Syndicate content

Knowledge and Skills

Strawberries, Chocolate and Skill Gaps

Priyam Saraf's picture


Technological changes and globalization have transformed the kind of skills required of workers in many sectors of the economy.  Yet, with employment opportunities becoming more fluid, it has also become harder to predict the skill content of next year’s jobs than it was when Korea, Malaysia and Singapore industrialized through industrial and training policies.

It is in this context that skill gaps have entered public discourse. Employers around the world routinely report large skill gaps and warn of dire consequences for industrial competitiveness if they are not filled. Governments, from India to the United States, have taken up this call.
 
How do employers identify these "skill gaps"? What does this mean for skills delivery systems around the world? These questions were recently discussed at a conference at the World Bank Group in Washington on "New Growth Strategies." Here are some thoughts we presented to kick off that discussion.
 
That the skills gap narrative has become so prominent in recent years does not sit well, for five reasons.
 
  • First, as the 2013 World Development Report reminds us, the world is overflowing with educated workers, many of whom are unemployed or underemployed.
  • Second, the wage returns to secondary education have been falling in many countries. Secondary attainment is the education level most critical to the performance of production tasks in most internationally tradable sectors.
  • Third, vocationally trained workers often do not find jobs.
  • Fourth, employers often don’t act as if there is a skill gap: In many internationally competing sectors, they do not cast a wide net in search of skilled workers, and retention rates are low.
  • Fifth, the high-employment tradable sectors are not very education-intensive. In most economies, workers in agriculture, fishing, forestry, textiles, garments, furniture, food processing and leather-goods production are among their country’s least educated.

 
So, why does this cacophony over skills gaps arise and how can we design skill-development systems that are robust to it? 
 
The confusion arises because we have perverse incentives in place. When we ask employers to identify skill gaps, we do not usually ask them to bear, or even consider, the cost of training workers. This is much like asking them whether they prefer strawberries or strawberries covered in chocolate, without asking them to pay extra for the chocolate.  They therefore routinely report a crippling shortage of chocolate. Yet, behind this strange exercise, there are some industries that are actually seriously skill constrained and there are other industries that are not skill constrained. The way we ask the question simply does not induce them to differentiate themselves.

Professor Bhagwati on a Knowledge Platform on Migration and Global Development

Dilip Ratha's picture

As I had mentioned in my blog on December 7, we at the Bank are working on a proposal to create an open knowledge platform on migration and global development. The proposed knowledge platform will: 

  • provide an open platform for debate and discussion; it will include divergent views, but with strong emphasis on rigor, peer review and quality control
  • act as a knowledge broker
  • attract researchers and practitioners from different disciplines
  • deliver a menu of policy options on migration

We asked Professor Jagdish Bhagwati for his thoughts on the knowledge platform. He likes it! He kindly agreed to record a video presentation for us (you can view it here).

Thank you Professor Bhagwati!

Stepping out of the comfort zone

Sudharshan Canagarajah's picture

Knowledge product innovation in ECA: The case of MIRPAL

It is almost eighteen months since World Bank Europe and Central Asia (ECA) region launched a program of knowledge sharing in the post crisis environment for countries heavily dependent on remittances and looking for ways to address the

vulnerability that emanated from the global economic crisis. For many Commonwealth of Independent State (CIS) economies in ECA region, which had seen high economic growth rates on the back of Russia’s economic boom, the global crisis and its impact on trade and remittance flows was an important shock. For many, neither the neither magnitude, nor trends of the remittance shock was clear, because the research and policy response has been very limited.

Brain drain, brain gain or brain same? The effect of European accession on human capital formation

With remittances expected to fall in 2009 as the financial crisis unfolds, the primary mechanism through which origin countries recoup the efficiency increases achieved by skilled migration will dissipate.  But is there another mechanism, less direct but with long-term implications, through which migrants can benefit their home country.

The notion of the brain drain from developing to developed countries is not new. What is relatively new in the ’new brain drain’ or ’brain gain’ literature is its positive prognosis regarding the economic implications of labor market liberalization.  Yes there is a brain drain and on the whole it is bad for development.  But the migration of skilled workers need not be a zero sum game.  That is, the gain of the host country need not inevitably translate to the loss of the sending country. 

Crisis and Immigration: Is demand for migrant workers falling in the US?

Sonia Plaza's picture

This is the first year that the H-1B visa cap has not been reached during the first 5 days of filing applications. The current cap is set at 65,000, with an additional 20,000 for holders of advanced degrees. It seems that the number of petitions for the H-1B visa this year will be far less than last year. The U.S.

The financial crisis and immigration policy: how some developed countries are coping

Sonia Plaza's picture

More restrictive immigration policies by developed country governments are being implemented as the financial crisis deepens. For example, the United Kingdom just published a bill which contains some of the following measures:

1) Migrants who are not citizens or permanent residents of the UK will not have access to full services benefits and social housing; and

The European Pact on Immigration and Asylum: Will there be more competition for skilled workers?

Sonia Plaza's picture

Last Thursday, the European Union’s interior ministers agreed on the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum.
 

Until recently, immigration policies in the majority of EU countries have tended to be “skill blind”, and large inflows of immigrants have been admitted for humanitarian reasons. Now, the trend of re-directing migration policy towards economic (largely skilled) immigration, initiated by Australia, New Zealand and Canada, is being followed by the UK and other EU countries.