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Flexibility for skills


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Countries around the world are diversifying their education options as the future moves to more technology driven and unpredictable areas. As Sri Lanka looks to attract more investment to foster growth it is imperative that skills are developed so that the labour force is able to meet the needs to new ventures. 

One challenge of attracting younger people to vocational training is the relative higher expense, and the comparatively longer wait before they begin earning. Few efforts are made to showcase opportunities of vocational training to young people, and even if they take the initiative to become trained, there are few employment opportunities in rural areas. Even once they are trained, technical workers are usually absorbed through manpower agencies, which have exploitative practices and do not provide them with job security. Licensing or certification for some vocations can be unaffordable, pushing people towards three-wheelers.    

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) has traditionally been given less priority by many developing countries, but one of the lessons learned in the wake of the global economic crisis has been the close association between economic resilience and robust TVET systems. With countries like Germany, Austria, and Switzerland with robust technical and vocational sectors exhibiting higher levels of resilience to the crisis, new questions have emerged about the fundamentals for sustainable economies and pursuing educational diversification. 

Diversification of education systems includes a sharper focus on post-basic and tertiary education provisioning, life-long learning and, most importantly, skills for work and life. This includes, among other things, formal and non-formal TVET that is relevant to national and global labour markets. This is a welcome re-prioritising and one that bodes well for rethinking, and for mainstreaming TVET within, the education system.

Additionally, the diversification of education systems has the potential to complement national development strategies through a simultaneous response to skills gaps in the economy, particularly in technical fields and to human development deficits. A concerted human and general development strategy centred on quality and accessible education, training, and skills development, and linked to (but not necessarily determined by) industrial and economic development priorities, has the potential to move donor agendas, government policy, and industry investment in the direction of a mutually reinforcing cycle to help drive economic growth.

Mainstreaming TVET not only requires extensive State resources to ‘re-brand’ TVET, but also appropriate education and training facilities with an emphasis on practical application and extensive curriculum reform. It also necessitates a different kind of State capacity, notably the ability to facilitate and foster new partnerships between industry and public training institutions, or at least to provide the policy incentives for such relationships to emerge. Without State intervention, young people’s transition into the formal world of work will remain a challenge, and one whose resolution remains a matter of chance rather than a concerted effort and design on the part of multiple social actors.

Making a case for TVET is ultimately about setting a challenge not just for educational reform, but also for experimentation and innovation. It is also an invitation to enter into multi-actor alliances, spanning the public, private, and non-governmental sectors with the view of improving livelihoods and outcomes for citizens, especially youth. No other intervention will alter the largely negative perceptions that the youth and the public generally hold of TVET than more opportunities to secure employment or pursue viable entrepreneurial activity.


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