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Skills for Jobs

February 4, 2014


  • A major challenge for all countries is a scarcity of workers with job-relevant combinations of cognitive, behavioral and technical skills.
  • Skills matter for better jobs and improved welfare.
  • The Bank supports efforts by low- and middle-income countries to build a skilled workforce.

All countries, regardless of income, face challenges in creating and sustaining adequate job opportunities for their citizens. The employment challenge is expected to become more acute as the world’s population — and the number of workers — grows, especially in developing countries. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that in the next 10 years, the world will need more than 600 million more jobs to avoid a further increase in unemployment.

Advancing the global jobs agenda requires preparing and enabling people to acquire and succeed in jobs through skills development. Skills matter for better jobs and improved welfare: People with more education and better skills are more likely to be employed in stable and satisfying jobs and also to earn more so they can better provide for their families. Skills matter for productivity: People with more education and skills are more valued by employers and are better able to take advantage of new economic opportunities and productivity-boosting technologies, and to raise the productivity of their co-workers or their businesses.

Countries with a more highly skilled workforce, as reflected in test scores on international assessments, have seen faster economic growth. Yet many developing countries lack the skilled citizenry required to grow their economies more rapidly. In some of the poorest countries, recent studies show that the share of primary school graduates who cannot read a single sentence ranges between 25 and 50 percent. In middle-income countries, the share of working-age adults with a high school diploma still averages only 30 percent.

A major challenge for all countries is a scarcity of workers with job-relevant combinations of cognitive, behavioral and technical skills. Firms in developing countries rank acquiring appropriately skilled workers as one of their top concerns. The capacity to learn new skills is essential in a globalized economy.


The Bank supports efforts by low- and middle-income countries to build a skilled workforce, as a central part of the Banks’ mission to end poverty and promote shared prosperity. Demand-driven skills development programs vary based on a country’s level of development, demography and resource base, and institutional capacity. The Bank provides financing, knowledge, and technical assistance to countries to invest in skills development throughout the life-cycle, starting in early childhood, through primary and secondary education, to tertiary education, technical and vocational education and job training programs.

The STEP Framework

A Bank-developed conceptual framework—Skills Toward Employment and Productivity (STEP)— helps policymakers, analysts, and researchers think through the design of systems to develop skills that will enhance productivity and growth. The framework guides the preparation of diagnostic work on skills, and design of policies across sectors to create productive employment and promote economic growth.

The framework focuses on five interlinked steps:

  • Step 1: Getting children off to the right start
  • Step 2: Ensuring that all students learn
  • Step 3: Building job-relevant skills
  • Step 4: Encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation
  • Step 5: Facilitating labor mobility and job matching

SABER- Workforce Development Initiative

The Bank’s Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER)-Workforce Development initiative focuses on the effectiveness of the education and training system in generating skills demanded by employers and the workplace. A diagnostic tool, developed on the basis of knowledge of global good practices in enhancing linkages between skills supply and demand, it helps inform policy dialogue on strategies for workforce development in low- and middle-income countries. The aim is to support policymakers in their search for promising options and approaches to achieve better results in workforce development.


Bank support for skills development programs has achieved the following country-specific results:

  • A job training program in Chile helped some 145,000 individuals with incomplete formal schooling, 92,000 of whom were able to finish their basic or secondary education.
  • In the Dominican Republic, the government is offering classroom-based vocational and life skills training, combined with internships, for at-risk youth ages 16-29. At 12-18 months after completion of the program, female participants were more likely to be employed, earn more and find satisfaction in their work, when compared to those in a control group.
  • In India, a project is improving the quality of technical education – including building the skills of India’s rapidly expanding workforce – almost doubling the employment rate of undergraduate students, from 41% to 76%, from 2002 to 2009.
  • In Uganda, the government has adopted a national plan to reform business, technical and vocational education and training. To assess barriers to the plan, officials have deployed theSystems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER) tool, which led to a task force to build stronger collaboration among training institutions, employers and industry stakeholders.