The African continent is on the cusp of a major transformation. Many economies are growing, with growth driven by investments in infrastructure and energy, trade, and by a stable macro-economic environment. I think that this growth will lead to socio-economic transformation (with higher-income jobs and a better quality of life) if it is also accompanied by building skills and research capacity in applied sciences, engineering, and technology (ASET).
These days, there is a lot of talk about skills and their importance for a country’s development. Not too long ago the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called skills and knowledge “the driving forces of economic growth and social development in any country.” Last week, President Obama in his State of the Union address mentioned, once again, the critical importance of upgrading workers skills as part of his call for ‘An America Built to Last’.
Creating jobs and increasing productivity are at the top of policymakers’ agenda across the world. We heard this message during the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings and during the UN General Assembly meetings in New York last month. We read about disaffected youth in rich and less rich countries who have university education but can’t find jobs. I’m not going to argue that education holds the key to these current issues. Undoubtedly, current high unemployment rates owe a lot to the ongoing global economic slump.
Nonetheless, the current economic crisis forces us to examine why too many workers are unprepared to meet the demands from the modern workplace, particularly in increasingly competitive economic environments. Evidence suggests that education systems in many countries are failing young people with respect to basic skills as well as high-level cognitive skills such as critical analysis, problem solving and communication.
The Seoul G20 summit in November ended with some homework for the World Bank. We were asked to work with the ILO, OECD and UNESCO to develop internationally comparable indicators of skills that can help countries in their efforts to better match education and job training to market needs. The G20 was right to make this a priority.
In this post-financial crisis period, jobs play an important role in recovery. Making sure that people have the right skills to get these jobs is the other side. Developing countries, especially, know that skills development is necessary if they are going to attract investment that will create decent jobs and raise productivity.
As the World Bank's Annual Meetings met to discuss global development this October, the issue of jobs was front and center. The new Open Forum 2010 allowed leading thinkers and engaged citizens from around the globe to weigh in on the ultimate question of how to jump-start jobs, as well as cultivate economic stabilty for future generations.
Read the Human Development Network's Vice President Tamar Manuelyan Atinc's commentary, as she discusses the Jumpstarting Jobs session from the Meetings Center blog: