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CEO Speaks

The Skills Gap

by Eduardo Tugendhat, CEO

We hear much about high unemployment rates, but we pay far less attention to jobs that go unfilled because employers cannot find candidates with the necessary skills and credentials. Particularly overseas, the fault lies with rigid education systems that don’t evolve with rapidly changing job requirements. Market-responsive educational systems are the game-changer, giving people prized technical skills so they can take advantage of burgeoning opportunities.

CARANA uncovers these opportunities every day through our projects around the world. In El Salvador, English language abilities open doors to thousands of higher-paying jobs in call centers, aircraft maintenance, software, and tourism. Macedonia’s automotive parts and machine tool industries need technicians certified to meet the specifications of original equipment manufacturers. Tomato growers in the West Bank can sell at a premium to European supermarkets once they have the skills to comply with GlobalGAP standards in food and producer safety.

We are bridging the skills gap through innovative public-private partnerships and programs that enhance the employability of young people, drive employer investment in human resource development, and make educational service providers respond better to shifting market needs.

On a holistic scale, we foster business-academia dialogue, involving ministries of education and labor, to build pragmatic approaches to education. Businesses learn it is in their interest to influence relevant courses and curricula, support continuing education, provide guest lecturers and case studies, finance centers of excellence in universities, maintain contact with career counselors, and offer internships. Academia, government, and training providers learn how to make educational services a competitive market by effectively and creatively meeting the needs of students and customers. In Kyrgyzstan, CARANA’s work in this arena led to the Educational Network Association, a catalyst for improvements in business and economics education.

On the road to educational reform, intermediate steps make their own impact on the skills gap:

  • Filling the “missing middle” between traditional vocational education and university degrees with non-degree, certificate programs and associate degrees provides people with the skills and credentials for employability and career advancement. Our workforce development project in El Salvador is forging partnerships between employers and education service providers to introduce and improve certifications, teaching methods, curricula, and standards in job-rich areas like technical English, machine maintenance, software programming, and textile operations.
  • Experiential learning, especially internships, greatly enhances employability and is exceptionally popular with employers and young people. In Macedonia, where unemployment tops 35 percent, CARANA launched an internship matchmaking platform called My Career in 2009, which has registered 7,600 students and 350 companies. Over 1,100 Macedonian students have found internships through the site so far, leading to more than 160 full-time jobs.
  • Career counseling gives young people and the unemployed guidance on educational and career options and opens access to internships and other skills-building opportunities like job fairs, resume preparation, and interview workshops. CARANA has partnered with the National Board for Certified Counselors to advance recognition of counseling as a profession. Through our legacy project in Bulgaria, over 1,000 counselors have been certified and work at all levels of education as well as in companies and government employment offices, supported by a portal with tools and information resources, career centers, and career clubs (read more about these projects at www.staj.bg and www.fbo.bg).
  • Company-led initiatives, including in-house and external training in partnership with educational service providers, ensure job preparation closely fits job demand. CARANA has supported specialized certification programs in industries and areas as diverse as CAD/CAM and supply chain management for textiles, digital animation, ceramic tile installation, hotel management, software customization, food safety, and medical equipment maintenance. In a variation on this theme, we partnered with a produce packinghouse and exporter in the West Bank to certify dozens of its small farmer suppliers in GlobalGap standards.

The management guru Peter Drucker coined the term "knowledge worker," whom he believed would replace manual workers in an increasingly information-based global economy. Rising income inequality in growing economies is a clear warning that those without competitive skills and credentials are falling further and further behind. To secure better jobs, higher incomes, and a brighter future, people must have access to practical, skills-based learning that works hand-in-hand with market demand.

Read more about our workforce development initiatives.