Increasing the skill base has become a development priority for growth. Hence, development planners are after increasing investment in skill development. But is there a natural correlation between skill base and prosperity? For example, if we increase technical education enrollment by 30 per cent, will it have a proportionate contribution to job creation and economic growth? Furthermore, due to technological progression, the shelf life of technological skills has been getting shorter. On the other hand, skill requirement in production has been falling due to the growing role of capital machinery. Besides, the role of codified knowledge in skills for performing many production jobs has been falling. For example, how to solve mathematical equations is no longer needed to optimise design, as that role is being played by software-centric automation. Hence, for leveraging skill development, we have to address an array of challenges. All three major stakeholders such as (i) skill recipients, (ii) skill development institutions, and (iii) firms in making use of skill base should play appropriate roles to make skill development relevant to economic growth, job creation, and prosperity.
The objective of skill development is to facilitate the formation of new firms and the scaling up of existing ones. Hence, as opposed to just focusing on producing more degree holders in different skills, we should focus on their linkage to meet the objective. To grasp the problem, we may divide skill base into four levels of maturity such as (i) understanding, (ii) applying, (iii) self-learning, and (iv) intellectual asset creation. For example, knowing about data structures, the syntax of a programming language, and how to write code to capture and process data, learners develop programming skills. But this understanding should be updated to the level of application so that learners can qualify to engineer a piece of software as per given specifications to perform certain data processing jobs. But as skills have limited shelf life, skill development demands continuous updating-preferably through self-learning. Hence, how to develop self-learning is an important attribute of developing skilled human resources. The next challenge of skill development is to empower target groups to attain the skill of developing an intellectual asset base and trade it, instead of just offering services through engineering and replication. Let's look into these issues within the context of the roles of different stakeholders.
INDIVIDUALS OR SKILL RECIPIENTS: Often times, academic and training institutions focus on developing the capability of understanding among skill recipients. It comprises remembering content, experimenting, and demonstrating micro solutions in a lab environment. This is a basic level of skill development, termed understanding. The next challenge of skill development is to empower skill recipients to apply their understanding in analyzing, evaluating, and engineering a solution as per specifications. We may call it applying understanding in engineering solutions as per customers' specifications. But unfortunately, due to technological progression, the shelf life of many or all skills is getting shorter. For facing this reality, professionals are compelled to keep upskilling. But does it mean that they should keep going to academic and training institutions? Of course, that helps. But in many cases, a more effective and efficient means is to leverage self-learning ability. A recent survey indicates that more than 80 per cent of software professionals find self-learning more effective than participating in training programmes to keep upskilling. Furthermore, on-job learning also plays a very important role in upskilling. Hence, skill development programmes should pay attention to honing self, group, and on-job learning abilities.
The most important challenge of skill development is to empower recipients to assess the market, detect emerging opportunities, develop intellectual assets, and trade them. It does not necessarily mean that such capability is only needed for innovators and startups. Such capability is vital for developing reusable design, software, and digital content assets. Due to the zero cost of copying, such asset development capability is vital for creating economies of scale advantage-an essential requirement for scaling up firms and increasing individual income. Despite the importance of skill development, often, such vital skill attribute is missing in our skill development perspective. By the way, such capability cannot be developed through short-term training. It requires a strong academic role.
ACADEMIC AND TRAINING INSTITUTIONS: Despite immense roles, academic and training institutions mostly focus on making learners familiar with codified knowledge and skill. They deliver knowledge, and help learners to practise them to grasp. But that is not sufficient to apply them to deliver solutions as per specifications. As a result, there has been a skill gap. Hence, skill development programmes should have the capacity of engaging and supervising students to work with the industry to solve practical problems. Hence, in addition to placing students in the industry as an intern, we need to focus on empowering faculty members to supervise learners, preferably in partnership with the industry, to solve real-life problems. Furthermore, to prepare learners for the future, skill development institutions should have their self-learning capacity-for detecting, predicting, and preparing for unfolding skill demand. On top of it, these institutions should be engaged in predicting unfolding innovation opportunities, undertaking collaborative R&D with the industry and students, and developing intellectual assets. Such exercise will play a vital role in fostering startups, giving future direction to the industry and enabling them to engage in intellectual asset trade, and empowering learners to develop intellectual assets
FIRMS AND INDUSTRY: Firms expect readily available skilled professionals to recruit. Such expectation is not only unmet but also unrealistic. Hence, they keep complaining about skill gaps. For addressing the skill gap of fresh graduates, the industry must work with academic and training institutions. Hence, they should begin the journey through an internship for facilitating acquiring existing skills. The next focus area for firms and the industry as a whole is to develop in-house capacity for fostering on-job learning for dealing with the ongoing upskilling requirements. To take it forward, they should engage with academic institutions in demonstration projects so that both students and their professionals can collaborate with faculty members to sharpen their skill base. The industry has also a role to keep monitoring and assessing emerging skills, and taking proactive roles to acquire, advance, and promote them to their professionals and clients. Last, but not the least, the requirement for the industry is to acquire an organisational capacity for technology and innovation management, and systematic intellectual asset development and trading. Due to a deficiency in this last element, firms in most of the less developed countries, including Bangladesh, cannot scale up with a growing profit margin.
Yes, a skill base is vital for the growth of firms, economies, and nations. But classroom-based academic lessons and training for grasping an already codified set of skills are not sufficient to form new firms and scale up existing ones. On the other hand, complaining about skill gaps is not going to meet the industry's expectations. They need to actively collaborate and take responsibility for developing the skill base. Furthermore, they should focus on intellectual asset development and trading for taking full advantage of academia. Hence, we should have a clear path to graduation from understanding, applying, and self-learning to intellectual asset creation and trading. For this purpose, learners, skill-developing institutions, and industry should play a strong collaborative role.
M Rokonuzzaman, Ph.D is academic and researcher on technology, innovation and policy.