The Changing Nature of Work: Here’s How We are Responding Innovatively

FROM: Lisar Morina , Zenebe B. Uraguchi – 09. March 2020

Story highlight: Technology and digital innovations are reshaping the world of work. How can development initiatives respond effectively? Our experience from Kosovo shows that young people will need different sets of skills to remain competitive and adapt to the changes. While formal education is slower on the uptake, non-formal education is filling in the gaps. The Enhancing Youth Employment (EYE) project supports innovative models that offer young people necessary skills to successfully transition to the world of work. Entering and re-entering the world of work also requires addressing barriers to access new skills through mediating between labor supply and labor demand.        

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You may have heard about the changing nature of work. It has become the topic of considerable public commentary and debate in recent years. There have also been a number of publications – from the 2014 seminal report of the International Labor Organization (ILO) to the 2018 “The Future of Jobs Report” by the World Economic Forum and the 2019 World Development Report by the World Bank. All these have put the topic back firmly on the policy agenda.

But have you ever thought about what this means and how it affects all of us? With the risk of oversimplification, the whole issue is about how the digital age is disrupting labor markets and changing skills needs as well as work relationships.

In this blog post, we provide our experiences of the changing nature of work in Kosovo and how we are responding to it to by tapping into the opportunities and improving the labor market system.

Tasks that people perform on the job are shifting…

Technology and digital innovations are reshaping the world of work. Many activities that employees carry out today are being automated. Increasingly, digital skills and non-cognitive skills – entrepreneurship, active citizenship, creativity and socio-emotional skills – are crucial. The modern workplace is now more flexible, responsive and collaborative than ever.

We may be alarmed by the prospect of job-loss as a result of automation. Yet, there’s consensus that by and large, technology is creating more jobs than it is displacing. In other words, the shift isn’t simply displacing and replacing jobs that rely on routine activities; some jobs also got transformed while new opportunities appear. For this, of course, people, especially young women and men, will need different sets of skills to remain competitive and adapt to the changes.

More importantly, there’re major implications for how education institutions and parents help young people prepare for their future – by providing skills development needs to respond to the demands. However, the problem, as in countries like Kosovo, is that the education systems and informal values and norms aren’t always keeping up with the rapidly changing nature of work. This often makes it hard for employers to scout talent and recruit people with the right set of skills.

Here’s a figure showing the extent of the problem: according to a Kosovan think tank, 82.1% of Kosovo businesses that have recruited in the last three years have had difficulty of finding qualified employees. Indeed, one of the main employment challenges in Kosovo is a mismatch between education and labor market needs. However, not everything is lost and there is a brighter side: while formal education is slower on the uptake, non-formal education is carrying the torch and filling in the gaps.

So, closing the gap between formal education and skills is crucial

Solutions are coming from local innovators who think strategically. jCoders is one of them. A Kosovar social enterprise founded in 2015, it’s convinced that work experience simulators can effectively respond to the changing nature of work. It’s inspired by Project Based Learning, and it intends to close the gap between formal education and skills required in the modern labor market.

Supported by the Enhancing Youth Employment (EYE) initiative of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the jCoders offers training for young people in the technology field. It develops digital and 21st century skills in their students, and better prepares them for work in the digital era.

‘We approached a number of companies that outsource services in the ICT sector and understood that most don’t have a structured method in preparing new employees for job requirement,’ says Arta Shehu Zaimi, CEO of jCoders. ‘Most of these companies tend to hire from the same pool of people rather than pursue new hires for their companies, which increases competitiveness between local ICT companies,’ adds Arta.   

The stories are similar across the Western Balkans: companies are unable to access qualified professionals they needed…. they then struggle to grow headhunting each other’s employees…in small, fragmented markets that offer limited scope to ICT firms…

The founders of jCoders didn’t leave the solution to fate or didn’t reminisce about past challenges. They set out to create a model that would train young people on both theory and methodology; offer real-world projects for students to work on; and has a credible, 360-degree assessment of students’ knowledge and skills.

