Why Existing TVET Systems Are Failing

In many countries in South East Asia, the only growth figure equalling the demand for a skilled workforce is the unhappiness of employers with the graduates of existing TVET systems.

TVET in developing economies

The desperation of countries to change this equation is evidenced in a range of “reforms” to skills education that generally have one feature in common…a greater investment in systems that do not work and cannot work because they ignore the basic issues and simply build on ideas and infrastructures that have failed repeatedly.

What are the basic issues that lead to the failure of the existing TVET systems?

There are almost no linkages between technical training schools and employers.

​Efforts at skills standards -based systems built on competency frameworks usually devolve into TVET teachers with little or no industrial experience writing mountains standards based on almost anything but the reality of employment and real jobs.

Attempts are often made to involve industry in the process but industry rarely has time for or trust in processes dominated by government workers who have engineering degrees but no experience in the real world of private sector competitiveness. 

Teaching staff in most skills training institutions are almost always well meaning, but simply haven’t a clue as to what their graduates will be doing in the workforce and hence what they must know.

​Improvement in the system is defined as more and better equipment or wider accessibility through more institutions.

But unless the basic skills of the teaching staff are upgraded and updated and linked to industrial need, the new investment will have almost no impact on the usefulness or employability of the graduates. 

For entry level workers, employers can meet their own training needs. Very little data is collected (or can be collected) in many countries to help understand the commitment of employers to meeting their own needs.

A skilled workforce is another input into the mix required for a successful economy. Helping employers meet this need makes sense.

Asking institutions with almost no understanding of the need of employers to respond makes virtually no sense in most (but not all) circumstances. It’s like supplying an industry with steel if their processes depend on copper and having no way of understanding the error made. 

Fighting with the Universities for grade 12 graduates ensures a very low level of student recruitment and a recruitment base made up only of those that cannot be accepted at University. Any hint of hands-on training (other than in computers or accountancy) are shun. Families do not want their children to be tradesmen.

Going to a technical school or college is often an admission of failure. We have interviewed parents who have stated that they would have their children stay at home and watch television rather than be seen working in a factory or job site.

Many developing economies are desperate to expand the skills of the workforce to attract industry from those countries where increasing wages are pushing low level manufacturers to find lower cost environments. A race to the bottom. 

Timetabling in most TVET institutions is inflexible. The learning day is the same as the working day so those already in industry cannot benefit from the investment in buildings and equipment to upgrade their skills.

When teams are sent from developing economy TVET authorities to visit effective systems in their region, the focus is on the beauty of the buildings, the state of the art hardware and the academic qualifications of the teaching staff. The take-away by the visitors is…if we had those factors, we, too, would be successful.

The successful systems invariably have a strong link between employers and the TVET institutions and institutions, teaching effectiveness, graduate and employer satisfaction are based on these relationships.

The low hanging fruit rather than improving the effectiveness of the skills development system. That is equipment and buildings, not relationships.

In the meantime, employers do what they have to do to get the minimum skills they need and many TVET systems wander off in their own directions with little regard or understanding for a skills development system that makes sense for the society in which they work. 

Government Ministries responsible for TVET do not trust industry and have no experience in working with the private sector. Industry typically sees Government as primarily interested in increasing revenues and imposing central coordination. 

Driving faster and faster along the wrong road will certainly get you somewhere, but probably not where you wanted to go. 

Going in new directions will take some courage and political will but there is little doubt that the energy and resources are available to meet the expectations of these economies for much higher skills levels.

TVET has the following tasks

  1. Meet the needs of the economy for a continuing access to new workers who meet employers requirements for both technical and soft skills.
  2. Meet the needs of young people for preparation for decent employment that is built on career ladders not single entry level jobs.
  3. Meet the needs of those already in the workforce for continuous upgrading to support long term employability and the evolution of industry to match technological change.
  4. Meet the needs of the community for upgrading of the unemployed or new mature labour market entrants with accessible  technical and employability skills matching the requirements of employers.​​

TVET System Requirements to Perform the Tasks

  1. Each system will find its own balance among these tasks depending on demographics, state of economic development and social expectations.
  2. These factors vary across each country. Thus the balance is locally defined and communities, employers  and their institutions need to be consulted on the balance. As the balance will change over time, this consultation must be regular.
  3. Skills Standards must be set by those who employ TVET graduates. Academic interference simply reduces employability. Without strong links with employers at an institutional level, TVET will be much less effective. 
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