How to optimise the private sector’s engagement in TVET
A system that aims at quality skills development through a combination of classroom-based training and practical experience in the workplace demands greater cooperation with the private sector as such an arrangement could yield a multitude of benefits.
Quality TVET, obtained through enhanced collaboration with the private sector, not only helps trainees to acquire the necessary skills, but can also lower the likelihood of mismatching qualifications with labour-market demands.
Various studies indicate that the practical experience TVET trainees get at companies supports the transition to the labour market and offers them the opportunity to have better access to jobs.
Practice-oriented training is also believed to be motivational in providing a more beneficial working environment and creating a positive attitude toward practical training.
Engaging the private sector in training partnerships is, thus, not only an important undertaking in its own right, but also has strategic importance in improving the relevance, working modalities and contributions of the TVET system.
Areas of private-sector engagement
Private business and industry could be involved in a variety of tasks that include policy and governance, curriculum development, training and assessment, development of occupational standards, monitoring and evaluation, among others.
Policymaking and governance
Private-sector stakeholders’ participation in TVET policy- and decision-making processes is often regarded as key to the development of a sustainable and demand-driven TVET.
The sector can get productively involved in shaping policy frameworks for TVET and, particularly, for skills development that facilitate the integration of learning and practice in the workplace.
The private sector can also strengthen TVET governance through participation in regional or national committees or other governance arrangements.
Participation in TVET financing
One of the benefits of engaging the private sector in TVET is reducing the costs of TVET providers while, at the same time, increasing trainees’ opportunities for skills development. The manner in which this is achieved could be, however, dependent on the local context and the conditions under which TVET operates.
Participation in training delivery and assessment
The advantage of the private sector in content development and the delivery of skills and assessment of TVET is widely recognised.
Particularly, the engagement of private-sector actors such as companies, business associations, chambers, to name a few, in training delivery and assessment is assumed to enhance the incorporation of labour-market requirements and the development of relevant skills.
The engagement of the private sector can also provide additional means for reforming the TVET system or a particular curriculum in question.
Defining the skills in demand
The private sector’s role in defining skills that are in demand within the broader employment sector cannot be overemphasised.
Research indicates that, globally, 38% of employers have difficulties filling jobs due to applicants’ lack of skills.
This underscores the need for involving the private sector in determining the skills needed in the job market and integrating these needs into the TVET system.
Obviously, such an undertaking would be useful in addressing the shortage of skilled workers in many systems.
The Ethiopian TVET Strategy (2008) recognises the role of the private sector in the provision of vocational training.
The key stakeholders identified in this strategy include: private employers; the business sector; micro and small enterprises, or MSEs, and different cooperative associations; chambers of commerce and sectoral associations; trade unions and professional associations; private TVET providers and civil societies and NGOs.
Ethiopia’s TVET strategy expects stakeholders to play a major role in tasks such as policy development, drafting and reviewing; financing the TVET system; quality assurance through active involvement in the setting of occupational standards and conducting occupational assessments; the provision of training, internships and apprenticeships; monitoring and evaluation through participation in TVET councils at federal and state levels; and taking over key roles on the management boards of TVET institutions.
However, at present, the private sector’s engagement is characterised by limited participation in selected tasks and is inhibited by many challenges.
Private-sector engagement in TVET in Ethiopia is predominantly concentrated on the development of occupational standards, cooperative training (internship and apprenticeship) schemes, the recruitment of graduates and advice to and representation on the federal TVET Council.
Even within these sets of activities, the engagement level appears to be cosmetic, limited or, at times, non-existent.
While there is some level of engagement in curriculum development and occupational standard development, which are regarded as critical tasks in the sector, private-sector engagement in quality assurance and financing TVET is limited or literally non-existent.
Research indicates that the poor engagement of the private sector is driven by inhibiting factors such as a lack of awareness, financial limitations, poor incentive schemes, risk avoidance and lack of commitment.
Industries or businesses do not seem to have sufficient knowledge about the policies, strategies and frameworks of the system which affects the understanding of their roles and contributions.
Active engagement of the private sector is also influenced by the availability of a huge percentage of MSEs that have limited capacity in providing training placements to trainees or supporting other TVET schemes.
Since the industry receives little incentives for participating in cooperative training, many companies are reluctant to provide meaningful contributions towards TVET.
In spite of a list of incentive packages, indicated in the national TVET strategy document, the implementation gap continues to affect improvement and progress in this area.
Toward a private-sector engagement strategy
Despite being regarded as a key player in TVET reform, the private sector in Ethiopia is making use of limited venues for interaction and meaningful contribution.
There is, therefore, an urgent need to design and implement a long-term private-sector engagement strategy that could have a substantive impact on TVET’s development.
Such a strategy should outline the necessary schemes that facilitate the sector’s active engagement at national, state, sectoral and local level. This demands long-term vision, a favourable policy and adequate funding, among others.
It should also provide mechanisms for multisectoral coordination, which is important to align the individual efforts of different stakeholders.
Of course, private-sector engagement, among others, requires an understanding of key issues such as the development level of the country, the unique conditions in which companies operate and the macro-environment that shapes the sector’s involvement.
That is why due consideration should be given to fostering discussion and engagement with the private sector through the creation of appropriate platforms for partnership.
In fact, establishing relevant platforms at national and state or regional levels is necessary for the private sector and TVET institutions to create improved awareness and joint identification, planning and execution of tasks.
Systems must also be created to improve the existing poor participation of the private sector in cooperative training by devising an appropriate and varied incentive mechanism that recognises, rewards and acknowledges active participants in this scheme.
In general, in order to enhance the effectiveness of TVET and make the best use of the private sector, efforts should be channelled towards designing and implementing a comprehensive private-sector engagement strategy.
In addition to addressing the interests of the government, TVET providers, industries or employers and other relevant stakeholders, such a strategy should serve as a guiding framework to revisit current challenges and chart future directions.
Wondwosen Tamrat (PhD) 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. This is a commentary.