Dr. Mourshed: “Education providers and employers have to actively step into one another’s worlds”

World of Work July 14, 2013
WISE: Despite high youth unemployment there is a shortage of entry-level job seekers with the right skills. How do you explain this?
Dr. Mourshed: Unfortunately our current system is not designed to move youth successfully from education to employment. Employers, youth and education providers live in parallel universes. What’s striking is that the groups don’t even define the problem the same way. This is clear in a recent survey we conducted of more than 8,000 employers, youth and education providers across 9 countries.
When you ask all three groups about the readiness of graduates for the job market, fewer than half of youth and employers believe that new graduates are adequately prepared for entry-level positions. Education providers, however, are much more optimistic: 72 percent of them believe new graduates are ready to work. The same disconnect occurs with regard to education: less than 40 percent of education providers believe the main reason students drop out is that the course of study is too difficult, but only 9 percent of youth say this is the case (they tend to blame affordability). Why are the three major stakeholders not seeing the same thing? In large part, this is because they are not engaged with each other. One-third of employers say they never communicate with education providers; of those that do, fewer than half say it proved effective. Meanwhile, more than a third of education providers report that they are unable to estimate the job-placement rates of their graduates. Of those who say they can, 20 percent overestimated this rate compared with what the youth reported themselves. Nor are learners any better informed: fewer than half say that when they chose what to study they had a good understanding of which disciplines lead to professions with job openings and good wage levels. 
Unsurprisingly, ‘collisions’ occur between education providers, employers, and youth at three junctures: when students enroll in post secondary education, when they build skills, and when they seek work.
WISE: Your team studied more than 100 different approaches to education and training in 25 different countries. What were the essential features of the most successful programs?
Dr. Mourshed: We found great examples of how employers and education providers work together to deliver learners with a desired skill set. Two features stand out among all the successful programs we reviewed. First, education providers and employers actively step into one another’s worlds. Employers might themselves become education providers, help shape learning objectives and curricula, or offer their employees as faculty for practicum courses.  Education providers may deliver classes at the job site and design programs whereby students spend half their time in hands-on learning. Second, in the best programs, employers and education providers work with their students (and their parents) early and intensely in order to demonstrate the value of training – they do not assume youth will partake in training just because it is available. Not only do they make youth aware of different career paths and the role of training in achieving them, but employers commit to hire youth before they are enrolled in a training program so that youth have confidence that there is a job (with a clear starting salary) on the back-end when they finish their program.
The challenge, however, is that the vast majority of these programs are small, serving hundreds of students, sometimes thousands at best.  Very few are able to serve the millions of youth who need support.

WISE: What did you find were the most important elements of a “system that works” and why?

Dr. Mourshed: Today’s education to employment system is broken. We need a new system that incentivizes employers, youth and education providers to interact in very different ways than they do today.
First, we need better data. Parents and young people, for example, need data about career options and training pathways. Imagine what would happen if all educational institutions were as motivated to systematically gather and disseminate data regarding students after they graduated—job-placement rates and career trajectory five years out—as they are regarding students’ records before admissions.
Second, the most transformative solutions are those that involve multiple providers and employers working within a particular industry or function. These collaborations solve the skill gap at a sector level; by splitting costs among multiple stakeholders, investment is reduced for everyone and incentivizes participation. Agreements such as non-poaching deals can also boost employers’ willingness to collaborate, even in a competitive environment.
Finally, countries need an ‘integrator’ to take a high-level view of the entire heterogeneous and fragmented education-to-employment system. The role of the system integrator is to work with education providers and employers to develop skill solutions, gather data, and identify and disseminate positive examples. Such integrators can be defined by sector, region, or target population.