LETTER | The National Council of Professors (MPN) ought to be lauded for its noble efforts in lending a hand to elevate human capital in the country.
A proposed framework for the national Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) was presented by the National TVET Movement (Gerakan TVET Nasional) on Nov 13 to a large number of representatives from many industries.
The session was held at its Putrajaya Balai Ilmuan and entitled “Jemputan Bagi Menghadiri Sesi Pembentangan Cadangan Kerangka Pendidikan Teknikal Dan Vokasional (TVET) Nasional”.
But the word “Latihan” or training was missing. Was it the case of professors emphasising the importance of education and ignoring training or was it just an oversight?
The movement correctly identified the main setback of TVET in Malaysia as due to fragmentation as it is under the purview of seven ministries and many more government agencies, working mostly in silos and lacking coordination.
The creation of many ministries and posts for civil servants naturally led to the initiation of many projects that require funding for those involved resulting in Malaysia having one of the largest numbers of ministries, agencies and civil servants compared to population size.
Shrinking from seven ministries to one would minimise overlapping, reducing the government’s total budget on TVET or increasing training without additional funding, giving more bang for the buck. Hence, the movement was excited with what a top-down approach could bring.
Representatives of various industries voiced their concerns after the presentation, one of which was the public’s poor perception of TVET as many were concerned with the public perception of weak students being placed in vocational schools.
There was a consensus that TVET should be rebranded, but it would be a mistake to think a brand could be developed through sloganeering. It is critical to recognise that the issue goes very deep, starting with fundamentals and not just on TVET per se.
For example, if parents or students were to be asked why they chose to study in a college or university, they would give a superficial answer by saying that a diploma or degree is needed for their future, apart from the fact they need to work to support their family or themselves.
Many Malaysians seem oblivious to the huge number of unemployed or underemployed graduates in the market, with many unable or struggling to service their Perbadanan Tabung Pendidikan Tinggi Nasional (PTPTN) study loans.
If they are truly interested in carving a career, they should learn how to perform well in a particular job, but general courses approved by the Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA) are largely academic, with little relevance to the job market.
Those who pursue licensed professions such as doctors, accountants, architects, engineers and lawyers have a much better chance of success in their careers than those enrolled in easier general studies, with one of the favourites being tourism and hospitality programmes.
These students were told the tourism industry is very wide and offers them huge opportunities, but most undergraduates have no career plans and upon graduation would apply for any vacancy available in the tourism sector or other industries.
During the interview or upon starting work, they would begin to realise they were not trained to perform well in any job. They may have studied a course but had learned very little of what is required in the workplace, made worse by spoon-feeding and plagiarism.
Most of them are let down by their poor attitude and weak communication skills, which are much more important than academic qualifications or repetitive job experience. Apart from being able to communicate well in the language of customers and suppliers, interacting well with colleagues and bosses is also necessary to win over confidence.
TVET students, in general, may be weaker in interpersonal communication skills but graduates with diplomas or degrees are not much better. With that being the case, at least a TVET graduate has the skill to get some physical work done but an academic graduate may produce nothing.
As such, a bottom-up approach is just as important as a top-down one. Students and parents must be asked and guided on the reason for schooling or tertiary education, and not blindly follow the norm which has not been a success story for many.
Apart from studying the curriculum decided by MQA, students should be encouraged to learn about life skills and develop an interest in a particular field. Anyone who is passionate and given a chance to learn would excel in his chosen field, with or without paper qualification.
Political will is also needed for TVET to make a quantum leap in Malaysia. The federal government should decide and announce a time frame for skilled jobs such as electricians, mechanics, plumbers etc. to be certified and licensed.
This will give added impetus in raising the competency and income of skilled workers and attract more Malaysians to these jobs long dominated by low-skilled foreign workers. Highly skilled Malaysians also have the option to work in foreign countries and enjoy a 10 time higher income.
Apart from making TVET sexy and appealing to school leavers, it is equally important to upskill and reskill the existing workforce. But first, the definition of “skilled workers” in Malaysia need to be revised.
It is laughable if workers with a general degree are classified as skilled workers just to reach the target of 35 percent skilled workers in our country by 2020. Unless one’s standard is very low, it is obvious that a high percentage of Malaysians, including graduates with general degrees, are unskilled and unproductive, especially office staff.
Therefore, TVET should be an open modular concept for both apprentices and current practitioners. A career path should also be chartered and displayed to show that anyone starting as an apprentice can reach the top of his career in the corporate world or be a successful businessperson with the right training and determination.
The chart could also illustrate that many blue-collar jobs are paid much more than normal white-collar jobs. In fact, you don’t have to look far. We have a shortage of good trailer drivers although they easily earn RM5,000 to RM8,000 monthly.
It cost about RM1,665 to obtain a heavy vehicle and goods driving licence, this even lower by taking up the MyLesen Goods Driving Licence (GDL) programme conducted by the RTD and the Driving Institute and Association of Malaysia Hauliers (AMH).
Yet we have several hundred thousand unemployed and underemployed graduates that earn much less, with many spending large sums of money from their parents or study loans and not making any effort to earn higher incomes.
The main challenge for promoting TVET to be on par with academic programmes is the ignorance and mindset of both parents and students. Ultimately, success in any career depends largely on learning on the job every day, and less on studying for a TVET or degree programme.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.