GUEST BLOG: Rob May "An international skills system is good for everyone"

CFID is delighted to share a guest blog by Rob May, CEO of ABE. Rob discusses job creation and building skill capacity and argues that "if we are going to meet dual economic and ID targets to build a future-proof global supply chain that encompasses developing countries and ensure that these countries are not on the wrong side of history when it comes to Industry 4.0, there needs to be joined-up policy entrepreneurship between DFID, DIT and DFE."

ABE is not-for-profit organisation which provides skills development and regulated qualifications in business and entrepreneurship to young people in developing countries.

An international skills system is good for everyone.

By Rob May, CEO ABE

These are uncertain times, but whatever happens over the next few months, the UK will have to chart a new course in the world and pursue stronger trade arrangements with developing countries. According to the World Bank, over the next two decades 90% of global growth will come from outside of Europe, and by 2030, 60% of GDP growth will come from emerging economies.

There has been a fundamental shift in UK trade and aid policy to focus heavily on tackling deep economic challenges in developing countries. One of these challenges is skills.

I’ve just returned from Southeast Asia, and countries which could be strong trading partners for a newly defined Global Britain are desperate to improve their human capital. Many of these countries are emerging from decades of isolation from the international community and under-investment in education.
Business leaders in an outward-looking Britain need to trust in the quality and predictability of the technical skills and management practices of those countries which are in their global supply chain and have confidence in the quality regimes which ensure that those skills are valid. At the same time emerging economies must develop indigenous talent quickly if they are to cross the chasm from cheap labour to high-skilled industries.

Is Germany winning the global skills race?

Germany is an interesting reference point here. The Federal Government has set about strengthening Germany’s international supply chain by improving vocational training in its partner countries. In 2013, a strategy was adopted by the German Government to establish the German Office for International Cooperation in Vocational Education and Training. According to Thorsten Schlich, an official at GOVET “We’re transferring the secret of Germany’s success to other countries because embedding (our skills system) in other countries is a win-win. It’s a way of ensuring qualified employees at production facilities in partner countries.” Germany is exporting its entire skills model, regulation and legislation to developing countries.

Instantly, the machinery of skills and talent creation in Mexico looks familiar to an investor in Berlin. This confluence of foreign policy and education policy, where bilateral educational co-operation deals mirror trade and investment agreements, is indeed a win-win because as well as extending ’soft power’ through stronger trade networks it creates global prosperity and social mobility.

In 2015, South Korea set out to reform its technical education system. Launching the intended reform at the annual conference of the Human Resources Development Service of Korea in Seoul, Germany was the only country that was invited to introduce its vocational education system, whilst representatives in the audience from Latin America (e.g. from Panama, Ecuador, Chile and Brazil) listened intently.
As the CEO of an education non-profit which for 45 years has specialised in building business skills for young people in developing nations, it’s frustrating that the UK approach to building an international skills system seems far from joined-up.

Over the years I have visited developing countries like Malawi, Guyana and Myanmar, where there is a real sense of urgency from young people to acquire business skills and join in a British global value chain.

International trade has a local impact

International skills development doesn’t just mean building batteries of skilled plant workers. One young man, Joseph Ayamga in Guyana could see that life was hard for many in his village – particularly widows and young people. He wanted to improve living conditions and could see that basket weaving was strong local skill that had the potential to be capitalised. We worked with Joseph to develop business skills and help him write a business case which enabled him to gain seed funding from the US Embassy. Joseph’s enterprise has brought great relief to his community, providing employment for hundreds of people which means they can now take care of their families, their children can afford education and they can access proper health care and food. A key element of the success of this venture has been international trade, Joseph’s beautiful hand-woven products are now sold all over the world, but it was through business skills training from a British NPO that Joseph gained the confidence and concepts to turn his idea into a high-impact enterprise.

What does the future hold for workers in developing nations?

Many countries have avoided mass unemployment due to the volume of unskilled, cheap labour they can provide, such as textile manufacturing in Bangalore or call centres in Dhaka. Globalisation has meant that we have come to rely on labour markets in other countries. But the rise of technologies in automation, 3D printing and AI could displace the unskilled, on a massive scale. Revenues that once flowed to the Far East could soon flow to the West Coast.

It seems that if we are going to meet dual economic and ID targets to build a future-proof global supply chain that encompasses developing countries and ensure that these countries are not on the wrong side of history when it comes to Industry 4.0, there needs to be joined-up policy entrepreneurship between DFID, DIT and DFE.

ABE is not-for-profit organisation which provides skills development and regulated qualifications in business and entrepreneurship to young people in developing countries. www.abeuk.com