Meet the SDG 4 Data: Giving Youth the Skills They Need for the Job Market

By Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)
This blog was cross-published by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)

This week we review SDG 4 indicator 4.3 on quality technical, vocational and tertiary education 

As we travel through the SDG 4 data in this series of blogs, we have already looked at the all-important preparation for schooling and the minimum proficiency levels that tell us whether children are on track. Now we shift our focus towards the end of schooling: the technical, vocational and tertiary education that pave the way for a productive adult life.    

A disconnect between skills and job market needs

This matters because, as data from the UIS have revealed, a global learning crisis means that many young people lack the skills they need in the 21st century workplace. Rather than forging the economic and social capital of their countries, they may instead swell the numbers of ‘NEETs’ – those who are not in education, employment or training. Increasingly disconnected from learning, the labor market and society, they may find it increasingly difficult to catch up with the new skills needed for decent work and a stable income.  

Today, the young people who represent the world’s most dynamic human resources are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults. Young people aged 15 to 24 make up 18% of the global population but 40% of the global unemployed.  

At the same time, according to the Education Commission, 40% of employers worldwide already find it difficult to recruit people with the skills they are looking for. The challenge is to close the gap between the skills young people have and the skills employers need. This highlights the critical importance of technical, vocational and tertiary education and their measurement.  

This blog focuses on SDG 4 Target 4.3: By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.   

Students learn vocational skills in The Hohola Youth Development Centre in Papua New Guinea. Credit: AusAID/Ness Kerton

Finding out how many youths pursue technical or tertiary education

Indicator 4.3.1 is defined as: the participation rate of youth and adults in formal and non-formal education and training in the previous 12 months, by sex.  

This global target covers several different concepts. While indicator 4.3.1 does not measure such concepts as affordability and quality directly, the crucial concept of ‘equal access’ – the equity principle that underpins all of the SDGs – is assessed through the comparison of participation rates by sex.  

The indicator is calculated as the percentage of youth and adults in a given age range (e.g. 15 to 24 years, 25 to 64 years, etc.) who participate in formal or non-formal education or training during a given time period – preferably the previous 12 months. Ideally, the indicator should be disaggregated by the type of program, including technical and vocational education and training (TVET), tertiary education and adult education, among others. It should cover formal programs and also the non-formal programs that are so often ‘under the radar’ of measurement and that may attract untold numbers of people in search of marketable skills.  

The measurement challenge is how best to capture the full span of programs – whether formal or non-formal. Both formal and non-formal education and training are on offer across a whole range of settings, including not only schools and universities but also workplaces, community centers, religious settings, refugee camps and many other places. Education and training programs may run for a few years or for just a few hours.  

Administrative data may only cover formal settings, such as schools and universities. It is possible to apply the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) to such setting, and this has become the standard framework used to categorize and report on cross-nationally-comparable education statistics. As a result of ISCED 2011, most countries now have a sound and well-established methodology to calculate participation in formal education. However, we face a serious challenge when it comes to the measurement of participation in non-formal education and training, with methodologies varying substantially worldwide.  

While capturing participation rates of any kind is of value in itself, it is important to remember that it will not tell us anything about the quality or intensity of the education and training on offer, or about their results.  

There are data sources in place to support indicator 4.3.1 at international and national levels. At the international level, surveys like the European Adult Education Survey (AES), the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) and the ILO School-to-Work Transition Survey (SWTS) generate periodic and comparable information. At national level, the National Household Surveys and Labor Force Surveys usually collect data on participation in formal and non-formal education programs, but data-gathering on the latter tends to be more sporadic. 

Using household surveys to collect data on non-formal programs

To improve the availability of data for indicator 4.3.1, the Working Group on Indicator Development of the Technical Cooperation Group on the indicators for SDG 4–Education 2030 (TCG), which is coordinated by the UIS, has developed a proposed set of questions for use in household surveys. These questions – which collect data on participation in formal and non-formal education, including technical or vocational programs and literacy programs – will be submitted for approval by the TCG at its next meeting at the end of 2018. 

Young people are the world’s most dynamic and potentially productive resource. Having monitored their progress through education, we cannot afford to lose sight of them just as they approach a critical milestone in their journey – the transition from education to the workplace. Because a successful transition for them means more prosperous and secure societies for us all.  

Where and how to find SDG 4 data

  • The Quick Guide to Education Indicators for SDG 4 describes the process of developing and producing the global monitoring indicators while explaining how they can be interpreted and used. This is a hands-on, step-by-step guide for anyone who is working on gathering or analyzing education data.
  • The SDG 4 Data Book: Global Education Indicators 2018 ensures that readers have the latest available data for the global monitoring indicators at their fingertips, and will be regularly updated.   
  • The SDG 4 Data Explorer, designed for policymakers and analysts, displays data by country, region or year; by data source; and by sex, location and wealth. It allows users to explore the measures of equality that are crucial for the achievement of SDG 4. 
  • The SDG 4 Country Profiles present the latest available SDG 4 global indicators in charts and graphs that are easy to understand. For those who need quick facts on specific countries, this is the place to come.


In this series, read also:  

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About SDG 4 indicators…. But Didn’t Know Who or How – to Ask! 

Meet the SDG 4 Data: Measuring How Much Children Are Learning 

Meet the SDG 4 Data: Preparing Children for Education


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