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Voices from Former African Ministers of Education on the Challenges of Workforce Development

With contributions from:
-Haja N. Razafinjatovo, Former Minister of Finance and of Education,Madagascar
-Mamadou Ndoye, Former Minister of Education, Senegal
-Dzingai Mutumbuka, Former Minister of Education, Zimbabwe
-Birger Fredriksen, Former Sector Director for Human Development, World Bank, Africa Region

Several former African Ministers of Education attended Workforce Development: What Matters? at the World Bank. The event is part of the System Approach for Better Education Results, Workforce Development initiative (SABER WfD). Below are key takeaway messages from these former ministers regarding the initiative and the challenges of workforce development, particularly in Africa.  
 
WfD is a recognized global challenge. Countries at all levels of development are struggling to address the dual challenge of producing the skills required to achieve sustained economic growth in a rapidly changing global economy, and generating employment both for young people joining the labor force and for workers in declining industries.

The challenge is particularly daunting for African countries, which face unprecedented rapid labor force growth in a context where the majority of employment is in the rural and informal sectors and where the modern sector still has limited absorptive capacity.

But job losses in declining industries also pose very serious WfD issues in industrialized countries. This is affected by rapidly rising competition from the impressive growth in many large middle-income countries.

SABER WfD is a timely and important initiative as it promotes an integrated approach by enhancing the ability of (i) education and training systems to equip individuals with the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed for gainful employment and improved performance in existing jobs, and (ii) employers to strengthen their involvement in WfD at both the strategic and operational levels. 

Clearly, education has key roles to play in facilitating labor force entry for young people and in providing life-long learning for workers. However, to play this role effectively, education specialists and policymakers must leave their silos and work with other sectors.  Education alone will not be sufficient to turn the “youth bulge” from being a potential danger into an opportunity.

If education is not coupled with policies leading to growth and employment generation, the result is likely to just postpone the problem by shifting from a jobless uneducated “youth problem” to a jobless educated youth problem as demonstrated by current events in both Europe and many Arab States.


Different Countries: Different Challenges

Work from SABER WfD in Korea, Singapore, Ireland, Chile and Uganda show that although countries face similar challenges, they achieve considerable but differing progress in improving the quality and effectiveness of their WfD policies and institutions.

A few common factors contributing to this progress include:
-Cooperation between government, employers, labor force  and non-state stakeholders;
-Developing effective systems for assessing skills needs and facilitating demand-driven training;
-Sustained prioritization of WfD by apex-level leadership;
-Public sector interventions to address market failure and structural inequalities in access to WfD services
-Learning from other countries, even for advanced economies such as Ireland.

Given our background, we were particularly interested in the relevance of the WfD methodology and findings to low-income African countries. Some thoughts on WfD as it relates to African countries include:

(i) The approach is quite advanced for “modern” economic sectors yet, more attention is needed to explain how it will be applied in the rural/agricultural/informal sectors;
(ii) The multifaceted nature of skills development (cognitive, behavioral, technical) has clear policy implications beyond technical and vocational education. In particular: It increases the urgency of enhancing the quality of math, science and language teaching in primary and secondary schools; 
(iii) Following the development of a solid WfD SABER methodology, sustained attention must be given to helping countries translate the results of the benchmarking exercise into prioritized action programs and to implement such programs; and
(iv) When using SABER for WfD and other policy domains, care must be taken to facilitate national capacity-building including through targeted peer-learning processes such as the Inter-country Quality Nodes sponsored by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and through provision of comparable information on effective policies, strategies and institutions. 

SABER WfD promotes capacity-building by developing an approach designed to help countries think through their challenges in improving policies and institutions. Furthermore, if comparable information from other countries is made available, it will help policymakers enrich their national policies, rooted in local conditions, with global knowledge. Implementation of evidence-based policies and the building of strong institutions are continuous, long-term processes. Therefore, lessons for countries with a long WfD track record are useful for countries that are at an early stage and want to compare their policies with recognized good performers.

On balance, we feel there has been good progress in developing a very useful tool to help policy-makers think through their WfD challenges. Helping countries conduct this type of systematic national dialogue on key development issues is both an effective use of capacity building and development aid.

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