New tertiary education and skills program prepares youth and adults for the future of work and society

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Worker in front of photovoltaic panels The digital and green transitions will create new jobs, but workers will need to develop new skills to tap these opportunities. Copyright: arrowsmith2/Adobe Stock

Accelerating global trends like automation, climate change, and digitalization are reshaping human development, social cohesion, and economic growth. In the next decade, these megatrends will transform over 1.1 billion jobs, demanding new skills from the workforce.

Nonetheless, many people struggle to tap into digital, educational, and employment opportunities. Many individuals graduate from secondary education lacking sufficient literacy and numeracy skills, while others face challenges in developing non-cognitive abilities in high demand such as communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking. In effect, available estimates indicate that about 450 million youth (6 out of every 10 youth) are disconnected from the opportunities the digital economy offers.

Skills gaps, in turn, hinder the development of the digital economy. About 23 percent of firms cite workforce skills as a significant constraint to business development. In some African and Latin American countries, this share rises to 40–60 percent, according to World Bank Enterprise Survey Data. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic caused severe setbacks in youth education and employment outcomes, exacerbating youth skills gaps amongst economically disadvantaged youth.

The Bank’s new Tertiary Education and Skills Program will turn these challenges into opportunities

Countries must revamp the skills and productivity of their workforce to ensure poverty reduction on a more livable planet. As the largest financier of higher education and skills, with a $7 billion portfolio across more than 50 countries, the World Bank recognizes that market-driven education and training and higher education systems are critical for nurturing skills development and fostering innovation. Skills and workforce development are essential for promoting economic engagement, improving productivity and growth, and supporting workers in their life-long learning process.

The digital and green transitions can create new employment and training opportunities for young people, especially in low- and middle-income countries. In the modern global labor market, workers are expected to experience a long working lifespan and frequent transitions between jobs and occupations. They will need to embrace emerging technologies and commit to frequent self-reinvention. As a result, many workers will develop skills outside formal education systems—on the job and through short workforce development programs.

In this context, the World Bank established the Tertiary Education and Skills (TES) Multi-Donor Umbrella Trust Fund, a new global financing and partnership mechanism designed to help governments reframe, reform, and rebuild tertiary education and skills systems for digital and green transformation. TES aims to prepare youth and adults for the future of work and society by improving access to relevant, quality, equitable, and resilient education and training. TES was established in December 2022 with the Mastercard Foundation as the first partner and administered by the World Bank's Education Global Practice. The TES program aligns with and is committed to helping countries reach Sustainable Development Goal 4, which calls for access to inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030.

TES seeks to strengthen workforce development and higher education systems

The World Bank is reforming to mobilize resources and capabilities of development partners through fewer, stronger, strategy-driven global programs. Through these changes, the Bank seeks greater strategic alignment and more efficient management of its external financing that delivers higher value and impact for our clients, partners, and donors.  

The TES Umbrella Trust Fund offers a modular structure, where partners can support interventions that align with their priorities, interests, and competitive advantage (Figure 1). TES’s goal is to ensure that tertiary education, TVET and youth learning systems are effective, lifelong, and conducive to economic engagement, productivity, and growth. TES’s main priorities are threefold: 

  • Ensure individuals become independent learners: Digital and foundational skills are crucial in enabling individuals to become independent learners. These skills will empower individuals to access vast training resources, including databases, e-books, and educational websites, to gather information on a specific topic of interest. Tertiary education and skills systems must ensure students adequately develop these skills.
  • Ensure people acquire skills that are relevant and contribute to the economy: Ensuring youth actively seek or participate in education or employment opportunities will require tertiary education and skills systems to provide targeted interventions such as social assistance, second chance programs, remedial education, and activation policies for youth not in education, employment, or training (known and NEETs); vocational training, productivity enhancement programs, and employment services (for semi-engaged individuals); and on-the-training, reskilling, provision of information, and formal education (for engaged individuals).
  • Support people during periods of career transition: Supporting workers and students during school-to-work transitions and job transitions is a fundamental building block of modern tertiary education and skills systems.
  • Foster innovation: TES aims to unlock the potential of education and training institutions to become centers of excellence and innovation to develop advanced digital skills, address local challenges, and incubate high value-added entrepreneurship.

Figure 1. TES’s Priorities
Figure on  TES?s Priorities

A successful partnership with the Mastercard Foundation

The World Bank and the Mastercard Foundation collaboration is an example of a successful partnership under the TES global program. The partnership, amounting to $15 million over five years, seeks to build resilient hybrid education systems and develop skills for the digital economy, focusing on sub-Saharan Africa.  

Since December 2022, this partnership has supported the EdTech Policy Academy for 14 African countries, which resulted in plans for the design of EdTech country strategies and action plans for resilient hybrid learning systems and development plans to strengthen the delivery of digital skills. Significant achievements of the EdTech Policy Academy include Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education launching its new EdTech Strategy and supporting the development of the new Rwanda EdTech policy.

The partnership with the Mastercard Foundation is also supporting 37 demand-driven country analytical studies in selected sub-Saharan African countries (linked to ongoing and future Bank lending operations) to foster resilient hybrid learning and asses the demand and supply of digital skills.  It is expected that the country analytical studies will contribute to the design and implementation of World Bank-financed education and skills programs across the region leveraging billions of dollars in World Bank financing. 

Moving forward

As the primary World Bank platform to channel external financing to address post-secondary education, youth skills and workforce development globally, the goal is to grow the TES program and involve more partners to strengthen tertiary education and skills systems globally. The TES program is uniquely positioned to leverage the World Bank-financed tertiary education and skills portfolio and reach a global scale by bringing new insights and innovative approaches to strengthening the World Bank's agenda on TES-related issues; leveraging World Bank lending to scale programs and achieve higher impact; and supporting  governments in low- and middle-income countries to leverage existing structures for the effective implementation of tertiary education and skills programs.

Contributions to the TES are open to development partners, foundations, and private sector partners. More coordination with other donors, as well as collaboration between the public and private sectors will remain essential to shaping a more efficient and relevant skills and tertiary agenda.

To learn more about TES, check out our webpage with a variety of resources on our various initiatives. Join TES and shape the future workforce by contacting us at We welcome all questions about this critical platform.

The work cited in this blog has benefitted from the financial support of the Mastercard Foundation. The World Bank thanks the Foundation for being the pioneer institution to share TES’s vision, and values the partnership with the Foundation in advancing the agenda on building resilient education systems and digital skills for youth.

Special thanks to Halil Dundar, Robert Hawkins, Kanae Watanabe, Koen Martijn Geven, and Roberta Malee Bassett for their inputs.


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Mabel Martinez

Consultant, World Bank Group

Gemma Rodon

Analyst, Education Global Practice

Juanita Caycedo

Consultant, Education Global Practice

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