Vocational education the accelerator on the road to growth

opinion December 27, 2012 00:00

By Dr Thomas Schroeder

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Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is a significant accelerator for the social and economic development of all national economies. But it becomes even more significant in the special conditions of emerging economies and regionalised ec

Participative TVET systems create a triple-win situation for their investors – the state, the companies and the individuals:

High-quality vocational education is an indispensable prerequisite for the creation of a qualified workforce. The development of a regulated vocational education system is a long-term and socially relevant organisational task that should not be tampered with by any single group ruled by short-term use-interests. All become winners in a functioning vocational education system. The state gains higher tax revenues, fewer transfer and social payments and vastly improved social transparency through education. Companies benefit from improved efficiency, competitiveness and innovation capabilities. The individual is rewarded with a higher income, better work places and an opening up of opportunities to rise up the employment ladder.

It is not possible to construct and operate a vocational educational system for the long term without significant investment. In this respect, those who stand to profit from such a system should contribute. But even more vital than the financing of vocational education, is the commitment of the various stakeholders to the organisation and structuring of the vocational education system. Full and worthy social acceptance can only be attained through the joint, cooperative organisation that ensures the firm structuring of vocational education, a factor which, up to now, has not been the case in many countries. For many people, in many societies, higher education is the only form of qualification perceived as worth striving for. 

Vocational education as a meaningful alternative:

Only society as the sovereign, ie the state, can build up vocational education as a meaningful and relevant alternative to higher education, and define the regulatory framework. The state takes on the role of initiator, designer and moderator. Its work is to invest in vocational colleges, buildings, teaching staff, equipment, learning materials, quality control and examination methods. Following that, the companies step in to integrate the trainees into their operating work processes and in so doing enable a holistic experience-based learning-programme integrated into productive work phases. In the ideal scenario, companies create incentives for taking up vocational training by offering financial compensation to trainees, which can be refinanced through the productive learning phases. The trainees are obliged to attend two different learning sites during the period of two to three years. 

Modern and future-secure vocational education needs the participation of companies. Experience demonstrates that the participation of companies leads to a significant rise in the quality of vocational education. It is only through real practice phases that the trainee becomes involved in on-the-job in-company socialisation and is able to internalise the actual work process and become conscious of the quality of work. The trainee’s vocational education theory and in-company practice unite in a cohesive learning process. Vocational colleges alone simply cannot provide this specific demand. The transition from vocational education into employment and practical operational work takes place without initial training or additional trainee programmes. Vocational colleges profit from cooperation with the companies as they cannot detach from the exigencies of the real work world. The best in-company learning phases do not occur randomly but are organised and supervised by qualified in-company education personnel.

Gain of market share after an economic crisis:

The question is repeatedly asked: why does vocational education have to last two to three years if brief training or learning-on-the-job-training-phases could be sufficient?

The answer lies in the needs of the participating stakeholder. A three-year programme offers a fundamentally broad range of vocational education and specialisation. The resulting employees are more flexible, have at their disposal a greater bandwidth of skills at a higher quality and do not need to be sent away for long courses that are cost-intensive. Such qualified personnel can plan, carry out and evaluate their work independently. They can anticipate and plan for challenges ahead, having been involved in holistic learning situations where they learn to envision the entire process from initial phases to the end result and finished product. They can be co-organisers,  reflecting on the quality of their work processes and their results. They may need consultation and advice in the process, but do not require constant guidance and leadership.

After an economic crisis or following the restructuring of a company’s work organisation, such trained employees can respond immediately to an upswing.  Such quick reaction time helps the enterprise to promptly implement production activities. This is a huge advantage in a globally competitive world. Those who react faster than their competitors gain market share.

The state can link longer educational periods with qualified education degrees. Vocational education can thus be made permeable to all social groups and offer chances for progressing in education. The result will be highly qualified personnel, equipped simultaneously with theoretical knowledge and practical hands-on skills. In addition come promotion opportunities through such education that signify more social justice.

Out of all this the individual obtains a recognised and highly valued qualification with improved promotion opportunities, increased income potential as well as improved education and social security. In addition, high value vocational qualifications improve the mobility of the employee.

Building future-oriented vocational education systems is a complex task that can only succeed with the participation of all relevant groups in a society and requires a medium term duration that will reap great rewards in the long term – and for all those involved!

Dr Thomas Schroeder is director of the Secretariat of the Regional Co-operation Platform for Vocational Teacher Education and Training in Asia (RCP).