Muriel Dunbar on defining skills

Muriel Dunbar, Senior Skills Adviser at Cambridge Education, provides a definition of skills and looks at how widely this extends in terms of educational backgrounds, types of skill, range of ages and range of sectors.

She defines skills as: ‘the combination of technical, cognitive and behavioural competences which enable a worker to acquire and retain decent work’. It is important to remember that there is also a need for entrepreneurship and business skills. The type and location of work is changing which affects thinking about skills. Technology has taken away some low-skilled jobs available and medium skilled routine jobs. This affects what skills should be taught. The urban drift should also be taken in to account. In many countries, young people do not complete primary schooling or are only educated to this level. Secondary education or higher is needed to be employed in the formal sector.

The breadth of skills development is reflected in a variety of ways: 1) variation in education backgrounds; 2) range of types of skill; 3) range of ages; 4) range of sectors.  These each require different needs.

There is a need for in-country DFID staff to know their labour market and which level of the market the skills development being put in place is aiming at, ie. local, regional, national, international. This will determine which skills are taught, what employment services are required to support graduates, what the links with employers needs to be, whether there is a need for language teaching over and above the local language and whether there is a need for recognised qualifications. Training institutions must become more entrepreneurial so that they are aware of the labour market that they are training learners for.

For more on skills see Muriel’s HEART Reading Pack: Skills provision and private sector demand. See also the HEART topic guide on skills; the reading pack Skills for Development: Thinking about System Reform Options; and a HEART talks from Simon McGrath taken at the same event that Muriel was filmed at.

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