Published on Jobs and Development

Improve workforce development systems in 5 (not so simple) steps

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Nurses listen during a training program to learn more about child and adolescent mental health in Monrovia, Liberia

In the last decade, policy attention to better develop the knowledge and skills of the workforce has increased for several reasons. First, global youth unemployment rates, three times higher than the unemployment rate for those over 25 years old, have raised concerns about social stability as well as sustained and long-term economic growth. Second, many who argue that youth unemployment is partially caused by a mismatch between graduates’ skills and the skills that employers need, also believe that revitalizing vocational education and training can help address the problem. Third, a skilled workforce that can easily adapt to technological change is likely a fundamental component for countries to remain competitive in the global economy.

In this context, the SABER-Workforce Development assessment was designed to analyze the extent to which policies, institutional arrangements and practices in workforce development systems foster a dynamic coordination between the skills and knowledge of graduates of technical and vocational institutions and those that employers look for among mid-level workers such as skilled craftspeople, technicians or production supervisors. The assessment has two unique characteristics. First, it enables a structured dialogue by identifying nine policy goals that workforce developments systems should seek in order to align skills demand and supply (see figure). Second, it facilitates cross-country learning as it benchmarks country policies against international good practices in a continuum of four performance levels - latent, emerging, established, or advanced.


As of 2016, the SABER-Workforce Development assessment has been implemented in 35 countries and a synthesis of global trends identified through a cross country analysis was recently published in the book “ Workforce Development in Emerging Economies: Comparative Perspectives on Institutions, Praxis, and Policies.” The book identifies the following common challenges among the 27 countries that implemented the assessment between 2011 and 2014:

Strategic Framework Dimension
  • In most countries attention to workforce development is relegated to ministerial units that may be technically apt to articulate a strategy, but lack the political power and capital to sustain its implementation.
  • Governments appear to have difficulties in engaging employers in workforce policy dialogue, which is currently a rare occurrence and often a mere formality.

System Oversight Dimension
  • Most systems lack data on the performance of public training programs. Funding decisions are therefore usually made on the basis of administrative protocols.
  • Few systems use a life-long learning approach. They usually fail to recognize prospective students’ prior learning, do not articulate vocational and general education streams to diversify learning pathways, and offer support for career development only through unarticulated and stand-alone arrangements.

Service Delivery Dimension
  • Few countries have regulatory or monitoring mechanisms in place to ensure that public and private training providers are accountable for and manage to improve the labor market outcomes of their graduates. 
  • The collection of data is a relatively recent practice in most countries and is limited to administrative data reported by public training institutions.
  • The analysis and use of data to enhance policy development or training provider management occurs in only a few systems

These common challenges, explained in more detail here, uncover 5 policy areas where technical assistance, cross-country learning and policy attention and reform may be especially useful:
  1. Walk the talk: ensure that the national workforce development strategy is accompanied by political and technical will at all relevant levels and sectors, corresponding funding, and solid monitoring and evaluation arrangements. Failure to do so will result in poor implementation, uncertain outcomes or inaction.
  2. Make employers more than “starring guests”: employer engagement in workforce development systems should take place both at the policy making and training provider levels. Mechanisms and incentives must be in place to ensure an institutionalized, meaningful and sustained relationship with employers at both levels.
  3. Boost the appeal of vocational education and training: negative perceptions are usually addressed through publicity, which falls short and should be complemented with investments in modern and relevant programs, improvements of educational progression opportunities for graduates and effective system rebranding.    
  4. Motivate performance: measures include enforcing quality standards, measuring performance against targets, allocating financial resources using performance criteria, and making performance information publically available for prospective students, families and employers to make informed decisions. 
  5. Collect, analyze and use data: current practices can be followed by the collection of data from private providers and of data on graduates’ job placement and income. Efforts should be made to establish national systems for data management, regularly analyze data and make it publically available so it can be used in decision making.
For more information on these policy areas and country examples, please download a copy of the book “ Workforce Development in Emerging Economies: Comparative Perspectives on Institutions, Praxis, and Policies”, the infographic “ What is SABER-WfD? How does it work? What are the findings?”, or look at country-specific SABER-Workforce Development reports.

A new SABER-Workforce Development tool to assess the implementation of policies on the ground is in the making. Stay tuned for information on the performance of training providers and their actions to ensure that they offer quality and relevant training. 
Follow the World Bank Jobs Group on Twitter @wbg_jobs.



Viviana Roseth

Consultant, Education Global Practice World Bank Group

Alexandria Valerio

Resident Representative in the Dominican Republic, Latin America and Caribbean

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