“The workers that we need are people with logical reasoning abilities, who are able to read the manufacturer’s literature, to understand it, to analyze the problem, and to draw conclusions.  The kind who want to learn on their own and develop.” This was what the Human Resources Manager of a vehicle importer said to me, describing the profile of the mechanics and diagnosticians she was seeking. Perhaps the last sentence made some of us raise an eyebrow – these are quite high requirements, ones that we might expect to see for positions such as engineers or programmers, for example. However, the introduction of computerized operating systems into vehicles, hybrid cars, and other developments in the industry, are creating a growing need for mechanics who can quickly learn new automated systems, independently analyze and understand faults, and find ways to resolve them. This phenomenon is not unique to the car industry. In recent years, technological advances have led to dramatic changes in the world of work: jobs disappear, others appear, the content of many jobs is changing, and consequently, the requirements are too. These effects are seen in all sectors of the economy and at all levels, from the production worker to the chief executive.

Back to the Human Resources Manager. The problem is that it is actually very hard for her to find suitable employees. Rapid technological developments are creating ever-growing gaps between the needs of the labor market and the skills available. In a survey of employers conducted by the World Economic Forum, in the framework of The Future of Jobs 2020 report, skill gaps were ranked in first place in a list of obstacles to the adoption of new technologies.

Life-long learning – the key to dealing with the skills gap

How can this gap be overcome?  Among international bodies such as the OECD and the World Economic Forum, there is agreement that the way to deal with the skills gap is by creating mechanisms for life-long learning, so that workers can upgrade their skills, and acquire new ones, throughout their working lives.  But how should we go about this in practice?  Here the replies are already less clear.  Today, there are numerous online platforms for independent learning, whether international platforms such as Coursera and Udacity, or Israeli platforms such as Campus IL. Many large international companies offer their employees courses and opportunities for learning and professional development within the organization. But ironically, the less-skilled workers, the ones who need upgrades most, tend not to take advantage of these services.  According to the OECD Skills Outlook report published last month, the chances for adults without academic education to be disengaged from upskilling opportunities are twice as high as for academics. It was also found that while one out of three adults with high educational attainment sought learning opportunities, among adults with low educational attainment, the rate was one in ten. Another challenge affects small companies that usually lack the resources and organizational abilities required to create opportunities for learning and training for their employees.  According to the OECD, over 90% of large companies offer training opportunities to their staff, compared to only 57% of small companies.

The solution, therefore, must come from the combined efforts of three interested parties: the government, which has an interest in increasing productivity and preventing low-skilled workers from dropping out of the labor market; employers, who need skilled employees for their businesses; and employees, who have an interest in remaining relevant to the job market and acquiring the skills that will help them to advance professionally. The OECD claims that cooperation between the sectors is critical to the creation of successful mechanisms for life-long learning.  The organization adds that such mechanisms must include, in addition to specific vocational training, the broader skills needed to handle technology and digitization in general.  These skills are not necessarily linked to a particular type of job, but they help employees to adapt to long-term changes in the world of work.

Skill-Up Program – the first mechanism in Israel for life-long learning

These insights led us to set up ‘Skill-Up’.  Skill-Up is an innovative pilot program of Joint-Tevet and the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services, that, for the first time in Israel’s history, creates a mechanism to help companies develop their employees’ skills and adapt them to changing market needs. The program offers employers two tools.

The first tool, which is open to businesses of all sizes, is a workshop developing digital skills and independent learning abilities. In this 30-hour Zoom workshop, employees learn how to deal with new technologies in the work environment; they learn what to do when encountering an unfamiliar problem, and how to use digital tools to work more efficiently. The workshop incorporates project-based learning (PBL), a method of proven effectiveness for the development of thinking skills and independent learning.  For their project, each participant chooses, in consultation with their employer, a work process that they would like to improve using digital tools. In the next stage, the participant is required to find the most suitable digital tool, and use it to implement the project. The second tool offered by the program are vouchers to fund vocational courses for employees.  The course is selected by the employer, based on the needs of the business, and it must be relevant to the employee’s current job, or a proposed future job. This tool is aimed at companies with up to 500 employees. Employees eligible to participate in the program are ones with no academic education/vocational certificates, earning less than the median wage.

Skill-Up was launched two-and-a-half years ago, and so far, almost 200 workers from about 40 companies have participated. A study of the program found that 82% of participants significantly improved their digital skills and independent learning abilities, compared to their levels before the program.  67% of employers reported that their employees were learning new things that made their work more efficient, and almost half reported that their employees were doing tasks that they never did previously. As for the workers, 90% reported greater confidence to use digital tools, and 79% reported they were already using the new digital tools in their work.  As one employer said:  “We have succeeded in developing better workers and enabling them to become more skilled and develop in new areas…we have gained workers who are learning, fulfilled, and believe in themselves.  They now have the tools, so they feel confident to initiate and try new methods, and to take the next professional step in the company.  We have more forces that help and participate in our competitive effort to be a leading company, to maintain our reputation, and to strive for excellence.  The workers gained, the staff gained, and, of course, the company also gained.”

Inbal Fisch, Senior Programs Manager, Joint-Tevet

Realizing the potential of technological development

Technological developments present the job market with many challenges, but they also encompass opportunities for more interesting and rewarding employment, improved output, and increased productivity. The key to exploiting this potential lies in the investment in developing workers’ skills, through mechanisms for life-long learning with the participation of the government, the employers, and the employees. Companies that will invest in their employees and give them opportunities to learn and develop will gain more professional, innovative, effective, and skilled employees, who will help the company to realize the opportunities offered by technology.

Want to hear more about the Skill-Up program?  Click here.