Addressing workforce needs by disrupting traditional industry-higher education relations: The case of El Salvador

The authors analyze the recent undertaking in El Salvador to establish an innovative model of industry–higher education clusters that would facilitate collaboration between academia and the private sector – sectors that traditionally had not worked together because of historical distrust – to develop the skilled workforce needed for the country’s future economic growth. Under the USAID Higher Education for Economic Growth project implemented by RTI International, clusters were put forth as the platform for building sustainable partnerships between industry and higher education – facilitating dialogue, stepping into each other’s world and collaboration on curriculum planning, student internships and applied research. The clusters have pushed Salvadoran universities to become more agile organizations, able to pivot to meet industry skills demands, and industries to recognize universities’ contributions to the creation of value for increased productivity. The El Salvador case is a collaborative multi-stakeholder model to meet workplace requirements for high-growth industries in low- to middle-income economies.