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Staff writer

Malaysia has proposed an action program for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to promote the development of worker skills in member economies, especially developing ones that have been hit hard by the current Asian currency and financial crisis.

Malaysia, which will host this year’s meetings of APEC ministers and top leaders in November, has drawn up its own draft of the Action Program on Skills Development and has recently presented Japan and the other APEC members with the draft in hopes of getting an APEC endorsement for the document at the meetings.

The draft action program, obtained Friday by The Japan Times, specifically calls for implementation “on an ongoing” basis of the existing APEC projects for the development of worker skills. The draft also encourages creation of worker skills-development centers in some APEC member states in “smart partnership” between the public and business sectors, and calls for establishment of an APEC network of such centers. “In the face of the current economic crisis, APEC has agreed that there is a need to address the social impact of the crisis,” the document says. “In this respect, APEC can demonstrate responsiveness through short- to long-term measures.

“By incorporating retraining of displaced workers into APEC skills development activities, we can contribute to alleviating the social impact on those affected as well as strengthening the spirit of community in APEC,” it says. The draft says the objective of the action program is to “contribute toward sustainable growth and equitable development while reducing economic disparities and improving the social well-being of the people, through skills upgrading and improvement.”

Although the current 18-member APEC forum has undertaken numerous projects related to skills development, many are one-off training projects and are designed for implementation over a limited period, the draft points out. The action program will identify projects that can be conducted on an ongoing basis, it says.

According to the draft, the strategic focus of the action program will be on four specific areas: upgrading the industrial skills base; spawning new entrepreneurs; technology skills for the new millennium; and strengthening institutional infrastructure to facilitate the liberalization of trade and investment. The draft stresses the need for a smart partnership between the public and business sectors in the development of worker skills. “Currently, the provision of technical skills is frequently undertaken by the public sector, which faces increasing constraints in terms of funds, expertise and equipment. “The result is a mismatch between training and the real work environment. A more effective approach is to encourage a market-driven approach to skills training,” it says. “While the public sector is able to provide training for more generic skills, business involvement is necessary to ensure that the output matches market demand.”

The draft action program specifically calls for creation of skills development centers in some APEC member economies in a smart partnership between the public and business centers, with the Penang Skills Development Center in Malaysia as a successful model. “Under this model, the skills development center is established with the initial funding from the public sector, while the business sector contributes leadership in the management of the center, teaching staff and equipment.” The draft action program also calls for establishment of a network of such centers to “enable mutual support and sharing of experience and resources.”

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