The result is work experience simulators! What makes the work experience simulators different from other non-formal trainings is its extensive focus on practical work. In work experience simulators, which lasts anywhere from three to six months, jCoders developed a model of learning that resembles a real job experience for programmers and technology professionals. It allows students to learn and put into practice fundamental and advanced programming skills that enables them to use technology as a tool to solve problems.

Arta, the CEO of jCoders, thinks that work experience simulators is allowing young people to transition into a junior level professional developer. Practically speaking, the simulator offers young people more than technical knowledge; it also enables them to dive into the fundamentals of co-working. That is why soft skills become essential – for communication, organization and presentation. Around 11 facilitators have already trained around 40 students (the target group is 15+), two of them are already employed, and another two are working as freelancers.

jCoders are now working to expand to other cities across the country and grow the number of facilitators to accommodate more students. Their vision is to train hundreds of young people and help creating a skilled workforce that is fully equipped to become part of the broader ICT ecosystem in Kosovo.

Yet, barriers to gaining access to new skills remain  

Young people, especially those with low levels of education/skills or new graduates transitioning from school to work, are the ones who struggle navigating the changing nature of work. Even if they succeed, they’re typically hired into low-skilled, low-productivity positions, often in the informal sector.

Our recent collaboration with Cacttus Education is an unconventional take to training and employment and is increasingly garnering the attention of young students looking to enter the labor market. Cacttus is a leading Kosovar Company in the field of ICT services and solutions. The company’s portfolio of services includes everything from Networking and Telecommunications, Information security and Cybersecurity, Cloud and System Integration, ICT Consulting and Audit, Software Development, Business Solutions, Education and Training. The company’s spin-off, Cacttus Education is the first professional school in the field of Information and Communication Technology and provides students with a professional study programs in the field.

Veton Xhelili, Business Developer Manager and Project Manager at Cacttus Education, has identified the key challenge and come up with a solution. ‘Kosovar ICT companies,’ he reflects, ‘are repeatedly approached by potential international clients, with proposals to ‘nearshore’ ICT services to Kosovo, often for web development. Unfortunately, such opportunities are frequently turned down due to significant shortage of skilled people as well as a lack of targeted local training opportunities that enable young Kosovars to acquire the required knowledge and skills.’

Moving from problem identification to acting on solutions, we collaborated with Cacttus Education to pilot a new conditional contract model which seeks to provide employment for all participants of a new training curriculum in local ICT companies. Potential employers benefit from an increased supply of skilled labor. Developed with leading programmers in the field, the initiative offers an intensive, practical boot camp that usually lasts a few months and imparts students with the skills to develop web applications.

One of the core problems is the lack of interest or inability of people to financially invest in their education. Oversaturated donor subsidies in the training sector have skewed young people’s perception that professional training can and should be free or artificially low-cost. Another issue is the lack of communication between education providers and the private sector, particularly in course-design, which results in companies often preferring to create in-house academies instead of making use of existing training providers.

There is where Cacttus Education came in. It has created a dual model. This’s how it works: it includes four-months of intensive four hours per day of training and four hours part time work at the employer. This enables the candidates to have the opportunity to get hands-on experience and familiarize themselves with the workflow and how things are getting done while they are being trained.

The scheme is based on conditional contracts that guarantee young people jobs in companies once they successfully complete the training modules. This’s the key in lowering the barrier for young people to acquire both knowledge and hands-on skills. Cacttus Education acts as an intermediary between labor supply (mostly young participants) and labor demand (local ICT employers). The participating companies, which are extensively involved in the selection of candidates, are also the ones who cover the cost of training through salary deductions after they employ their preferred candidate.

Currently, there’s a total of 27 candidates being trained (11 girls and 16 boys aged 20-24), and there’s seven local ICT companies participating. Cacttus Education is organizing marketing campaigns to attract more ICT companies. The plan is to train and employ a minimum of 30 new ICT professionals in the near future and gradually expand to include more companies and young professionals.

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Cover picture: EYE Kosovo

Lisar Morina is a media and communications professional working at the nexus of development and communication. He is currently engaged with Helvetas Kosovo in the Enhancing Youth Employment (EYE) project.
Programme Manager, East Europe, South Caucuses, & Western Balkans; Senior Advisor, Sustainable & Inclusive Economies