In recent years, skills development has become a priority among developed and developing countries alike. Having a skilled workforce has been recognized as paramount to boosting competitiveness in an increasingly global and interdependent economic environment, fostering innovation and business creation and increasing productivity. As individuals with the right skills and knowledge are more likely to find employment, skills development can also have positive effects in reducing unemployment, raising incomes, and improving standards of living.
Equipping the workforce with job-relevant skills has proven to be a challenge around the world. Mismatches between skills demand and supply are a common occurrence; school leavers and graduates struggle to find jobs that are commensurate with their education and training while employers struggle to fill vacancies. Employers lament the scarcity of skills considered essential for business competitiveness in the current economy that demands quick adaptation, innovation and flexibility. Unexperienced youth have trouble finding employment, but so do experienced workers with outdated skills.
The World Bank Group, in its quest to end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity, has joined efforts with countries and multilateral development partners to ensure that individuals have access to quality education and training opportunities and that employers can find the skills they need to operate. It provides financial and analytical assistance to governments in a wide range of areas, from system and institutional development (e.g. establishing a quality assurance authority or a levy-grant scheme), to training provision (e.g. providing training vouchers to vulnerable youth or financing re-training of unemployed adults).
Important knowledge gaps remain on how best to design specific policy interventions on skills. For this reason the World Bank Group is also engaged in program and policy research and analysis. Among the portfolio of analytical work on skills, there are two initiatives which have applied standardized tools in several countries, generating internationally comparable data: STEP Skills Measurement and SABER-Workforce Development (WfD). The STEP program consists of two survey instruments that collect information on the supply and demand for skills in urban areas: a household survey and an employer survey. It has been implemented in waves, the first in 2012 in Bolivia, Colombia, Ghana, Lao RD, Ukraine, Vietnam, and the Yunnan Province (China); the second in 2013 in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kenya, and Macedonia FYR; and the third in 2016 in Serbia, Kosovo, Libya, and the Philippines. SABER-WfD focuses on the institutional structures and practices through which education and training policies are articulated and implemented and has been implemented in more than 30 countries around the world.