Beatrice Fitzsimons l Palladium - Aug 30 2023
How Do Donors Make Decisions About Investing In Technical and Vocational Training?

A new report from the UK-funded Skills for Prosperity program highlights the most effective approaches to investing in technical and vocational training (TVET), and how best to demonstrate that this area is worth the investment.

As countries around the world are concerned with growing economies and creating jobs, improved productivity, innovation, and knowledge are critical. Many lower and middle-income countries are committed to improve skill levels, especially through transforming technical and vocational education and training and skills systems. Investing in TVET and Skills Development serves as a platform to discuss how and why government donors make decisions about investing in TVET around the world.

The team recently sat down with Tracy Ferrier, Team Lead for the Skills for Prosperity Hub, to get her thoughts on the report and the team’s findings. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Tell us a little about Skills for Prosperity

Tracy: Skills for Prosperity is a UK aid-funded program, which has been operating across nine countries since 2020. Its aim is to reduce poverty by improving education and training systems and creating more robust education-to-employment pipelines in priority sectors.

The Skills for Prosperity Hub is managed and led by Palladium, in partnership with PA Consulting, Advance HE, and the UK Skills Federation. The role of the Hub has been to provide technical expertise and program management services. We coordinate and oversee the management of the global program, working with different delivery partners in each country to maximise its success. One of our main aims has been to drive continuous improvement in the program and learning and research is central to this.

Q: What was the idea behind commissioning the research for Investing in TVET and Skills Development?

Tracy: We are keen to contribute to the global evidence base on why donors invest in TVET and skills development and the extent to which it is seen as important. More specifically, working on the Skills for Prosperity program gave me quite a lot of food for thought about the relative effectiveness of different types of interventions. It is a very diverse program with varied approaches and works at different levels with a wide range of stakeholders. For example, one of the country programs mostly worked with the TVET sector and industry to improve maritime skills and transitions into maritime careers. Another worked more broadly across the education sector to address gender imbalances in STEM-related courses and jobs.

This got us thinking about what types of programs donors are investing in and how they make those decisions. We also thought that there might be some interesting evidence and practice from Skills for Prosperity that might be useful to share.

One of the challenges is that there hasn’t really been a lot of research in this area and the literature just isn’t there. Rather than do a more traditional piece of research, we decided that a more effective approach would be to speak directly with donors, international organisations, and other relevant stakeholders. This would enable us to really explore their views on the importance of investing in TVET and skills development and get an up-to-date picture of the direction of travel. We also wanted to find out more about how they determine whether their investment is good value for money and whether they use data in their decision making.

Q: Were there any findings from the report that you found particularly interesting or surprising?

Tracy: One finding that jumped out to me was that there seems to be a declining interest in using systems-wide interventions and taking a more systemic approach. This seems to be linked to concerns about the longer-term impact of these types of programs, the desire for quick solutions, and the difficulties in measuring the impact of these approaches.
In my opinion, a move away from broader, more strategic approaches could be problematic as this is likely to mean that programs won’t consider the effectiveness of systems as a whole. For example, how to ensure that programs promote inclusion and access for all, especially for the most marginalised people.

A surprising finding was that there is more intent and enthusiasm for investing in TVET and skills development than I expected. Most organisations we spoke with believe that this is a crucial area in which they must invest, primarily because they see a strong link between economic development and skills development. Simply put, they recognise the need for a workforce with the right skills to support industry growth in the countries where they are working. There was also a shared expectation that there will be increasing investment in TVET and skills development and that it will continue to be a priority for development partners.

Q: Has anything happened since the report was published?

Tracy: That’s a very good question. Shortly after we published the report, we ran an online webinar on the topic of investing in TVET. We were lucky to have the author of the report, Dr. Paul Comyn, on the panel to talk about the research and findings and share his reflections. I was part of the panel, along with two representatives from organisations who also participated in the research. It was an excellent opportunity to stand back from day-to-day work to think more strategically about the opportunities and challenges for investing in TVET. For example, there was an extensive discussion about value for money and the challenges of determining value in this context.

While it will be of interest to those working in the TVET field, I believe it will also be of interest to those working in education and skills development who are thinking about how best to make a difference and use resources more effectively.

We are planning to do some follow-up research to look in more detail at donor project evaluations and review the evidence. We want to try and identify if there is anything which comes out strongly on the relative effectiveness of national policy approaches versus more local or regional economic approaches to skills development.


For more information, download the report or contact