There is still ongoing debate in some countries around skills vs. diplomas. Countries are struggling to get out of the economic crisis and are in continuous search of finding the best way to do it. Education is definitely a way forward. But education means both skills and diplomas and the solution is not about choosing one over the other but understanding that diplomas should not exclude the acquisition of skills. In the same way skills achievement of individuals should be backed up with diplomas, at least in the case of formal education.
But this is hard to achieve in countries were employers and the education system do not manage to find a consensus. Employers are asking for skills, the education system is working based on “diploma production”, the labour regulations seem to make “diplomas” win. It’s a difficult task for employers: what they really need in terms of skills for their employees and what the education system can offer. This as a typical lose-lose situation, where the education system does not meet the needs of the labour market and society.
The volume Skills, Not Just Diplomas. Managing Education for Results in Eastern Europe and Central Asia , published by the World Bank in 2011, argues that the skills problem relates more to the quality and relevance of the education provided than to problems of access. Also, the collection of systematic data on key skills-related performance issues is a crucial factor for improving the quality and relevance of the education system. The seven chapters of the book (1. The demand for skills in Europe and Central Asia (ECA); 2. Education and the supply of skills to the ECA market; 3. Resolving the skills shortage in the ECA region: a policy framework; 4. Managing for results at the pre-university level of education; 5.Managing for results in the tertiary education sector; 6. Advancing adult learning in ECA; 7. Extended summary: the path for education reforms in the ECA) provide a very good overview on the skills challenge and recommendations for reforms to manage education for results.
Analysis of adult learning systems in ECA countries is widely presented in the volume. Some important points to be retained from the book are the following:
- Employers complaining of a skills shortage are actually indicating that the skills they need cannot be found among new entrants who have left the education system
- Graduates of upper secondary and tertiary education appear to either not be learning enough while in school or acquiring skills that are not in demand on the labour market
- Even if continuing vocational education and training programmes are highly available, the people who take part in these programmes tend to be already skilled workers, rather than non-skilled and “non-productive” workers.
- Developing coherent strategies and establishing cooperation mechanisms among the main actors, represent two crucial steps for building the foundations for adult learning systems.
Lastly, by reading this volume we can understand how important it is that those who work in adult education need to cooperate with the tertiary and pre-university sectors and vice versa, in order to get a better picture of the factors that influence skills shortages among adults, while trying to achieve best ways to prepare, train and re-train adults that will be able to can with today’s labour markets and societies.
And for sure, the issue skills vs. diplomas is not a matter that concerns only the ECA countries. Expanding adult learning should be a top priority even for more advanced European economies.
Maria Toia is Director of the Romanian Institute for Adult Education and Executive Committee Member of the European Basic Skills Network. She has an interest in research and policy development for the adult education field, with a focus on adult basic education and professionalisation of adult educators.