Nothing links training institutions more quickly to the industry they serve than sub contracting service or production work from those industries. Now you are on common ground and your students are not only learning real industrial skills but the institution is generating revenue and some students can begin to master self-employment skills.
Employment Skills Units or sometimes referred to as Production Units often focus on the transition from school to employment.
However, as cost recovery and income generation become important for many TVET institutions, ESU’s can now be seen in different forms in almost every technical training institution jurisdiction.
ESU and Transition from School to Employment
Employment requires a much more complex series of behaviours, attitudes and understanding. An entire scale of activities has been designed to address this fundamental issue. If linkages with industry do not address this issue of assisting students in this a transition, then the linkages need to be re-thought.
The easiest to implement, and the least effective, is the classic industrial visit by students. Intermediate measures are lectures by industrialists and work release in afternoons or summers.
Institutions have ESUs. At the top of the scale is supervised co-operative training based on a semester in school followed by a semester at work. However, Co-op is subject to employer interest, the quality level of the company, Union acceptance and disruption for political reasons.
Equally, if production equipment is involved, employers can be reluctant. In countries in which the linkage between institution and industry is weak, co-op is even more difficult to structure.
Hence, an alternate strategy to assist students in managing the transition between school and work needs to be examined and the ESU bears consideration. Through simulating the workplace, it inculcates the attitudes, behaviours and skills of employment.
Although ESU’s have generally been organized to ease transition from school to employment, it has some or all of the following objectives:
- To engage employers in the learning processes of the training institution
- To recover the cost of training materials and consumables used in providing the client service
- To recover the cost of training materials used in the overall program of instruction
- To recover the cost of salaries of those staff working in the ESU
- To make a contribution to institutional overhead (cost of operations)
- To provide work experience for students in a simulated work environment
- To engage industry /business in the learning environment
- To expose teachers to a real work environment
- To provide students with a small business experience including marketing, accounting, quality control, and servicing.
- To support equity of access by creating income for low income students
- To further link the institution to the market place and to demand driven education
- To link the market with the TVET system
- To reduce dependency on Government funding
- To develop self employment skills
- To meet employer demand for graduates with better skills
- To assist in accessibility
- To reduce youth unemployment
It is important to be clear which of these objectives is to have priority. If competing objectives are chosen either implicitly or explicitly, the Unit will probably be doomed to failure.
As an example, if maximizing revenue and maximizing student learning are identified as equal priorities, it is likely that neither will be satisfied.
Revenue in a small business results from efficient business operations not from academic support.
Equally, if both student income and cost recovery of materials are chosen as equal priorities, satisfaction in either area is unlikely unless the ESU is extraordinarily successful.
Models for Employment Skills Units
For institutions interested to organize ESU models, here are models tried by other institutions from which you can start your own:
1. An Industry Based ESU with a Cost Recovery and Revenue Generation Priority
Success in an ESU comes from responding to the market (what customers want) not responding to the institution’s wishes for production of goods and services. In general, the development of a sound Business Plan should precede any attempt to develop an ESU. Such a plan should include as a minimum:
- Customers (Profile, Location, Habits)
- Competition (Producers, products)
- Market Size
- Product/Service Description
- Market Strategy
- Costing – Labor (Computed costs for teachers, electricity, water, rent, material costs, transportation)
- Accounting Mechanism
In this model, the ESU is a small business. As revenue beyond simple cost recovery is the priority, the ESU needs to be set up at arms-length from the institution and managed separately by an entrepreneur.
In effect, it can “rent” workers (students) from the institution to undertake agreed upon services or tasks as employees, not students. A small hourly stipend for students is a major lever to assure compliance with employer-employee requirements.
The ESU then becomes an expression of the Institution’s competence. It is not an amateur industry but a true small business that teaches both production/service skills as well as small business operation leading to self-employment.
It is a true preparation for employment added to institutional learning. To flourish, it must be protected from the politics and academic inertia of the institution.
2. A School Based ESU Model
It has been stated clearly that at the outset of planning an ESU, there must be consensus on priorities. Generally, the choice must be cost recovery and revenue generation or student institutional style learning with the sale of learning models.
This is not to say that one can do only one or the other, but the whole structure and status of the ESU will depend on the priority. If both priorities are equal, experience shows the ESU will fail.
In the first model, cost recovery and revenue generation were the priority. In this model, student institution based learning is the priority.
In this second model, the ESU is an extension of the technical department with a teacher acting as ESU manager as part of regular employment. A single craftsman is hired to ensure that students learn industrial level quality.
Items are manufactured that are consistent with the skills levels of the students throughout the last two years of the program. Often these are consumer items that can be sold through a Training institution store either in the institution or in the marketplace on a consignment basis. Revenues are used to offset materials costs.
A true business plan is not needed although a clear customer should be identified for each product. The ESU can be an extension of laboratory hours and teachers can be assigned to supervise the work.
The advantages of this type of model are in its ease of implementation and administration. The disadvantages are that it has few of the school-to-employment transition features, it does not support linkages with employers, and it generates minimal revenue.
Also, it is often sabotaged by teachers whose interest is in teaching and not in small business management. A final disadvantage is that, not being a small business, it is not an incubator for students to develop self-employment skills or self managed small businesses.
Examples of this model exist in most institutions that have a chef/hospitality program where cakes and bread are sold to students and faculty. An adaptation of this model is often found in vehicle repair or small engines/farm equipment repair.
Equally, clothing design programs frequently sell their products within their institution. Revenue comes to the Student Fund, which although audited, can be administered by the Senior Administrator. Institutions also host “Fairs”, invite the public, and sell student work through this process.
But whichever model you design, involve the employment community in the very earliest discussions. If you can make them feel that this is “their industries training institution” you have won the linkage wars.