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Meeting the Needs of the Future Labour Market With Indonesia Education Partnerships

Not only expat directors of companies in Indonesia know that finding qualified human capacity is challenging – especially for skilled positions and middle management jobs – but the Indonesian government and President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo publicly recognize that for Indonesia to continue to grow economically, they need to bring international quality skills and professional development to their people.

The lack of qualified human capacity in skilled and management positions, in addition to a lack of transportation infrastructure and inconsistent rule of law, is significantly holding back this nation from reaching its current economic potential. The Labour Division of the Indonesian Employers Association (APINDO) stated last December that the creation of 3 million new jobs per year is necessary for Indonesia to maintain its current unemployment rate, but efforts to build skills of the labour force are facing challenges and Indonesia has fallen a million jobs short of this target.  

To start to fill in this widening gap, especially in the face of the new ASEAN Economic Community environment enabling skilled workers from other nations to compete for Indonesia’s best jobs, President Jokowi has put high pressure this year on multiple ministries to collaborate in developing skills appropriate for Indonesia’s current job demands and begin to address gaps in the newly growing industries.

The Ministries of Manpower, Industries, Education and Culture, and Research, Technology & Higher Education, as well as the national professional certification bureau and other agencies have been struggling to work together to put forward plans to address the chasm between what is taught in vocational schools and universities and what is needed to fuel the industries and economic growth.  

Identifying specialized training partners who can teach Indonesia’s vocational teachers and university lecturers the specialized international quality skills is a challenge at best where the most important skills don’t exist yet in the education sector.  

Expat Brook Williams Ross has stepped into this need together with the team he has created in Indonesia Education Partnerships, a not-for-profit consultancy working to help develop Indonesia’s economy through education.  

No stranger to developing functioning and effective partnerships under pressure and in challenging environments, Ross first worked in developing strategic partnerships for human capacity development under the American Red Cross following the 2004 Aceh tsunami. The training needs in Aceh at that time were daunting; the majority of skilled workers in many villages and towns were killed, including nurses, doctors, teachers, administrators and market managers among others.  


Aceh Parliament members and Indonesian Ambassador to the US. | Photo courtesy of IEP
Aceh Parliament members and Indonesian Ambassador to the US. | Photo courtesy of IEP


After three years in Aceh, Ross pivoted to the national scale by consulting for the US Embassy Jakarta to restart US-Indonesia higher education partnerships immediately following President Barack Obama’s 2008 election. Since then, Ross has continued to utilize his network to assist governments across the archipelago with their specialized human resource development needs.  

During this period, he says, “I’ve hosted about 145 different international universities, colleges and polytechnics in Indonesia to engage on development strategy with national ministries and provincial governments.”  

While he mainly engages with institutions from the English speaking world, primarily American, New Zealand and UK institutions, Indonesia Education Partnerships has worked with institutions from many nations.  

“Our purpose is to meet the capacity development needs of the Indonesian government, boost their success in helping their people,” says Ross, “so we look for any institution that has the right quality of training and expertise needed, wants to be a strong partner delivering programs here in Indonesia, and can lower their costs to work with the budget available, which often can mean cost sharing or pro bono depending on the project.”  

Ross and his team also help governments and university partners identify funding sources or create scholarship programs to be able to implement the programs and reach development goals.

Ross and Indonesia Education Partnerships have worked in almost every province of Indonesia, as well as with a dozen of the primary ministries in Jakarta.  

Papua graduate students and teachers going for skill upgrading to New Zealand. | Photo courtesy of IEP
Papua graduate students and teachers going for skill upgrading to New Zealand. | Photo courtesy of IEP

“Perhaps Papua is the most challenging and the most rewarding, as their needs are the greatest and they have the furthest to go,” says Ross. “We are currently working with the Papua government and governor’s office in English training so their people can access education internationally. This year for the first time have a group of Papuan students going for Masters in critical skill areas going to university in the UK, US, and New Zealand. I expect them to join the government and be part of the solution when they return, using what they learned to help further develop the Papuan people.”

Most of their work is with the Indonesian central government, but Ross has a sweet spot for where he started.  

“I still love working with Aceh, and we have three programs there with partners to develop capacity of vocational teachers, support marine spatial planning of the government, and develop aviation maintenance skills, all with specialized international partner universities who also love working on the ground here with the Acehnese people.”

Their focus is how they can bring the skills trainings the Indonesian government needs especially when there are certain trainings that aren’t locally available or accessible from elsewhere in Indonesia.

“South Sulawesi Governor Alex Nurdin said it best to me: Of my five key skill development needs, my local university can take care of three – so I need you to bring me help for the other two.”  

Ross and Indonesian Education Partnerships are up for the challenge.

But it’s not all cut and dry, as nothing ever really is in Indonesia, and rubber time still exists the further you go in the archipelago.

Ross quips, “you burn a lot of time in developing these relationships – years, really! That’s what it takes while you keep showing up and delivering on the goods. Eventually the trust is built with the government to start the programs, but hopefully not after the government officials reshuffle and you need to start over!”


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