Shrinking the Education Gap to Lift the Economy

World of Work July 06, 2016

This article is part of a series on innovative solutions to tackle the main challenges of Latin American education (part 7 of 7).

While the world advances towards a knowledge-driven society, and thus a knowledge-driven economy, global value chains are becoming increasingly complex and the “internet of things“ and the sharing economy are blurring traditional forms of employment and making a deep impact on labor markets. In every country, innovation and technology are pushing the demand for qualified employees and Argentina is no exception. 

According to the World Economic Forum’s report “The future of jobs”, 65% of children entering primary school today all across the world will end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist, just as, in many industries and countries, some of the most in-demand occupations today did not exist 10 or even five years ago. Disruptive developments in fields such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and genetics and biotechnology are accelerating the pace of change. 

Along with opportunities, these changes pose a big challenge on employment: while more than 2 million jobs –mostly in computing, engineering, architecture or math- are expected to be created, some other 7 million could be at stake, especially in routine white collar functions.

Moreover, changes are disrupting skill sets for both current and emerging jobs. On average, by 2020, most occupations will find that about a third of their core skills will include some that are not considered crucial today. In particular, social and collaborative abilities—such as persuasion, emotional intelligence, responsibility, curiosity or team building— are expected to outpace the demand for technical ones -such as programming or equipment operation and control-.

Argentina’s return to global markets is already attracting foreign investment, opening a great opportunity for the incorporation of added value and diversification into the productive matrix. Education –along with industrial policies, investment in R+D, financial aid and infrastructure development- is becoming increasingly relevant to turn this opportunity into reality and to prepare the labor force for the challenges ahead. 

Virtually every sector in the economy is expecting to grow in the next years and planning to introduce innovation in their businesses; but among them, construction and agribusiness, as well as the software industry, are among the most promising. As a result, along with internal training policies, or structural reorganization, a recuperation of labor demand and higher recruiting are expected. 

Corporations, however, –and strikingly in the most dynamic sectors- are revealing to find bottle necks in terms of performance and preparation of its workforce, which could challenge their investment decisions. In this context, closing the gap between this demand and the offer of skilled workers is becoming a top priority of the productive agenda, aiming to give sustainability to the growth process. 

The potential of vocational training (VET) is one of the keys to produce skilled workers for the new economy. Today, more than 1.100.000 students are enrolled in some kind of VET training in Argentina. At the National Institute of Technology Education, we are working not only to increase this number but also to improve their graduation rates –which today reach barely 35%-. Through the National Council of Education, Labor and Production (CONETyP), we are leading efforts to deepen articulation between the public sector, the private sector and unions; and to create an impact at the regional and local levels. The Council also defines the offer of certification and vocational training courses in line with the needs of the productive sector, which turns it into a key input for labor policies. 

The world provides us with good examples to look up to. Australia, with its Industry Skills Councils, has found a successful format that integrates an active government involvement, with school and corporate engagement aligned to train students that are able to contribute to economic development. Each industrial council presents annually improvement proposals aimed to have curriculums match accurately the evolution of skills demand. 

South Corea, in time, has in part based its educational reform on long term policies anchored to the incorporation of new technologies in the learning process and the incorporation of market demands. Every five years, the national curriculum is updated to guarantee that students are prepared to join the labor force and respond to the economic demands of the 21st century. The training offer was expanded, promoting specialization and a deeper integration of VET centers with corporations, through on-the-job training programs. Both countries are today among the top performers in education surveys.

Market changes clearly outpace the evolution of educational systems but that is the reason why our time is now. The rebirth of the national economy is providing a great opportunity to address a long time debt with our students, but also our teachers and workers. Schools are critical to train resilient workers that are able to adapt to such rapid changes and stay innovative and motivated. Only an integrated effort between the public sector, business, unions and schools will be able to train them, contributing to stay on the track of sustainable and long lasting growth and development.