacity: What does learning need to look like today to prepare the workforce of 2030?’ It projects forward from the global labour market of today, to that of 2030 and identifies the skills which workers will require to operate successfully in it. Proposals include the harnessing of technology, a distinct role for businesses, a re-vitalisation of educational institutions to make them more entrepreneurial and strategies to better exploit the skills of developing countries’ diasporas.

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