Simon McGrath on transforming skills development

Simon McGrath, Professor of International Education and Development, University of Nottingham, talks about transforming skills development in relation to two key opportunities – the introduction of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 and the new UNESCO technical and vocational training (TVET) strategy.

Although TVET and youth employment is mentioned specifically in the SDGs, Simon argues that you can see skills elements across the goals. For example an energy goal talks about training people to install certain systems. What the UNESCO strategy does is use three lenses for thinking about skills: youth unemployment, equity (which includes a strong focus on gender equality), and sustainability. A lot of work has focussed on youth unemployment so Simon concentrates on the other two here.

On human development he critiques that there has not been enough efforts made to listen to young people to find out what they actually want. They want jobs for a number of reasons. Simon emphasises the need to work on converting the aspirations of young people into achievements.

The SDGs help to focus thinking on providing sustainable work. Not just employability but decent jobs. Also there is a need to build skills for work that builds wellbeing rather than undermining it. And there is a need to focus on gendered division of labour.

Skills are not just about supply and demand. Evidence points to the importance of cultures and institutional regimes that set up skills. Sequencing of reform is also an important issue. The interface between being pro-poor and being green needs to be considered, ie. low carbon.

Simon reflects on the skills for oil and gas in Africa (SOGA) programme for which DFID is one of the funders. This project has highlighted the need to ensure that skills are being developed for local and marginalised people. It also raises questions around whether corporate involvement in skills for the poor can be more than corporate social responsibility.

See Muriel Dunbar’s HEART talks for a discussion on defining skills. For more on skills development see the HEART topic guide. There are also two HEART reading packs on this area: Skills provision and private sector demand and Skills for Development: Thinking about System Reform Options.