A BERF Skills for Competitiveness Evidence and Learning Note which identified key lessons from India on how to boost productivity and jobs, has been praised by the World Bank Group as an innovative report which provides valuable evidence from DFID’s projects on how skills can be used to drive competitiveness.
DFID’s Skills for Competitiveness- Lessons from the Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for Africa (SITA) Programme has identified and addressed a range of constraints to productivity, investment and international trade in East Africa. The SITA programme is being delivered by the International Trade Centre from 2014 to 2020 and aims to increase Indian investment in East Africa, and in turn, exports from East Africa to India.
BERF’s analysis of SITA components showed that skills deficits are closely linked to other constraints, and also that certain skills — such as in digital and social media — can enable firms to increase productivity or access new export markets in ways that they had not necessarily foreseen.
East Africa faces a wide array of business environment challenges, and its constituent countries differ starkly, from Rwanda’s top-quintile performance in the Doing Business rankings to Ethiopia’s position in the bottom quintile (with India ranking closer to the middle). A lack of skills is a small but significant part of this picture, often cited by firms as an obstacle, but rarely as the biggest challenge they face.
SITA has incorporated the private sector into its skills for competitiveness interventions in a variety of ways. Companies guide and host apparel training through a newly created apex body. Firms play a more active role in training new recruits through well designed internships. Indian investors are taking responsibility for farmer training for crops they want to import. And women entrepreneurs have taken the initiative to establish informal mentorships.
The Evidence and Learning Note used evidence from interviews with implementers, partners and beneficiaries to identify transferable lessons from SITA’s experience that could be of use to future skills for competitiveness programming. Some of its main conclusions are as follows:
- SITA benefited from the freedom to tackle interlinked challenges while building skills.
- Demand assessment is integral to skills for competitiveness programming, and a core weakness of much training is a mismatch between skills taught and commercial demand.
- Government programmes usually focus on “skills for employment” (preparing the unemployed for work), which is cheaper per recipient but has less impact than more intensive programmes aiming to catalyse investment, export or business formation.
- A common feature of SITA projects was the ability to rapidly prototype training, effectively incorporating feedback from the private sector — which is frequently beyond the capacity of government programmes.
- White-collar job-seekers in East Africa frequently lack core job-hunting skills, which presents a rare opportunity for a simple, high-volume, low-unit-cost intervention.
- General education in East Africa tends to contain little practical training, which can make for a difficult transition to skills-based courses, and also means that educational achievement is not a great predictor of success in vocational training. SITA exploited this to include more women and less affluent students by screening candidates for motivation and problem-solving ability.
- SITA illustrates that a well-integrated gender-focused component can have a portfolio-wide effect, by linking in networks of women-led businesses and reframing interventions.
- Mechanisms such as internships that facilitate training within companies have a deservedly poor reputation in East Africa, but can be effective with good facilitation.
- In the agricultural sector, SITA has found that foreign buyers will take responsibility for farmer training once they are convinced that a product is commercially viable.