Putting ‘global skills’ in the spotlight

It was a pleasure to partner with the British Council on a ‘Global Skills Spotlight’ roundtable event on December 15th, when we welcomed a number of stakeholders from the skills and international development sectors for a discussion on Global Youth Employability. For me, the event was a great opportunity to hear from those with practical experience in skills provision, and a chance to dig deeper into questions around how we equip young people with the skills needed to succeed in today’s interconnected world, as well as what these skills should include.

The event started from the UK context and then broadened out to include an international perspective, with country-specific input from India. I began by presenting key findings from ‘Turbulent Times: Skills for a Global World’, the report of our investigation with OCR into employer’s views about how well the UK is coping, and is likely to cope, with the unpredictable demands of a global world. We then heard from Leighton Ernsberger, Head of Skills at British Council India who introduced their report ‘An Overview of India’s Evolving Skills Development Landscape’, highlighting the challenges facing India and the initiatives being undertaken to address them.

What particularly resonated with me during the discussion that followed is the need for skills provision to be a holistic process, whereby the way we think of and define ‘skills’ moves beyond technical and vocational skills (as per traditional TVET definitions) to include skills such as collaboration, communication and problem solving – essential for participation in a changing, global world. Indeed, by equipping young people with this ‘global’ skill set, we are working to ensure that all young people have what they need to not only fulfil their potential, but also work towards addressing the challenges we as a global community face.

There appears to be a growing consensus around this broader vision for skills acquisition. Although models advocated by various organisations differ, they all provide useful approaches to framing similar ideas. For example, the World Economic Forum has categorised what it terms “21st Century Skills” into foundational literacies such as literacy and cultural and civic literacy; competencies, such as critical thinking and creativity; and character qualities, such as curiosity and adaptability. The British Council meanwhile has articulated ‘skills’ in terms of ‘core’ skills such numeracy, ‘employability’ skills such as self-management, vocational skills, and ‘enterprise’ skills such as commercial awareness. From just these two examples, there are common threads running throughout.

Towards the end of the event participants were reminded of the global context of our discussion, particularly the burgeoning youth population in developing countries. In this setting, 21st century skills such as adaptability and enterprise become even more important in enabling young people to fulfil their potential and become active members of their communities. This is no less relevant in the UK, where ‘a job for life’ is no longer the norm, and young people will be required to re-train and upskill throughout their lives. As we move towards the 2030 goals for sustainable development, it’s clear that global skills development will have a central part to play; both in facilitating lifelong learning, as well as helping to achieve the goals themselves.


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