By Fabio Manca.
In a previous post we discussed the importance of setting up systems to assess and anticipate skills needs. The fundamental reason for investing in these systems is that skills assessment and anticipation (SAA) information can help mitigate the extent of skills mismatch and shortages and limit their costs for individuals, firms and society.
With robust SAA information policy makers are potentially in the position to design better education, employment and migration policies and ensure that their economies adapt to the emerging and fast changing needs of the labour market. Targeted education and employment policies based on the accurate analysis of the skills required by the labour market can contribute to easing the transition from school to work, to shortening the time that job-seekers remain unemployed or, for those who are employed, to improving the match between their skills and those required to carry out their daily tasks at work.
But information not only does play a crucial role for policy, it is also crucial for individuals. SAA information can shape career and education decisions as well as students and workers’ options when it comes to decide on whether to migrate to a different region or country in the search for employment. Well informed students, at all levels of their education paths, will be able to decide on what education courses better fit their own personal aspirations while, at the same time, satisfying the pressing need to find a job after graduation.
If information is so important, let’s spread it!
If SAA information is difficult to collect, it is also very hard to disseminate. A study by McKinsey and Company (2012) shows that, despite the fact that information on skills needs should be available to everyone, students, education providers and employers often end up having very different opinions on crucial issues such as the effectiveness of the education system in providing the skills that are needed in the labour market (Figure 1).
Survey results for the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, France, Greece and Italy show, for instance, that education providers are twice more likely to report that youth are well prepared to meet the challenges of the labour market than youth or employers (similar results are found for Brazil, Mexico, India, Turkey, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United States in here).
For the results of SAA information to be effective (and for countries to reap the benefits of their investments in their development) the communication between the world of education (the providers) and that of work (the employers) should be strengthened and, with that, the dissemination of SAA information to students. As little as 18% of interviewed youth in Greece reports to have received sufficient information on fields of study prior to deciding what to do/study following high school. Only 14% of Swedish youth declared to have received sufficient information on job opportunities (McKinsey and Company, 2012).
Much of the difference in the way and extent to which information reaches youth is nowadays due to the use of social networks and new media channels by both the providers and final users of such information. Survey results show, in fact, that around 60% of youth use new media or social networks like Facebook to get information on education and career prospects. The main difference between developing a simple webpage presenting the result of SAA exercises and the effective use of social networks to promote the knowledge of this information stands in the fact that in the former case youth need to actively look for information while in the second, the providers actively reach youth who are already part of the social network. The use of one or the other strategy of diffusion can lead to substantially different results.
How well do the providers of SAA information use social networks? Not well enough. Across OECD countries less than 10% of respondents to a recent OECD study (OECD, forthcoming) report that social media are one of the channels used to disseminate skills needs information (Figure 2). Much should be done to improve and strengthen their use.
All in all, agreeing on skill needs is fundamental to develop a coherent response to skills imbalances. This can only be achieved if information is disseminated to all stakeholders in a pro-active way. For this, in turn, there is the need for the developers of skills anticipation exercises to engage their audience more effectively. One way to do so is to recognise the existence of a constellation of users, each valuing the information from skills assessment and anticipation exercises differently and each expecting it to serve different uses. Youth is an especially important category whose communication and information needs should hold a (more) crucial role in the design of effective SAA systems.