Bridging the Global Skills Divide to Develop a Workforce for the Future

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Written by Allan Goodman and Sharon Witherell

With globalization and technology changing the way the world works and how we work, how can educators and employers prepare today’s students and professionals to succeed in the 21st-century workforce?

Already some forecast that 40 percent of the workforce in the United States—nearly 60 million workers—will be freelance by 2020. Moreover, the upcoming Generation Z tends to be more entrepreneurial and self-directed. At the same time, today’s employers in the United States and around the globe are under strong pressure to find employees who have both the technical knowledge that is in such high demand and “soft skills” such as critical thinking, problem solving, time management and good communication.

Non-traditional employment calls for a new infrastructure, strategy, and attitude for workers, companies, and communities alike, according to Jeremy Neuner, co-author of “The Rise of the Naked Economy.” It may seem like there is a tug of war between companies and workers, he notes, but in fact they share common goals: using technology and mobility to maximize productivity, innovation, and well-being.

The success of the global economy will depend on how well these common goals are met. At IIE, we believe international education has a powerful role to play in bridging the global skills divide to develop the future workforce.

Today, “international education” goes far beyond the traditional concept of academic exchange. In a society that is increasingly interconnected, international education has expanded to encompass any program of study, scholarship or training that involves moving people and ideas from one nation or culture to another in order to gain the profound benefits of intellectual and cultural engagement. Most importantly, in today’s world, international education enables people to go beyond building connections to solving problems together.

International experience has become one of the most important components of a 21st century education. At IIE, we believe that individuals who have international experience are best prepared to contribute to the workforce of the future. They bring cross-cultural awareness, which is critical to diverse teams; language skills needed to work with colleagues and customers in a multilingual world; and the ability to bring global thinking skills to bear on complex issues.

Governments are turning to international education to expand research and development and cultivate a national workforce able to compete in the global economy. Socially responsible companies are developing international education strategies to leverage their assets for social impact and cultivate the talent to support innovation and growth and advance their business goals. Universities are building partnerships and creating international programs to expand their world-wide reach and effectiveness. And international opportunities are inspiring students to grow intellectually and professionally and preparing them to flourish in our global society.

At IIE’s Summit on Generation Study Abroad last October, educators from universities around the world joined together with government and corporate leaders to address how to make it possible for more students to access these opportunities, and how to change the paradigm so study abroad is viewed as a necessity rather than a luxury. With only ten percent of U.S. undergraduate students studying abroad, far too many are graduating from college without gaining the international experience they will need.

Worldwide, IIE has had the privilege to work with corporations and foundations to design programs that will develop the next generation of leaders, and to work with governments to meet the diverse training needs of their populations, ensuring that a pipeline of individuals are prepared for in-demand careers.

Initiatives such as WeTech (Women Enhancing Technology) build and support a robust pipeline of women and girls in STEM globally, providing access and skills needed to use technology while becoming innovators and creators who will have the capacity to address industry and society’s most critical challenges.

Designing and leading programs with committed companies like Qualcomm, Goldman Sachs, and Verizon, we have seen the impact of activities that engage women from under-served groups and those who may not otherwise have access to leadership training and professional development opportunities, resulting in significant social and economic returns and expanded workforce participation.

From Qualcomm’s Global Scholars program of scholarships and mentoring in China, India, and Korea, to the Government of Brazil’s Scientific Mobility Program, and USAID’s Scholarships and Training for Egyptian Professionals (STEP) in Egypt, the common goal of many of the hundreds of diverse programs we implement is to build a skilled and entrepreneurial workforce, developing the world’s talent to meet the complex needs of the global market.

There are no limits to the types of opportunities that can be created. We worked with ExxonMobil to develop and manage scholarship and training programs in engineering and geoscience to develop human capacity in countries where they do business around the world. And we helped Alcoa create its Advancing Each Generation: Global Internships for Unemployed Youth to provide workforce development opportunities to nearly 750 unemployed youth in Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States with the aim of building private-public partnerships to increase their employability through access to work-related experience, leadership skills, and resources on post-secondary career and training education.

IIE team members around the world shape the international exchange experience of some 30,000+ students, scholars, and professional entrusted to us annually, connecting them to beneficial academic and professional opportunities that will enable them to bridge the workforce development gap in many emerging economies, including their host and home countries.

As governments and employers in both developed and emerging economies look to the future, we urge them to consider providing the kind of international education experiences that will enable a new generation of professionals to meet their workforce needs.

About the authors: Allan E. Goodman is president and CEO of the Institute of International Education (IIE)—the leading not-for-profit organization in the field of international educational exchange and development training. Goodman has a PhD in government from Harvard, an MPA from the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a BS from Northwestern University. Sharon Witherell is Director of Public Affairs at IIE.