Tardy implementation undermines TVET reform policies
But the 2008 National TVET Strategy that mainly focused on making TVET an outcomes-based, demand-oriented, integrated, relevant, flexible and accessible system perhaps represents the most fundamental turning point.
This policy intention has also been consistently reflected in Ethiopia’s national development strategies, education sector directions and plans. However, the sector remains deficient in many respects, including its supply-driven orientation.
Making TVET demand-led is often regarded as the major goal in many successful TVET systems owing to its capacity to respond meaningfully to the needs of the labour market. A demand-led system helps to identify specific knowledge, skills and competencies as well as essential workplace attributes and behaviours that are needed.
It can predict changes in demand and is flexible enough to respond in good time to the dynamism that the labour market exhibits.
Among others, reforms that seek to make the TVET system demand-led require the implementation of various strategies that include designing competency-based curricula, providing career or vocational guidance, undertaking labour market skills assessments, setting up labour market information systems and involvement of a diversified set of stakeholders.
Challenges and manifestations
Among other things, the supply-driven orientation in Ethiopia’s TVET system has resulted in a skills supply shortage, skills surplus and skills-qualification mismatch that have become common manifestations of the system.
A 2019 study from the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Associations indicated that, while a skills surplus is particularly common in the leather, textile and garment industries, there are skills supply shortages in the fields of plastic and rubber technology in the manufacturing sector, painting and welding in the construction sector, and stewardship and housekeeping in the service sector.
According to the same study, although it appears to be a common phenomenon across the post- secondary system in Ethiopia, skills-qualification mismatch appears to be exaggerated in the areas of the chemical and steel industry, and food technology.
In terms of availability of graduates based on levels of training, the same study indicated that level 1 to level 3 graduates are adequately available on the market while there is limited availability of level 4 and 5 graduates, both in the manufacturing and service sectors.
Despite the abundant policy promises and changes the Ethiopian TVET sector has undergone over the years, there are elements that explain why the Ethiopian system remains supply-driven. These components appear to be either lacking or are still not properly implemented.
Weak stakeholder representation
The TVET strategy in Ethiopia recognises the need for involving relevant stakeholders in the planning, policy-making, administering, training delivery, and monitoring and evaluation of the TVET system.
However, the participation of industry in curriculum design and cooperative training is often nominal and limited. This has its negative impact on providing students and trainees with the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities relevant for the world of work.
The limited participation of the private sector in the various components and structures of TVET – including the governance structure of TVET – is also affecting the possible influence and cooperative schemes that could be forged.
The ministry of education’s TVET System Model curriculum (2011) stipulates that the development of TVET curricula should:
• Be driven by occupational standards (OS);
• Aim at providing a systematic and consistent framework, without necessarily being too rigid and detailed;
• Reflect the specific context and conditions of occupational learning and follow the principle of modularisation;
• Reflect learning, then assessment and progression or practice and reassessment until competent;
• Be revised periodically since occupations and their specific characteristics change over time; and
• Be revised to continuously reflect current occupational requirements.
The reality, however, is far from the envisaged principles and guidelines. Apart from being blamed for being imported from other countries, the development of OS has not been demand-driven and based on the needs and rigorous involvement of the industry.
Consistent observations also show that many of the existing TVET providers have limitations and capacity deficiencies to transform the occupational standards into appropriate modular and outcomes-based curricula and training, teaching, and learning materials.
Recognising this deficiency, the revised 2020 Ethiopian TVET Policy and Strategy calls for improved input from the labour market and active involvement of industry in the development of curricula.
Vocational guidance and counselling
Countries with successful TVET provide sufficient and good quality vocational guidance and counselling services to their trainees due to their significant role in the provision of useful information that facilitates personal choices, job opportunities, transition to the labour market and indicative pathways for further education and training.
In fact, TVET trainees often need career or vocational guidance before they join the sector, during recruitment of trainees, and during the training process, based on labour market information.
However, as is common in many developing countries, many career guidance initiatives tend to be less common in many TVET institutions in Ethiopia. TVET trainees join the sector without having sufficient information which affects their choice, motivation and performance.
Tracer studies and labour market assessment
Conducting regular tracer studies and labour assessment is considered important in reorienting TVET delivery and aligning it with the labour market.
This will not only promote the understanding of graduate employability and potential challenges that trainees encounter, but it can also serve as a continuous process of tracing changes in the market and addressing such changes in the training plans and curricula of TVET institutions.
Few TVET institutions in Ethiopia conduct tracer studies on a regular basis, and large-scale assessment of the outcomes of TVET graduates remain a rarity across the sector.
Labour Market Information System
A demand-led TVET also needs the availability of good quality labour market information to help guide and realise the desired outcomes. A Labour Market Information System provides skills demand and supply analysis and is needed to inform the development of new training programmes.
It is considered to be key to labour force-related information that can be used by regulatory agencies, the private sector and other stakeholders for informed planning and decision-making.
To some extent, the TVET system in Ethiopia is said to be dependent on the labour market analysis and forecast drawn from the Ethiopian Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the National Statistical Agency and Regional Medium and Small Enterprise Development Agency.
However, except for limited data on the unemployed kept by agencies such as The Bureau of Social Affairs and rudimentary data about trainees kept by TVET institutions themselves, there is a huge gap in terms of organised data about TVET trainees, TVET institutions, the job market and labour market outcomes.
As a matter of practice, there is no central agency that keeps such data at a national or regional level, nor a centralised system that links relevant data that exists across the sector and provides relevant labour-related market information in an efficient manner.
This continues to make the task of efficient communication, data-management systems and planning and decision-making in the sector a difficult job.
Policy direction or implementation challenges?
While improvements in the provision of a demand-driven TVET system in Ethiopia requires addressing the deficiencies indicated in the suggested and related areas, most of the gaps appear to be implementation challenges rather than the lack of policy directions.
One way or the other, the fundamental reforms initiated through the 2008 National TVET Strategy appear to capture most of the issues, but their poor implementation continues to inhibit the improvement of the TVET system.
The 2020 TVET Strategy and Policy issued by the ministry of science and higher education calls for improvements in the same areas without necessarily introducing fundamental changes in the policy directions suggested more than a decade ago.
This points to the need for concerted efforts in the implementation of policy directions that help TVET serve its intended purposes at sectoral and national levels.
This commentary has been written by Wondwosen Tamrat. He is an associate professor and founding president of St Mary’s University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a collaborating scholar of the Programme for Research on Private Higher Education at the State University of New York at Albany, United States, and coordinator of the private higher education sub-cluster of the Continental Education Strategy for Africa. He may be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.