Skills for the 21st Century: Unlocking the Skills
Potential of the Developing World

Technological advances are opening new opportunities and potential for economies to improve productivity and create jobs if adequate and right skills are available. Uncertainty and unpredictability surrounding jobs and skills are widespread across the globe. With the introduction of new and emerging technologies, many labor-intensive jobs are likely to be replaced, while others may require re-skilling of workers to the new systems. Many occupations would continue to require non-routine tasks such as human interactions, flexibility, and problem solving, which cannot be readily replaceable by machines and technologies. Computers may replace sets of routine and repetitive tasks while allowing workers to focus on more creative tasks and improve quality and efficiency of their jobs. The question is whether education and skills development systems, particularly those in the developing countries, are capable of preparing the workforce with the adequate skills and knowledge to take advantage of new technologies in their workplaces.

Skills develop progressively over an individual’s life in stages, each building from the previous one, initiating from early childhood development to basic education to tertiary education and on-the-job training as well as from new learning interventions. Skills development is a lifelong process of acquiring diversified abilities and competencies – (i) basic skills, such as literacy and numeracy, typically acquired during pre-primary and primary school; (ii) job-specific skills usually acquired in TVET or higher education or through apprenticeships and on-the-job training and (iii) non-cognitive or soft skills, such as interpersonal, social, and emotional skills, acquired at any point, often by interactions with family members, peers, or colleagues.Recent studies show that social and emotional skills are also important for an individual’s success, particularly when individuals pursue goals, work with others and manage emotions in evolving work environments. A strong engagement in social and emotional ares with children early on also improves their capacity to develop cognitive and job-specific skills later in life. To expand individuals’ potential, a coherence in skills development across the different learning environments and schooling stages is imperative.

Low learning outcomes across the education system in developing countries underwrite failure to fully realize the potential of human capital of these economies. The World Development Report 2018 estimates that 125 million children globally are not acquiring the necessary numeracy and literacy skills even after spending at least 4 years in school. As a result, more than half of the 4.6 billion working-age people in the world lack critical foundational skills needed to acquire higher order cognitive and job-specific skills. The skill gaps are amplified in the developing countries, especially among youth between the age of 15 to 24 years. Estimated numbers show that as many as 120 million youth in South Asia, 92 million in East Asia and Pacific while 47 million in Latin America and the Caribbean lacked such foundational skills.

The need to focus on skills training for human capital is critical more
than ever for developing countries.
Improvements in healthcare and falling fertility rates led to a rise in the working age population in the developing world. However, this bulge in youthful population is very transitional as the population growth rate is on a downward trend. Thus, in order to cash in on a potential demographic dividend, it has become extremely important for the developing world to skill-up the workforce. The demand for workers in high-skilled occupations are also increasing in developing countries, depending on the level of technological penetration in these economies. The technological advancements have made the skills requirement unpredictable, as a result, workers with a higher adaptive skills are being valued more and more. Cognitive and analytical skills are increasingly dominating the skills requirement for the job landscape globally.

Appropriate Tertiary education and training are integral part of the education system for producing a globally competitive workforce and developing a knowledge economy. Appropriate and quality tertiary education and skills training are critical for preparing the workforce with relevant skills and expertise needed to meet the changing technology and skills demands of the economy as well as creating and disseminating new knowledge through research and innovation. However, the institutions for tertiary education and vocational training in the developing world still have a long way to go in responding to the economic changes and meeting the required quality standards both in the domestic and overseas labor markets.

Knowledge sharing based on the latest research and best practices in skills development will be critical in steering and preparing the developing world for the fourth industrial revolution.  The International Skills Conference, titled, “Skills for the 21st Century: Unlocking the Skills Potential of the Developing World” aims to create the stepping stone of a platform for policymakers, practitioners and other stakeholders to share their knowledge and experiences on the global and regional best practices in skills development and contributing to a strategic plan on human capital development in Bangladesh and other developing countries. The Conference will be held between March 8 – 10, 2018 at Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel in Dhaka, Bangladesh.