Opinion: The workforce is international – and we need a skills standard to match

Author: Mike Dawe | Date: 6 Jul 2016

With an increasingly mobile workforce, we need to do more to recognise skills across borders, says Mike Dawe

Mike DaweToday’s employment marketplace is increasingly global and mobile, with more people moving abroad for work. In fact the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates there are approximately 232 million international migrants across the world, while 2014 research by the Boston Consulting Group suggested that ‘a willingness to work abroad has become the new normal’.
In addition to this movement of workers, employee demographics are changing around the world, contributing to ongoing concerns about skills gaps. For example, the Middle East has a booming youth population, whereas countries like the UK and US will see the number of over-50s rise significantly in the next few years. It’s easy to see why globalisation and the need for mobile, skilled workers is not just reality, but a necessity too.
But if we want skills to be able to travel across the globe, we need some kind of global standard or benchmark; something that enables an individual to develop their skills in one place and have these skills recognised elsewhere.
Such a standard would give assurances to employers about prospective employees and their skill levels. Frustratingly, no such standard exists and few seem to be concerned about that. This makes it harder for skilled individuals to find work, and for employers to find the skilled workforces they need. Unfortunately it can also set the stage for unfair recruitment practices of migrant workers.
There are several good reasons why international skills standards don’t exist. For one, there’s no single organisation responsible for setting the global standard in skills. But even if there was, there are so many industries to consider. Think of all the different jobs you can do in the Middle East alone, then multiply that five-fold. It’s difficult to know where to start, who the right people are to engage with about developing standards in the first place, how to make the standards work, and how to keep them current when industry is evolving so quickly.
That’s not to say there aren’t glimmers of hope; some international organisations are making headway in some industries. The catering industry is a prime example, where City & Guilds is working in partnership with the World Association of Chefs Societies to offer the first Global Culinary Certification. The skills a chef needs in Dubai, New York or Singapore are the same, so global certification means that a chef’s skills can be recognised everywhere.
While a set of beautifully packaged, comprehensive standards that are recognised in every country and industry is probably a fairytale, meaningful progress can still be made to improve the current situation. And it all starts with cooperation.
We need governments to work together and, informed by labour market information, actively discuss their skills deficits, before exploring which skills individuals from other countries could bring. This in turn will help to shape their migration strategies.
Big businesses also need to be involved in these conversations. After all, they too benefit from a highly trained workforce. They have a significant role to play in working with education providers and awarding organisations to articulate what skills standards should cover and ensure they are built to respond to the needs of the workplace.
Equally, we need to adopt better ways to recognise skills across borders. Skills can be the passport to a new job in a new place – if people’s skills can be recognised and verified – and be transported with them wherever they go. That means looking beyond CVs and résumés for a better way to verify skills and capabilities. At the City & Guilds Group, we see a huge opportunity to do this by using digital badging and credentialing, and recently set up a new business, Digitalme, on this basis.
Skills standards, of course, are only one piece in the global workforce puzzle. There are a number of other issues that need to be addressed, such as the often negative perception of migration and expat workers. And as businesses increasingly operate on an international scale, they will need to become more attuned to different cultures, and ensure their staff have the skills and know-how to operate internationally.
Even making people more aware of the impact of globalisation is key. In our recent Skills Confidence research – which surveyed 8,000 employees across the UK, US, India and South Africa – almost one-third said that globalisation would have no impact on their job prospects in the future.
Although developing international skills standards will take time, it isn’t an impossible dream. And the payoff to the global economy – and to individuals – could be enormous.
Mike Dawe is group director at City & Guilds Group