By Michel Carton and Sylvia Garcia Delahaye, NORRAG.
The Sustainable Development Goals pay some level of attention to training and skills development, with goals such as “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (Goal 4) and “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all” (Goal 8). But are they really new in the international development agenda?
Technical and Vocational Education and Training and Skills Development (TVET/TVSD) have been a part of development strategies since the beginning of international development cooperation. From the 1950s and during the 1960s, TVET has been an important field supported by bilateral and multilateral agencies as part of their “modernization” strategy for developing countries.
Since the end of the 1970s, and especially during the 1980s with the Structural Adjustment Programs, TVET has been increasingly considered as a private field of investment. This vision was reinforced during the 1990s with the ideological and political push for reducing the role of the state, which led to a decline of international development cooperation in TVET. In 1996, NORRAG in collaboration with Swiss Development Cooperation and ILO launched a Working Group for International Cooperation on Skills Development to challenge this trend as well as the development strategies in the area of education and training, and to inform and influence TVET policies and stakeholders.
In parallel, starting from the 1990s, a shift in meaning took place among development cooperation agencies in favour of skills development. Indeed, skills development has gradually become a development strategy based on the universal vision of the Education for All (EFA) (Jomtien World Conference 1990), as discussed in NORRAG News 38:
Given its combining training, apprenticeships, and formal and non formal programmes, it should be clear that its approach to this suggested target (Education for all) covered not just formal skills, and not just non formal skills, but both. In other words, its usage of skills was quite close to the notion of skills development today, even though that term was not yet in 1990 in common agency usage (King, 2007).
The EFA goals emphasize the notion of skills instead of the one of qualification, with the aim of building a productive and integrated workforce able to maintain national economic growth. Thus, skills development can be defined as:
The acquisition of practical competencies, knowledge and attitudes necessary to perform a trade or occupation in the labour market. Skills can be acquired either through formal public or private schools, institutions or centres, informal, traditional apprenticeships, or non-formal semi-structured training (King and Palmer, 2007).
Thereafter, the notion of skills development was reinforced by the goals proposed by the Dakar World Education Forum in 2000, specifically Goal 3 “Youth and adult skills: Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes” and Goal 6 “Quality of education: Improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills”.
From the 2000s, TVSD has been seen as a central tool for linking both social and economic agendas and as a way of ensuring that globalization is infused with a social inclusion focus. Consequently, the target groups of skills development policies are often poor populations, marginalized groups, women and, increasingly, young people (see UNESCO, ILO and ADB/OECD). Indeed, skills development for youth integration has become a crucial development strategy reflected in the increase of ODA for TVSD.
Nowadays, in many countries that are characterized by youth underemployment or unemployment and by social, political and religious tensions, a “youth bulge” is perceived as both a potential and a vector of “fragility” or “instability”. The lack of youth integration opportunities in some contexts is a serious cause for concern and provides the premise to implement education and training programmes as a means of mitigating urban violence. This issue is addressed in two of NORRAG’s programmes of work: (1) international perspectives on technical and vocational skills development policies and practice and (2) urban violence, youth and education.
Therefore, the SDGs 4 and 8 are not completely new components of the global development strategies. Instead of being formulated and presented as interconnected issues, they are reflected as separate goals in the SDGs. The current emphasis given to skills development for youth employment raises the question of how these segmented goals (especially Goals 4.4, 8.5 and 8.6) should be articulated and implemented in a coordinated manner. Their impact in terms of TVET/TVSD policy design and implementation at the international, regional and national levels are definitely the key issues to keep a watchful eye on in the near future.
 Garcia Delahaye S., 2015, “Skills development, social network and employment of youth in India: Socio-professional integration of former street children supported by local NGOs of Kolkata”, PhD Dissertation, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva.
 Garcia Delahaye S., op. cit.
Michel Carton is the Executive Director of NORRAG. Email: email@example.com
Sylvia Garcia Delahaye is a Research and Programme Officer for NORRAG. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,300 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.