Vocational education and training (VET) systems have proven to be excellent pathways for students to acquire in-demand skill sets. Countries in the Middle East and North Africa region should certainly consider integrating vocational education and training as key drivers that would help them achieve their employment and productivity goals.
VET systems offer a suite of promising benefits that are too important to ignore. From an economic perspective, VET students provide high economic value and productivity in various industries. Governments that have invested in VET systems have unlocked pools of skilled and employable talent in strategic industries, benefiting from low youth unemployment rates and reducing the skills mismatch among graduates.
In addition, companies benefit from personalized training programs, adapted to their needs and incredibly practical, facilitating the transition of graduates to the world of work.
As such, VET systems need to be repositioned as important drivers of economic growth and sustainable job creation. Essentially, these programs combine learning in vocational schools with hands-on, on-site experience with employers.
Workplace training programs
Collaboration with the private sector is therefore a critical success factor, as companies often design the VET curriculum and course content with local or national government education agencies, in addition to formulating qualifications and assessments for industry and offer on-the-job training programs that span two to four years.
This hybrid work model has enabled VET students to graduate with highly relevant skills and knowledge, in addition to practical experiences that facilitate the transition to full-time employment.
Successful VET programs rely heavily on the input of employers, who can identify priority skills that need to be honed in students during their apprenticeship. VET programs should consider a combination of key areas, including industry-relevant technical or vocational skills and employability-relevant soft skills, such as problem solving, conflict management, analytical skills , communication, teamwork and creativity.
VET teachers and trainers responsible for training apprentices in the workplace must have sufficient and relevant professional experience and qualifications. A rigorous assessment process should also be in place so that assessors and employers can assess students’ achievements and demonstrate their mastery of the skills needed before graduation.
It is important to encourage students to follow VET pathways. In this context, a priority for schools will be to allocate resources to the establishment of career guidance services in order to provide sufficient guidance and information on the career paths of VET students.
Education agencies should also publish a standardized model contract for use between employers and apprenticeship students that will ensure they are working in a conducive work environment. This contract should detail expected hours of work, code of conduct, health insurance coverage, occupational safety and health, and time off.
Increase talent pools
Paying VET students will help them gain financial independence and support their learning journeys. Governments could also provide grants, particularly to increase talent pools in strategic sectors and professions, covering costs such as tuition, housing, books and transportation. In addition, defining a monthly salary range for VET students to be provided by employers will be an attractive selling point.
At the same time, incentives should also be put in place to support companies that take an active role in designing and rolling out effective learning programs, such as grants, scholarships and recognition. Sharing the costs of delivering apprenticeship programs between businesses and state and local governments is an effective model for engaging the private sector.
Another solution is the creation of collective training boards – currently applied in Norway, Australia and Germany – to act as intermediaries on behalf of small and medium-sized enterprises and VET schools, benefiting from economies of scale to provide a wide range of training for apprentices, while meeting government objectives.
Appointing inspirational mentors and career coaches in the workplace is a fantastic way to tailor students’ professional development plans to suit their unique needs. Governments could potentially achieve better alignment between employers and VET students by launching a central online platform that acts as a job bank linked to learning opportunities, according to various sectors, professions and locations geographical.
We can glean a range of interesting and successful case studies from countries with high intake of graduates into VET systems, which also enjoy low youth unemployment rates and high economic success.
Switzerland offers a fantastic example in this regard, with the VET system attracting two-thirds of secondary school graduates to its programmes. Each year, 26,700 students graduate from VET schools in 230 professions, contributing to a remarkably low youth unemployment rate of 2.5%.
A range of fascinating professions are on offer for students to pursue in their careers, including culinary arts, social services, tourism, logistics, media, crafts and healthcare.
Students split their time between VET schools, company-sponsored training courses and work-based apprenticeships. As such, their learning paths are often customized to meet specific job and department requirements.
At the same time, they receive sufficient guidance to pursue their interests and further study options. Students also receive a monthly salary that is considered lucrative for these young students, ranging from $600 to $1,200 per month.
By redesigning the VET system in the MENA region, governments can unlock a pool of skilled and productive talent that will bolster their economic agenda.
Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with interests in human development policy and literature