The future of workforce development

goldmark-lara-2015-200x220How has the definition of workforce development changed?

Workforce development used to be considered the “poor cousin of education.” It was defined as providing training to produce more and better-prepared workers. Thought leaders have since pushed for a more expansive view. Workforce development is now considered to be more than a single program or initiative. It is an interconnected set of solutions to meet employment needs: It prepares workers with needed skills, emphasizes the value of workplace learning and addresses the hiring demands of employers from the outset. The goal is to place workers in jobs where there are career development opportunities.

Why does workforce development matter globally?

Unemployment is a major issue for countries at various stages of development. A rapid increase in the youth population combined with social and political challenges has exacerbated the unemployment crisis in some of these countries. Workforce development is a logical and important solution to these problems, but only if it is approached in an effective way.

What are key elements of an effective approach to workforce development?

At the national or regional level, there must be an alignment between skills development and public- and private-sector investments to ensure that job creation keeps pace with the preparation of the workforce. Also, program quality — especially demand responsiveness — should be emphasized over scale. Scale is important, but there have been too many large-scale supply-driven efforts in the past.

How do you envision workforce development in the future?

There will be less reliance on supply-side training institutions, and the reach will go beyond entry-level jobs. Instead, the focus will be on developing workers who continue to learn and grow throughout their careers. Workplaces will be viewed as potential learning environments. The term “skills gap” has outlived its usefulness. This term both oversimplifies and unhelpfully assumes a separation between two worlds — school and work. Instead, we will see efforts to merge traditional educational approaches with workplace learning.

FHI 360 supports these kinds of workforce development approaches and is advancing them through the Workforce Connections project, which promotes evidence-based learning and peer-to-peer knowledge exchange in international workforce development. Our goal is to increase the capacity of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its industry partners to deliver quality workforce development programming.

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