Homework from the Seoul G-20: Measuring Skills

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ImageThe 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.

The G20’s call, however, goes beyond traditional job-training programs. The indicators that we have been tasked with developing (and the country strategies the G20 is calling for) are supposed to cover not just the traditional cognitive skills, including basic math and reading abilities, but also a range of non-cognitive skills such as creativity, innovation and teamwork.

Luckily, we may not have to stay up all night to get the homework done.

The Human Development Network of the World Bank has already developed the STEP conceptual framework to guide countries in the design of policies and systems that help people gain the right skills to enhance productivity and growth. STEP, which stands for Skills Toward Employment and Productivity, starts with getting children off to a good start in early childhood, a crucial step in positive growth and development; ensuring they learn in school; building relevant job skills; encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation; and facilitating labor mobility and job matching.

We are also making progress in developing tools to measure the various types of skills implicit in the STEP approach. A multi-country research program is underway to assess how different skill sets affect people’s labor market opportunities and to inform the design of education and training policies to boost employability and productivity in client countries. This program, which is being rolled out in early 2011 in 14 countries, is expected to collect information to: (a) assess the distribution of cognitive, non-cognitive, and technical skills in the labor force of middle and low income countries and the demand for these skills by employers, (b) analyze the impact on labor market outcomes, and (c) determine the extent of skill mismatches. The implementation will be carried out in close partnership with the governments and academic institutions of participating countries.

Findings from this research program will set the foundation for an international skills measurement and information system that will allow for comparisons over time.

The G20’s call is extremely timely.  Measuring skills -- and benchmarking country performance -- is a critical component of global efforts to enhance country policies for skills development. We welcome the call from the G20 and look forward to the joint efforts with partner organizations in this area.


 Photo credit: 2010 G-20 Seoul Summit, from Wikimedia Commons


Ariel Fiszbein

Education Program Director, Inter-American Dialogue

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