LETTER | It is interesting for me to follow the discussions on TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) because in 1972 I had submitted a report to the Ministry of Education on TVET based on my doctoral research on the subject.
The research involved empirical investigation into the organisation and management of TVET in the country then, including the economics and cost-effectiveness of the training programmes offered. The findings of the study revealed many weaknesses in TVET. I made several recommendations to the government on improving the system.
The discussions on TVET today show that not much has improved since then. TVET remains a problem. The need for a functional TVET system is clear, given the developmental aspirations of the country. The question is, how to set TVET on the right path?
The problems with TVET are related to demand and supply and the interaction between the two. The issue is one of mismatch between demand and supply. As it is, supply does not seem to meet demand.
Industry complains that training providers do not provide them with the right kind of graduates to run their operations. Training providers complain that industry does not employ their graduates or pay them the right salaries. Any proposed solution must deal with both the demand and supply side of the problem. Demand and supply must be brought to a functional equilibrium.
Bringing demand, supply together
The following measures are suggested for consideration:
The supply side must begin with actual or anticipated demand for manpower. This requires studying the manpower needs of industry, for at least the next five years. This is more easily said than done. Manpower forecasts are notoriously unreliable because industry is a moving target. Industries are constantly changing. Jobs disappear. New jobs emerge. In this fluid environment, how do you plan for jobs? Any long-term planning is not possible.
The way out is to plan continually, revise, replan. This is only possible if industry and training providers are brought together in the planning process. Industry is changing is not in doubt, especially in the context of industrial revolution 4.0. Without a reasonable understanding of the direction of this change, TVET cannot be effective. Otherwise, trainers will be training youths for jobs that no longer exist or have changed fundamentally.
Once training needs have been reasonably established, training programmes should be designed by training providers and industry jointly and periodically reviewed to remain relevant to industry. This calls for a new mindset on the role of industry in TVET. Government agencies involved in TVET need to learn to work with industry if TVET is to be successful. The traditional role of the Government in TVET has to change.
Collaboration with industry may even require a joint award of certifications.
Instructors for TVET programmes have to be selected on different criteria from academic programs. They need operational experience in industry, supplemented with instruction on pedagogy. They need to keep in touch with industry through continued internships in industry. Instructors need to be paid competitive salaries to retain them. This may require a separate salary scale for TVET instructors.
The objective of TVET should not be to produce trained workers for industry. This cannot be done because industry is changing continually, jobs are changing, job contents are changing. You cannot train people for jobs that are changing. The objective of TVET should be to produce trainable workers – people who can be trained by industry.
It is the responsibility of industry to convert trainable people into trained workers through specific job-related training. Most Malaysian employers shirk this responsibility and blame the training providers for not producing trained workers, which they cannot do.
Training is not a one-time activity. It is a life-long process. Industry needs to invest in skill training for its workers. Such training can be in-plant or provided outside by training providers but paid for by employers. This is where HRDF becomes relevant.
TVET programs should include short internships for students in industry. The internships must be carefully designed and monitored to avoid students being used as cheap labour by industry. The internships will help students to get a feel for what goes on in industry and prepare them for subsequent work.
There is a need for greater standardisation of TVET programs. At present, there are many agencies, ministries, and training providers in TVET. This can be confusing to industry. A clear skill certification system with progressions can go a long way to establish quality measures and build confidence in TVET. Industry and the government should jointly establish these quality standards and frameworks. Without proper measures of skill levels, it is difficult for industry to recruit and pay workers accordingly.
Attracting right students into TVET
Apart from bringing demand and supply together, TVET cannot succeed unless it can attract good students into the training programmes. How do we attract the right students into TVET?
The following measures can be helpful:
TVET should be promoted to students as another stream, not as an alternative to the academic stream. Admission should be equally selective and challenging, though requiring a different set of skills and motivation. The notion that TVET is meant for school dropouts should be discarded. TVET cannot succeed with drop-outs and problem students.
The economic returns on TVET for students should justify taking up the programme. My study in 1972 showed a high percentage of unemployment among vocational-technical graduates, or, if they were employed, they were not employed in relevant jobs. They were misfits. Many were also drawing low salaries, not commensurate with their training. They were actually working as manual workers.
I do not have any similar data on TVET graduates for today. But I believe the data will not be significantly different. The economic returns are not there to attract students into TVET. The students are not being picky. In fact, they are realistic to see that TVET does not pay.
To get TVET to give sufficient returns to students will take time. The required demand in industry has to come first. This requires the right type of industrial development and growth. TVET and industrialisation go hand in hand. Government industrial policies impact TVET.
Sufficient economic returns will not come from TVET if the country continues to draw cheap foreign labour to fill skilled and semi-skilled jobs. We need to create good-paying, skilled jobs in sufficient numbers for locals if TVET is to be attractive to our students.
To attract right students, TVET must not be a dead end. There must be educational opportunities for progression to higher skill levels, including admission to technology degree programs at universities.
I believe if the measures and policies suggested here are adopted, TVET can be turned around to play an important role in human capital development in Malaysia and consequently the economy of the country.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.