Vocational education surpasses economic benefits | Sunday Observer

Vocational education surpasses economic benefits

The purpose of the labour market-oriented technical and vocational education and training is aimed at preparing potential future workforces such as students, trainees, and apprentices to gain entry to the labour force in the country. The main function of these vocational education institutions in Sri Lanka is to provide a trained and skilled workforce by strengthening quality.

Almost all these institutions function under the Government. The main objective of the new Minister who seems able, qualified and experienced, is expected to focus on streamlining the process to improve the system further.

A close look at the system indicates that the current routine is more supply-driven for the public and private sectors. Consultation with entrepreneurs, business associations and commercial chambers from which most of the employment opportunities are generated, does not seem to be in the proper position as yet.

At present, there is little evidence that the training programs and subjects of the curriculum are prepared with the involvement of the private sector although they are the main employment providers.

This phenomenon makes the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) highly supply-driven as the trainees who come out are not employment-ready as per the yardstick of the private sector.

Government institutions involved in vocational education can be of immense assistance to the Government’s policy of a ‘people-centric economy’ introduced in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s manifesto.

The policy is to develop the indigenous industry and agriculture to provide better living standards to the citizenry. Therefore, proper and employment friendly programs can supply the suitable labour force required for the public and private sectors.

Even though there are many institutions for vocational training, and despite the initiatives of consecutive governments, the fulfilment of the actual purpose is yet to take place.

Although hundreds of programs were introduced during the past several decades by institutions such as NAITA, VTA, DTET, National Youth Corps., and NYSC, the result of providing a trained and fully job prepared skilled worker to the market is not yet in place.

There are several reasons for the disparity between the TVET system and the employment needs of the private sector, particularly, and the public sector to some extent. More often than not, vocational institution teachers lack industry experience.

They are also not trained as trainers by undergoing proper methods. Hence, their teaching approach is based only on their classroom theoretical knowledge. They are not motivated enough to deliver results toward the core idea of their contribution. Most of the trainers merely show up in the classroom and deliver a lesson without adding practicalities.

Coordination

Although issues relating to the TVET system are not new to the country, many of them are complex and a wide approach needs to be introduced to manage these issues effectively.

At present, the Technical and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) acts as the apex body of vocational training in Sri Lanka. However, the pertinent question is whether TVEC involvement in improving and upgrading the country’s technical and vocational education is adequate.

Due to the rapidly changing technology around the world, a more efficient and effective service is imperative to keep up with the rest of the world. Hence, an efficient coordination effort between the TVET related institutions should be introduced by the authorities without delay.

The inadequacies of the TVET system and some of the applicable challenges are due to the shortage of suitable instructors, obsolete training equipment and machinery, lack of practical input to develop curriculum. Sri Lankan education encourages students, habitually influenced by parents, to aim at higher education and high-end employments. However, the fact remains that only about 35,000 out of 350,000 GCE Advanced Level students gain entry to state universities. Of the balance, approximately 160,000 students enter vocational education annually, mostly because it is the only available solution.

The Government, in a timely move, will introduce vocational training as a subject with immediate effect. Details of what those subjects are, is not yet known.

However, the move will be hailed by all concerned as one of the best in the recent past. By making it compulsory in the curriculum, the interest for vocations can be inculcated in students from junior levels.

If a student is compelled to discontinue education after the GCE Ordinary Level examination, he or she will be prepared to continue vocational education. However, functional issues such as recruiting teachers, finding proper facilities and equipment could slow down the process unless the right attention is extended by the authorities.

Vocational education and training are immensely beneficial to a country as a whole. It helps workers to perform their respective work better with the learning experience they obtain. They also get an opportunity to sharpen selected skills and contribute to the job they perform. Unlike formal education, the student himself chooses the line of vocation he wishes to pursue. Hence, when a student willingly accepts vocational learning, he is self-motivated and does not consider it a futility.

Rewarding

The career of one’s own choice is the main advantage in this system. Very few people are fortunate enough to be in the employment of their choice, the world over.

A person engaged in vocational education is already pursuing a pre-selected job. This is more rewarding as employment for vocationally educated and trained persons can have better opportunities compared to other careers.

On the other hand, the TVET system is a great asset to the economy. When the workforce is trained and skilled, contribution to productivity is more.

Vocational education and training can often become a tool to address the economic and social problems that harm economic stability. Job-related training programs assure employability, lower unemployment and reduce issues of unemployed youth that are a nuisance to society. Idling youth can be dangerous as they can easily be dragged into nefarious activities. Employment generated through vocational training can draw the attention of youngsters to motivate them and focus on the future positively.

Private sector

The new Ministry should seek the involvement of private sector employers in expanding employment friendly technical education. The quality and standards of subjects offered must be critically re-evaluated to detect drawbacks and offer solutions.

Employers interviewed by this writer on the subject were of the view that the general system does not meet their skills need and the authorities should focus on providing better standards including entrance requirements, instructor or trainer certifications, and assessments before releasing students to the market.

They also feel that TVET students lack a general understanding of how the private sector operates, making them confused at the workplace. Therefore, introducing general business knowledge with personality development as subjects in the curriculum could be immensely useful.

Vocational education and appropriate training for employee productivity are vital for the economy of the country and could contribute to the national economic growth.

Many countries in the region have taken prudent steps to strengthen the policies and regulatory structure for TVET systems to improve the coalition between private sector employers and potential technically qualified workers. It is a fact that skilled and trained human capital is a key asset of the country.

High performance in increasingly fierce global economies and markets with challenges posed by poverty, pollution, health, and Covid-19 issues require Sri Lanka to adopt strategies for the growth of the economy in general. The annual addition of the human capital to the employment market released through the TVET system can be exceedingly useful for the economy and the country.

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