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Working paper

Closing the Skills-Jobs Gap: Russia and China Compared

Around the world employers complain of shortages of skilled workers. Meantime, educational and training institutions often function as “bridges to nowhere.” This has implications for both social and economic development. When VET systems are ineffective, they either turn out individuals with skills that are poorly matched to the demands of the labor market, or replicate existing social divisions between rich and poor. Economic inequality, both cross-sectional and spatial, undermines the ability of educational and skill-forming institutions to equalize opportunities for young people to acquire skills usable in the labor market. This bifurcates society between a low-wage, low-skill, often informal employment sector, and a higher-skill, higher-wage sector. This problem has grown more acute everywhere as a result of automation and globalization. For this reason, experts and policy-makers around the world have called for upgrading the quality and effectiveness of vocational education and training (VET), in particular by encouraging closer cooperation between employers and schools. They seek to adapt elements of the German and other continental systems where apprenticeships are the most common pathway leading from school to jobs. Building firm-school partnerships requires overcoming two sets of collective action dilemmas, however: coordinating the interests of firms around setting professional standards and curricular goals, and establishing cooperation between employers and schools. The paper argues that cooperative arrangements vary along two dimensions: the “breadth” of collaboration by schools and firms, i.e. how many firms and schools pool their efforts to upgrade VET; and the “depth” of commitment, that is, how costly is the joint commitment by firms and schools to VET. The evidence suggests that there is typically a trade-off between deepening and broadening. The paper compares China and Russia — two large, relatively decentralized countries with different economic systems — with respect to current efforts to close the gap between skills and jobs. It draws conclusions about the nature of the circumstances under which reforms are likely to result in greater deepening or broadening of cooperation. The paper argues that the formation of effective institutions for resolving collective dilemmas result from government initiatives mobilizing existing capacities to respond to challenges in the external environment