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If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it: ensuring quality education and training to ride the digital wave (Part 1)

The adoption of automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other technologies is transforming the workplace and shifting the demand for skills. According to a recently released briefing from McKinsey, basic and advanced technological skills, higher cognitive skills, and social and emotional skills are on the rise. While these trends are happening more slowly in Latin America and the Caribbean than in developed countries, it is worrying that according to the World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Index, next to Africa, Latin American and Caribbean countries have the lowest skill levels (see The Future of Work Regional Perspectives). On the one hand, the inadequate supply of skills can prevent countries from attracting new industries that can help them ride the digital wave, creating new jobs, and maybe even developing new competitive niches in the digital economy. On the other, once digital trends reach the region, the inadequate supply of skills could result in displacement of workers as the skills of existing workers become obsolete.

Given this reality, how do we then ensure that the region’s countries can be better prepared to participate in and take advantage of the benefits that the digital revolution can bring? In great part the answer lies in countries’ skills development systems and more specifically, in the quality of the education and training provided by these systems.

What is a skills development system and why is quality assurance so important?

When we talk about skills development systems, we refer to countries’ education and training systems that help develop the necessary skills for individuals to be productive members of society. Specifically, effective skills development systems perform four main functions (see Amaral et. al): (i) systematically identify present and future skills needs; (ii) translate these skills needs into curricula to be delivered by an ecosystem of training providers; (iii) allocate resources efficiently; and (iv) have mechanisms to ensure that the quality of training provision meets the highest standards. In a world where technological change is rapidly shifting skills demands, it is critical that skills development systems are flexible and dynamic so that they can be truly responsive to changes in the labor market.

While all the functions mentioned above are critical for skills development systems to be effective, the fourth function of quality assurance plays a key role in ensuring that the first three functions are carried out adequately. Quality assurance refers to the mechanisms through which a skills development system can ensure that the objectives or vision established by the system are met, that the quality of inputs including physical teaching infrastructure like schools and labs, teaching materials, teachers, instructors, and leadership is high, and that the results of the training provision in terms of educational outcomes and labor market outcomes are positive. Quality assurance is therefore very much related to a skill development system’s ability to continuously evaluate itself against a set of quality standards and take measures to improve itself where and when necessary.

So how do we ensure quality?

There are some common elements to having a good quality assurance system. First, countries should promote continuous evaluation and improvement of training provider performance. In countries with well-established skills development systems like the United Kingdom, performance of training providers is tracked using national performance indicators including qualification success rates for learners, learner destinations including employment rates, learner satisfaction and employer satisfaction as recorded through national surveys. These indicators are submitted on a learner by learner basis to the government based upon which providers receive a scorecard showing their actual and relative position with respect to other providers. Very importantly, all of this data is made publicly available so that learners and employers can make informed choices about education and training (see link).

Second, countries must put in place adequate instruments to assess trainees’ learning outcomes and job-readiness before, during, and after both on-the-job and off-the-job training. As an example, with the objective of ensuring correspondence with labor market needs, the Philippines launched the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP) National Competency Test (see link), a psychometric test that includes verbal and numeric learning ability, English proficiency, perceptual speed and accuracy, computer literacy, and behavioral components related to service orientation, reliability, empathy, and courtesy, among others required to work in the Outsourcing Sector. Training providers are using this industry-approved assessment to benchmark the extent to which their programs are producing quality results that are valued by employers.

Third, since employers are a central piece of a good quality assurance system, countries should develop mechanisms to capture employer feedback on the quality and relevance of training provision. Without employers’ continuous feedback, it is very difficult to know if the skills development system is producing the desired results in terms of equipping learners with the skills they need to get quality jobs. Countries with strong quality assurance systems like Australia apply surveys to employers on a systematic basis to capture their views on the quality of training provision. The Employers Use and Views on the Quality of the VET system (see link), carried out bi-annually, measures the degree to which employers perceive they have a choice in selecting public and private training providers to work with, their level of satisfaction with providers, and their overall satisfaction with the skills system.

In part 2 of this blog we’ll take a look at the Caribbean and how it’s responding to the global call for more skilled and specialized labor. We will closely examine steps being taken by Jamaica as it leads the way in training quality assurance in the Caribbean.

 

Fernando Pavón is a specialist in the Labor Markets and Social Security Division of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) based in Jamaica. Since starting at the IDB in 2004, Fernando has worked in offices in Honduras in supervision / project implementation collaborating with the World Bank as a Junior Professional Associate in the preparation of the country strategy. He also coordinated educational technologies activities in the Education Division of the IDB in Washington D.C. from 2010 to 2012. From 2013-2015, Fernando was in charge of the preparation and supervision of Labor Markets programs in El Salvador. He currently focuses on private sector engagement synergies for skills development and apprenticeships programs. Fernando has a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

 

Raquel Fernández is part of the Labor Markets Division of the Inter-American Development Bank based in Washington D.C., where she works on the design and implementation of projects in the areas of future of work, public-private partnerships for skills development, and youth employment. Co-author of the publication “Apprenticeships for the XXI Century: A Model for Latin America and the Caribbean?”, over the past few years she has advised governments in the Caribbean and Central America on the design of national apprenticeship programs and other types of skills development programs. Before joining the IDB, Raquel worked in Economics Unit of the Sustainable Development Department for the Latin American and Caribbean Region of the World Bank and at the Competitiveness Promotion Council in her home country, Costa Rica. She has a BA in Psychology from The University of Chicago and a Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

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