How WUSC is Helping Employers and Training Centres Navigate the Challenges of COVID-19
How Employers and Training Centres can Navigate Together the Challenges of COVID-19
Globally, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates there are more than 64 million unemployed young people around the world, with a further 145 million youth working but living in poverty.
Many sectors in many countries, including healthcare, construction, and automotive technologies, are experiencing rapid growth, creating exciting new job openings. Despite these opportunities, youth face many barriers to developing the skills and experiences they need to get hired.
Giving employers a platform to engage in the redevelopment of relevant training opportunities
One key barrier is the relevance of training programs that are available to youth. As different industries rapidly evolve to meet the changing needs of their customers and the changing technological landscape, schools often struggle to adapt their training programs to equip students with the technical and soft skills employers expect.
Engaging these employers in the redevelopment of training curriculum and delivery is key to developing new opportunities that more adequately respond to the needs of students, training centres, and growing businesses.
Employer engagement in Sri Lanka helped students improve their employment success by 22%
From 2014 – 2019, WUSC worked with training partners in Sri Lanka to engage employers in the development of new training programs and approaches in growing sectors. Methods included the creation of business stakeholder forums where industry leaders could convene to discuss sector-wide employment needs, challenges, and opportunities. They also included the participation of employers in curriculum redevelopment, to better ensure the training material would equip students with the skills employers need. One of our most successful initiatives was the formalization of employer-training centre relationships which committed employers to hiring program graduates.
As a result of this shift in our vocational training programming, we saw 403 employers fill 4,081 job vacancies, one-third of which were filled by young women. Overall, 90% of graduates found employment following their training. This represented an improvement of 22% from our previous, more supply-driven phase of programming which had wrapped up in 2014.
Based on the promising evidence from our work in Sri Lanka, WUSC has been rolling out similar programs with partners in Jordan and Iraq. But the recent closure of training centres around the world has threatened to halt and even reverse the progress that our partners have made.
The current situation facing students and training centres in adapting to COVID-19
Over the past couple of years, we have been working with employers and training centres in Jordan and Iraq to establish productive relationships and trust, as well as between those centres and the communities they serve.
Though we have been pleased by the active participation of employers in the redevelopment of training programs, and by the number of students who have enrolled, we know we need to continue to build the evidence of the impact of this approach to ensure its sustainability and to rebuild the reputation of training centres as viable pathways to employment for youth, and as credible providers of quality employees.
When the pandemic hit, 14 students were actively enrolled in the program in Jordan, with a new cohort of 44 students due to start in the coming weeks. In Iraq, we had only just begun with the first cohort of 300 students.
Our partners knew they needed to adapt quickly to ensure students could continue their studies. Otherwise, many families and employers would lose out on their investment in training, potentially further damaging the relationship between training centres, employers, and communities – the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve!
We are supporting our training partners and their students to switch to an online training methodology to help students continue their studies during this time. So far, all 14 of the first cohort of students in Jordan to make the move to online learning have been able to graduate from their training programs despite their countries being on lockdown.
Though there have been several benefits to this approach, including removing some of the existing barriers to training, such as unsafe transportation and unaffordable childcare, it has not been without its challenges.
Ensuring employers remain engaged during the shift to online training
One significant challenge is the difficulty in ensuring employers remain engaged in these initiatives as they make the transition online. We are working with our partners to identify and test innovative ways to continue to develop relationships between employers, training centres, and students. Here are a few of the great ideas we have developed with our partners and that we are now exploring with employers:
Directly Observe Trainings
By moving the training program online, employers can be provided with access to the platform, where they can actively observe the class. Not only can this serve to reinforce their trust in the capacity of the training providers, it can also provide them with an opportunity to reflect on ways in which the training programs can be further improved.
Share their Experiences as Guest Speakers
Online travel platforms can also reduce the burden on participation of employers as guest speakers. At the click of button, they can hop into a class where they can provide direct guidance to students on the skills they seek and where students can have unique access to industry experts to whom they can ask questions.
Co-develop Digital Learning Content
As training centres seek to update their learning materials to better suit online platforms, employers can be engaged in providing practical examples and case studies that better illustrate key theoretical concepts.
Provide New Opportunities to Existing Employees
Employers often struggle with finding ways to help their existing employees skill up as well. But working a full-time job does not allow much flexibility for employees to participate in training programs. Through online platforms, employees can more easily access new learning material that they could use to further refine their skills and advance their careers.
Digital training opens new opportunities, but cannot do it all.
In many ways, the current crisis has forced us and our partners to be more creative in how we can continue to fulfill our mission of improving young people’s access to quality employment opportunities. Though many of the adaptations we have made have been designed to help our students overcome the challenges brought on by social distancing measures, we are already witnessing some of the ways in which these new approaches could have many more benefits that extend well beyond the current context.
However, we are also seeing the ways in which digital solutions cannot fulfill all of our students’ needs. For example, some students have not been able to access the technology required to continue their studies. Though we have been able to provide tablets and internet access to some students to meet their immediate needs, a more sustainable solution will be required as the need for online solutions continues.
Furthermore, though the move to online training has opened up new opportunities for employer engagement, it has not been able to replace one of the most important enhancements many of our partners have made in their programs: providing students with hands-on training through site visits and internships.
Nevertheless, digital solutions have much to offer existing training programs and we look forward to continuing to support our partners in exploring how we can better incorporate some of these new ways of working to enhance training delivery, expand access, and improve quality well after this crisis is over.