A gold standard to develop young talent: Can it work in emerging markets?

Youth Skills

A gold standard to develop young talent: Can it work in emerging markets?

Photo: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps.

In the global youth unemployment crisis, Germany sets the gold standard for technical and vocational education and training. And that’s the problem. Is the gold standard too high-cost and high-touch to be adopted elsewhere?

It has to be adapted first, according to Branka Minic, member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Youth Unemployment and founder of Future Work Consulting. In an interview with Global Envision, Minic explained how she and an international team are building a simpler, low-cost alternative to Germany’s dual system of education.

So named because it combines apprenticeships with learning in vocational college classrooms, the dual system prepares the six of every 10 young people opting out of university study for good mid-level jobs in the manufacturing and service sectors. It has helped Germany achieve the lowest youth unemployment rate in the world.

Minic and her colleagues have mined elements of the system to create the TEN Youth Program, a hybrid model designed to perform anywhere, including the developing world.

“Apprenticeships are the best way to gain job-specific skills in any country,” Minic said.

But while the dual system depends on government subsidies and concerted action across the public, private and nonprofit sectors, TEN Youth engages employers to take direct and affordable action in their own interest. Especially in emerging markets, companies face a severe talent shortage. The program helps them to grow talent among unemployed high school and college graduates over a few months rather than a few years. The aim is for apprentices to be productive – and for companies to recoup their investments in them – within 12 months.

How can so much be achieved so quickly? TEN Youth squeezes waste out of the process of developing young talent with Lean, a set of principles and tools used by top companies around the world to improve the quality of goods and services, while reducing their cost. Apprentices are screened to ensure that they already have the motivation to succeed, as well as basic literacy, numeracy and language skills. In this way, training can focus on:

  • The functional skills that are critical for success in a given job and that directly support a company’s growth and productivity
  • Four behavioral skills -- reliability, flexibility, future orientation and problem solving -- that employers look for in apprentices

TEN Youth offers a detailed protocol for each of these two main lines of skill building. But the protocols are more like menus than blueprints. They can be adapted to an employer’s specific needs and to different national, sectoral and cultural contexts. For example, mid-sized and even small firms can scale down the protocols to match their resources.

Though TEN Youth maps the shortest and most economical path to developing young talent, developing the program has been an ambitious and difficult venture. “The model has been researched, tested and refined since 2010,” said Minic.

A diverse and seasoned international team has driven the process, including Subramanian Rangan and Ebba Hansmeyer of INSEAD, Shantanu Prakash of India’s Educomp and Nicholas Davis of the World Economic Forum. Harnessing their perspectives has been both a strength and a challenge.

The team explained the TEN Youth model in detail in a special “Youth and Economic Opportunities” issue of Innovations published last September. “It took a long time and lots of drafts to finish the paper,” Minic said.

At the time of the interview, Minic had just returned from London, where a final round of pilots is starting. Three more will follow in India, the Middle East, and the U.S. “So far, companies are quick to support the program. And both managers and apprentices are positive about it,” she said. The TEN Youth team expects to publish the results of the pilots and a validated concept by the end of the year.

Of course, the real test will come with the program’s global launch, which is planned for 2015. The market entry strategy for TEN Youth is not yet clear. It may evolve into a business, a non-profit or some kind of partnership. “We are building a viable model that all kinds of companies can adopt and engage with,” said Minic, “but how can we take it to market and make it successful in the least amount of time?”

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