Unlocking potential skills for tomorrow | Sunday Observer

Unlocking potential skills for tomorrow

We inherited from the British, a tradition that valued academic studies more than the vocational. Parents, anxious to have their children succeed in the new world, accepted these educational values. Successive governments also fell in line with the same thinking. There were only a few technical colleges which catered to junior levels in the technical fields.

In 1991, the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) was established as the apex body in the technical and vocational education and training sector. Years later, it was converted to a statutory body with greater autonomy and increased representation by the private sector. In 2000, the Skills Development Fund (SDF) was set up to assist employers to get their employees trained in new skills. And in 2011, the University of Vocational Technology was established.

However, all these changes and reforms did not have the desired effect due to a number of reasons.

It is pleasing to note that the present Government has shown keen interest in developing vocational education. It has secured the co-operation of the different sectors of industry and labour to increase worker mobility and help the economy grow.

Skills formation

Across most of the modernised world, apprenticeship has gradually given way to formal vocational education and training (VET) systems. There are reasons for that. Unlike university, in an apprenticeship you earn a salary while you learn (plus the apprenticeship training you receive is free!). It may not be a high salary, but enough to provide you with the things you want.

Doing an apprenticeship gives you real workplace experience, and would place you directly on the career ladder, with a chance to find out what is best for you.

A majority of employers prefer their employees to have a hands-on workplace experience rather than just a university degree. An added bonus of an apprenticeship is that the employee will be able to learn from professionals who are renowned in their field of work.

This is why in Europe, Australia, Japan, the USA and Canada, formal vocational education systems face many challenges. They struggle to keep pace with labour market demands of changing economies and emerging industries and they find it difficult to meet the needs of small to medium enterprises.

Above all, they face the challenge of aligning their training products and services to the exacting, national and global standards, at the same time adapting their training to meet changing local needs.


It is in this spirit that we must give some thought to what a vocational training system in Sri Lanka should aim at and what it needs to do to get there. The writer believes, it should be a broad public-private partnership.

Public-Private partnerships are critical for the development of high quality vocational education and training because they allow for regular communication between employers and VET providers. This generation of better networks for communication is a tangible outcome of social partnership activities.

Communication is critical in VET practice, and enables VET providers to learn what skills are in demand and train for jobs that change regularly. Communication also allows employers to have input into the curriculum of VET and often gives them a recruiting tool to attract skilled workers.

Private sector

The most important thing is to bring private sector employers more actively into this educational process. One reason to engage employers is to improve system level governance, and planning for vocational education and training. The second reason is fiscal. The government will be happy in sharing the cost of vocational education and training with employers.

Thirdly, there is a sense among local educators that the quality of the education will be improved by employer involvement in curriculum and testing, particularly, in the development of the educational standards or a national qualifications framework.

Finally, there remains a need to engage employers at the local level in the teaching and learning process. This is perhaps the most critical from the international perspective.

Dual system

In a market economy, public private partnership is the glue that links education and employers. The term is really used as shorthand for a range of public policies that have a shared goal to tighten the level of communication among educators and employers. Germany’s “dual system” is one model of public private engagement.

The German system is based on a law introduced in 1969 that mandates a particular governance structure for vocational education and training. At the heart of the German system is a delegation of responsibility for curriculum and assessment to a coalition of private business sector and government higher education representatives.

Business representatives play a particularly complex role, managing the system by monitoring the quality of training provided by firms in the dual system.

Studies of the German model lay out the following as key components that need to be in place: (1). A legislative framework that requires companies to invest in the training of newly hired workers; (2). A funding mechanism through a combination of government (State and Provincial), and business spending; (3). The capacity to carry out job analysis and curriculum development; (4). Local institutions that represent the interests of businesses; and (5). Trained professional instructors and administrators.

Some countries, such as Thailand or Korea, have managed to replicate the German system with some success.

However, unless companies see participation in their best interests they will not participate in and ultimately pay for training and hiring of vocational education graduates.

Work-readiness is a matter of both confidence as well as competence – being at ease with the routines of skill application, having the capacity to collaborate with team members, negotiate tasks and manage these under contingent circumstances. None of these attributes are especially fostered through traditional forms of classroom learning and assessment.