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The Future of Work and Global Talent: What About the Poor?

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It is now widely accepted that the future of work requires different set of talent and skills. It is also argued that the global economic ideology is shifting from Capitalism to Talentism—a new era where human capital would hold more influence than financial capital. From Washington DC to Zurich to Seoul to Delhi, we discuss, debate, and commit to act so that the education we provide today meets the demands of the future. It is no longer sufficient that students just memorize content in an era of “digital enlightenment” where content is at their fingertips. The goal today is to prepare these students to fulfill the jobs in 2050 by equipping them with skills such as the ability to use content to solve complex global problems, agile thinking to make critical and informed decisions at times of uncertainty, and collaborating with cross-cultural and diverse teams in a borderless and global job market.

The global skills and talent mismatch

Today, it is quite ironic that globally, over 200 million, including those who complete secondary school, are unemployed while nearly 60% of employers report a shortage of skilled labor. On the one hand, in 2013, the global unemployment rate was at 12.6% out of which 73 million were youth between the ages 15-24. On the other hand, millions of jobs go unfilled due to the increasing skills mismatch with the U.S. alone accounting for 11 million unemployed people and 4 million unfilled jobs. The gap in some of the developing nations is far worse. This issue has become a global phenomenon that it became the theme of the World Development Report 2018 with the premise that it is the skills and competencies acquired through education, and not the time spent in school, that prepare our youth to meet the shifts in the global workforce. In Sri Lanka, every year, 140,000 students, nearly 50% of school leavers, complete their education without employable skills – a perfect example of universal access to education not transforming into learning.

Leaving the poor and the marginalized behind

Having realized the urgency, one part of the world is moving rapidly towards tackling these challenges that would determine their future global competitiveness. In contrast, another section of the world—the poor and the marginalized—both across countries and within countries—continue to lag behind. Today, while one section is preparing for the “post-employment” era where robots and artificial intelligence would replace their current jobs, 265 million between age 10 and 17, nearly 20% of the world’s population of that age group, are left out of school altogether. For the ones in school, not only are schools failing to equip them with the 21st century skills they need for employment, but they also fail to provide even the basic literacy and competencies needed today. Globally, 250 million primary school students cannot read and write and another 200 million youth leave school without the skills they need to contribute in society and find jobs.

The urgency for emerging markets to leapfrog

By 2030, not only will emerging market economies contribute 65% of the global GDP, but they will also be home to the majority of the world’s working age population, according to the Learning Generation Report. By contrast, the demand for talent in Western Europe, is projected a rather modest growth of 3.5%. Employers will increasingly seek to recruit from these economies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Ultimately, the youth in these regions will be the engines of the world’s future growth and prosperity. Yet, education in these countries lags behind.

In developing countries, the gap in primary school completion rates between the richest and poorest children is more than 30%. Meanwhile, around 45% of public education resources are allocated to educate the top 10% most educated students. In low and lower-middle income countries, approximately 1 out of 4 young people is illiterate and only less than 10 percent of schools are connected to the internet. If we were to meet the changing demands of the future, these gaps need to be addressed through quick and effective mechanisms.

The need for an inclusive and equitable advancement

Looking closely at the progression and the rate it was achieved over the last few decades, we need a significantly different approach to tackle this issue. Today, no longer can we afford to measure the poor with just basic literacy—ability to read and write a sentence—while we measure the rich with 21st century skills and competencies. If status quo were to continue, by the time the poor leave school, their education would have already become obsolete—creating a recipe for a global crisis of talent and an increasing socioeconomic gap and polarization. The conversations and action of world’s best academia, think tanks, and policy makers need to shift from the “G20s” of the world to include all countries and all communities within each country down to each individual child to ensure that the advancement in learning outcomes is inclusive and equitable.

When empowering our youth with the talents and competencies of the future, we need a multi-stakeholder and collaborative approach to ensure that we create systematic changes that are inclusive and universal: 1) Educating the poor and the marginalized has to be a global priority and should be integrated into every discussion and policy decision when designing the future of our education. 2) The reforms and new approaches need to be innovative and should integrate digital and technology enabled interventions so those populations who currently lag could leapfrog into the realities of tomorrow. 3) Encourage, engage, and facilitate the business community, start-ups, non-profits, and social enterprises to transform these sections. The governments and policy makers have failed to deliver or meet the expectations in the past, so there’s no reason to believe that the governments by themselves would be able solve this issue in the future.

Case Study: Sri Lanka

In tackling the learning crisis in Sri Lanka, over the past decade, Educate Lanka Foundation, a non-profit social enterprise, has developed innovative platforms to bring together resources and stakeholders to empower the marginalized by providing them with equal opportunities to succeed. Educate Lanka’s unique peer-to-peer online platform has allowed micro-philanthropists, mainly the Sri Lankan diaspora, to fund the opportunity cost of education of the marginalized, helping them to achieve uninterrupted access to school. Having realized that schooling isn’t transforming into learning, it developed a complementary corporate partnership platform to provide a “journey of opportunities” for its children and youth in the form of mentorship, skills development, values integration, and global exposure so that they are equipped with the tools and learning that will position them for the talent and skills required in the future. With a motto of “talent is universal; opportunity is not”, it envisions a future in which opportunities are universal for all so that everyone is capable of positioning them to meet the demands and co-create our future in 2050.

About the author

Manjula Dissanayake

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