Friday, August 14, 2009

Basic ICT skills training | only one piece of the puzzle for employment

There are a wide variety of factors that affect the employment opportunities of low-skilled and unemployed groups. As I discussed in a previous blog, trying to map all these factors is fruitless since it is very difficult to pin point what factor - or combination of factors - was more influential for achieving positive employment outcomes and the extent to which the experience of one individual can be extrapolated to represent an entire group.

For the research conducted in Washington State, we wanted to know specifically the contribution of ICT skills training program to promote employment outcomes. However, since ICT skills training is one of many employment-related training and services that workforce organizations provide, it is necessary to expand a bit the array of variables to paint a more comprehensive picture of the contribution of these programs to employment outcomes. In few words, we need to put the contribution of ICT skills training to employability in perspective.

NGOs and public agencies working on workforce development usually provide a wide array of services and types of training to up-skill and/or re-skill unemployed groups. The basket of services these organizations provide depend on the target group they work with, the resources available, the organizations' social mission, the locality, and the barriers to employment that their beneficiaries face, to name a few. For example, an NGO that serves immigrant communities would have a bigger emphasis on language training, appropriate housing, cultural integration, etc., than an organization that works with dislocated workers laid off because of the closure of a local manufacturing plant.

The different methods and channels used to provide the training and services also vary across organizations. In my experience working with organizations in Washington State, I found three somewhat distinct types of service-provision:

  1. Organizations that provide all the training and services in-house
  2. Organizations that function as intermediaries or referrals for unemployed individuals and provide bridges to partners for different types of training and services
  3. Organizations that provide some training in-house and partner with other organizations to expand the basket of services available for their beneficiaries

The types of service provision are not always so clear cut. In many instances, organizations that provide all the training and services in-house look for partnerships with Community Colleges, for example, to provide longer term career paths to unemployed individuals. Regardless of the methods and channels used, there are certain employment-training and services that are available across all the organizations. Basic adult education, basic ICT skills training, job search tools and online applications, preparation of CVs and interviews, language training, industry-specific training (welding, office assistant, bank teller, etc), and different ways for connecting to employers are among the most commonly available.

Although employment outcomes are not only determined by the types of services and training available, it is important to understand that regardless of the mission, target group, and partners all the organizations interviewed for this study recognized that ICT skills training, albeit crucial, is only one piece of the puzzle to improve the opportunities for low-skilled, older workers, and long-term unemployed individuals in today's labor market. There is no techno-centric approach to employability among these organizations in Washington State and that is a fact.

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