5 Reasons Governments Should Invest More in Vocational Training in Asia

Opinion11.04.2017
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Vocational education differs from traditional education in that it focuses on building the specific skills for specific trades. It engages individuals in the learning of practical skills for different occupational activities. While there is still the perception in Asia that vocational training is offering less opportunities than going to university, it has proven effective in countries that have a significant number of labor emigrants, like the Philippines. However, the vocational education system in the region could still benefit from a more robust support system from governments. The system is still viewed as the weakest link in the education system with many countries still struggling to come up with solutions for education and manpower development.  Countries that are taking the lead in vocational education include advanced economies like Japan, Korea, and Singapore. Following this, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand are also considered as having fairly developed vocational education systems. There are a number of reasons why investing in vocational training can lead to better outcomes for countries in the region.

Skill Development in Informal Sectors

Informal sectors usually comprise unskilled workers, who more likely did not have access to education beyond the standard 12 years of school in some countries. In some cases, this is even less. These workers usually come from poorer backgrounds where work is crucial to ensuring a steady flow of income into their household. In countries like Thailand, where agricultural, fishing, and manufacturing industries have increasingly suffered from a shortage of workers, the country has become dependent on foreign workers from Myanmar and Cambodia. Investment in vocational education can ensure that knowledge and skills of workers in informal sectors are up to industrial standards. This can enhance productivity and also help in the transferability of skills between the informal and formal sectors. Workers themselves will also benefit from an increase in income through vocational education due to their enhanced productivity.  

Improved Quality of Products and Services

It goes without saying that the more companies and governments invest in the developing and improving the skills of workers, industries will experience an improvement in the quality of their products and services. In Singapore, vocational education has made leaps in not only addressing the perception of the quality of vocational education itself but has successfully addressed the needs of the lower 25% school cohort. Since these students are less academically inclined, the government built the vocational education training around developing their skills and training in different fields. Doing so, the government also created a modern campus infrastructure, along with a rigorous curriculum development process, and close collaborations with industries. This has ensured that even the lower 25% school cohort are able to contribute their knowledge and skills in helping build the economy.

Increases in Private Sector Investment in Training

Funding for vocational education is structured in different ways and varies from country to country. Governments, businesses, and students each play a role in ensuring investments in vocational education training. However, it can be argued that although governments should not themselves engage in the provision of training, it can influence the quality of training through public financing. This is because governments themselves often do not have the capacity to provide the types of quality training needed for companies and employers. Companies obviously know better what kind of skills are needed in the workplace. With different investment support, industries are also more likely to invest in vocational training for their workforce, as this often involves additional costs that some industries may not be able to entirely carry themselves.

Access to Labor Markets

For those who cannot afford more traditional forms of education or who would like to develop specialized skills, vocational education can provide access to labor markets locally and abroad. This can help reduce youth unemployment and also provide alternative livelihoods for workers who cannot find work locally. A good example here is the Philippines where there is great demand from receiving countries for domestic workers and nurses from the country.  A lot of youth who migrate from the Philippines for work are young and possess specialized skills through vocational education programs that not only focus on technical training but also addresses common occurring issues that foreign Filipino workers face while abroad, including legal and remittances issues. Vocational education can also ensure that workers affected by structural adjustments from companies are retrained to increase their employability in other markets.

Technological Innovation

Since vocational training focuses on specialized skills and knowledge, with more government support industries can enjoy the benefit of technological innovation. Since industries themselves usually take up training provisions, top industry players are often at the cutting edge of technological innovation. By working with industries, governments can enhance the spread of specialized and new knowledge and skills that can help industries grow and in turn enhance economic growth. You can see this happening more prominently in advanced economies like Japan, South Korea, and Singapore where governments actively play a significant role in supporting technological innovation in their countries and supporting highly skilled workforces in tech-related industries.

In goes without saying that while the region has made progress in improving in vocational education system, some countries could benefit from more support from governments. It has to be stressed, however, that this should be done in close co-operation with the private sector, with the private sector having the last word on training curriculum and with training itself taking place in companies, maybe supplemented by general subjects taught in specialized supplementary classes run by government. With improved vocational education, governments can address the needs of those who cannot afford standard forms of education and those who wish to specialize their skills in their trade. Governments would also be able to better partner with industries in addressing labor shortages and skills/knowledge gaps. This can help change the perception of the quality of vocational education and engage in manpower development in a more effective and sustainable way.