The point of this website is to give you a sense of how I might be able to help you, and in the blog section, from time to time share the remarkable work of other people who work on developing skills and jobs all over the world.
My name is Monika Aring, and I invite you to think of me as a master steward of knowledge about how to align education, employers, government, and NGOs so that their collective actions produce the human capital – the workforce – that’s needed to grow and sustain their families, communities, and countries.
As you look over this website I want you to know that each of the over 100 projects you’ll read about in the Projects and Resume sections is the result of the collaboration of many talented, smart, and dedicated people with whom I’ve been lucky enough to work.
I named my company SkillNations because fundamentally, nations must compete on the skills of their labor or workforce. In the language of economics there’s physical capital, financial capital, and human capital. SkillNations is a boutique consulting firm focused on developing human capital. At times I work as a solo consultant, at other times as a team leader, supervising and coaching the work of colleagues. At all times I’m clear that most people, regardless of their income, are marvelous, resilient, capable and smart. Often trapped in systems that stifle their creativity, my job is about creating a climate where people’s natural problem solving ability can rise and shine.
Helping clients improve the quality of human capital in a country, community or company is endlessly fascinating. Why? Because it means we have to understand and build bridges across four different worlds: Employers (businesses), Educators (k-20), Government policymakers, and NGOs who often provide the necessary intermediary services. Each of these worlds has its own language, time horizons, incentives and accepted norms. In many countries, there is little if any alignment among these worlds, which leaves graduates unable to find jobs, policies that reward the wrong things, and employers who don’t invest in training and education.
What I do
I help donors, corporations, NGOs, and governments work together to build a resilient and agile system of workforce development.
Specifically, I work with donor organizations, think tanks, corporations, business associations, and NGOs to build strategic partnerships on the design and development of policies, programs, rapid assessments, research and evaluation that open new opportunities for investment, and build collective impact.
I envision and endeavor to help bring about a world where people everywhere have the resources they need to sustain themselves, their families, their communities, and their environments.
Foundations of my approach
My approach is based on an insight I got from learning about networks and information theory. I realized that effective workforce development systems might best be thought of of as networks. In an effective workforce development system, or network, there is a constant exchange, processing, and storage of information that links business with education, with government, with civil society, and with individuals. In many countries, the nodes of the network are broken. Business does not communicate with education, government does not know what policies to develop, and job seekers and the under-employed don’t have the information or resources to develop their talents. My approach is to empower stakeholders to build a system that develops skills and jobs.
This approach is grounded in my education (Magna cum Laude degrees in design, early music, foreign languages, and a graduate degree in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government), my early experience in community organizing (where I learned that engaging citizens in the right question is often far more powerful than providing answers), and my growing up in Germany, where I observed first-hand that in the long run, countries and their citizens’ incomes rise and fall on what their workforce can produce and sell.
How I got here
At Harvard, I focused on the toughest part of economic development – the development of human capital. Specifically, if countries compete on the skills and knowledge of their workforce, what are the most productive relationships between business, education and government, and what public policies support productive the most productive relationships?
After completing my Master’s Degree in Public Administration, I led study tours to Germany and Denmark for a wide variety of policymakers to learn the structures, incentives, and practices employed in those countries to prepare their respective workforces. The systems in those countries depend on building collective impact through a strategic alliance between corporations, education, and government. They rest on shared agreements about skill needs and the role of each stakeholder in making sure the right skills are in place at the right time.
Many of the study tour participants agreed that clarity about skills needed for different industries was a cornerstone of effective systems. After winning a MacArthur Foundation grant to form skill standards for Chicago’s Financial Services industry, my team won a $3 million dollar grant from the US Departments of Labor and Education to develop national skills standards for the bioscience, human services, and chemicals industries.
Based on some of this early work on skills gaps and how to fill them, USAID invited me to find examples of good workforce development practices in developing countries. This led me to visit 22 countries in eight months to talk with stakeholders about what worked and didn’t work in their systems. This is where things got really interesting.
The question that captured me
In Peru, South Africa, Ghana, Senegal, India, Philippines, Malaysia, and many other countries, young people sought me out, asking if I could help. Typically they asked me what was to become of them. They knew they lacked critical skills. They knew that without such skills, access to the emerging global economy would remain out of their reach. These youth and their questions – largely because at the time, I knew I didn’t have the answer – affected me deeply and planted the seeds for the commitment and vision I continue to engage with today.
Now, at a time of the planet’s largest ever youth population (ages 15-30), employers claim that skills gaps between what education provides and what business needs to grow are likely to lead to a world-wide “war on talent.” For example, India’s National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) has forecast an incremental shortfall of 240-250 million people by 2022 in high growth sectors of the Indian economy and the informal (unorganized) sector, the biggest generator of employment in the country. 67 percent of Brazil’s employers state skills gaps are constraining their growth. These statistics are equally high or higher in the Middle East, much of Latin America, and parts of Asia. The world’s young people will be the consumers corporations hope to win – isn’t this an extraordinary opportunity for business to get involved in closing the skills gap?
A process, rather than a prescription
From these experiences, and all the work I have done in the intervening years, I have come to the strong conviction that developing the skills of a country (or community’s) workforce requires an adaptive systems approach (as detailed in my article published in the March 2012 Issue of the Society for International Development). Developing a country’s workforce requires trust – between employers, educators, government leaders and the people who are looking for work. Developing the trust where the different stakeholders can come together and collectively implement a strategy that lets them all win takes time, resources, and patience.
I’m often asked what it takes to be effective in my work in 42 countries over the last 25 years. Here’s what I’ve found:
- Being highly analytical to identify what’s missing in a given workforce system
- Employing deep listening, quickly establishing and building trust to get answers to often difficult questions
- Skillfully inspiring and empowering stakeholders take bold action to make their system more effective
- Effectively leading multi-discipline teams to produce desired results
I’m skilled in working across different cultures, listening, training others, and fostering collaborative problem solving, whether in shantytowns, government ministries, or corporate executive suites. I know how to lead teams that produce extraordinary results.
I use these skills to help clients improve the effectiveness of their investments in the many parts of an effective workforce development system.
If you think I can help you fulfill on your initiatives, please contact me.
 Watson, Stephen. Highest Youth Unemployment Ever: An Interview with ILO Economist Sara Elder. Jan 5, 2012. Available online at http://futurechallenges.org/2012/01/highest-youth-unemployment-ever-an-interview-with-ilo-economist-sara-elder/
 PwC: The War for Talent Goes Public. 2011. Available online at www.pwc.com/en_GX/gx/hr…/war-for-talent-goes-public.pdf