The SDGs can be used as a driver to achieve growth and success through focussed interventions in skills. Within this, by using the SDGs as a foundation for change and innovation, they can provide direction, along with measurement and assessment capabilities. The SDGs provide a strong blueprint for skills training, particularly SDG4 which is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, clearly seeks to address the skills gap, and advocates for ensuring growth in collaborative and innovative ways. Three targets under SDG4 directly drive the skills agenda, sharpening focus on ensuring accessibility and equity within education.
Not only do the SDGs represent a valuable framework for delivery across sectors, but they also pose new questions and challenges. By allowing tracking of impacts through effective ranking frameworks, the SDGs offer a means to quantify outcomes through monitoring and measurement. As intended by the spirit of the SDGs, tracking of government and university performances allow progress to be observed over time. However there are some limitations to this, for example that vocational education providers are not included in global rankings. It was pointed out that ASEAN scores below medium in relation to SDG8 about decent work and economic growth.
Some questions remain over whether educators and providers are in the right conversations regarding meeting the skills challenge. Credit was given to Vietnam for leading the way and making enormous progress in foundational education, which is fundamental for the development of skills. Structural issues within ASEAN limit their capability for recognition, and an accreditation system from respected and well-informed organisations was proposed as a necessary step.
COVID-19 has dealt a hammer blow to progress, but there was a pre-existing crisis in education already. Foundational skills need to progress for future workforce needs. Vietnam offers a strong example of how improving overall access to education can have a transformative effect on skills acquisition. It is important to recognise that no country has achieved a highly trained workforce without ensuring a base foundation of access to secondary education.