Effective employer engagement is a chronic concern in the field of education, especially the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) sector. It is a recurring challenge, because we need to ensure that trained individuals stay skilled in emerging industries and technologies, and this requires the involvement of employers, both in delivering practical work-placements, and in feeding into the design and content of our TVET qualifications.
The sad reality, however, is that while we are making inroads in partnering with employers in the development of current and industry-relevant curricula and in freeing up more and meaningful job attachment opportunities, we still face a good number of challenges in this regard.
Many companies take in trainees, but fail to deliver in terms of expectations as far as on-the-job training, evaluation and reporting are concerned. It is also true that some industry employers are reluctant to attach trainees because of expectations that trainees will have to be paid allowances. Others continue to view our vocational training centres as sub-standard institutions, despite such centres conforming to stringent national quality assurance requirements.
Swift change is the characteristic of our age. And the TVET of the future requires all of us, as custodians of this important sector, to be innovative and adaptable.
The perceived lack of employer engagement in the TVET sector is not a new challenge. We all agree that employer engagement is key to creating a more responsive TVET system. We appreciate that employers play an increasingly central role both in articulating their workforce needs and skills gaps, and in the design and delivery of qualifications. We know that it is very difficult to engage employers who find our skills administration system too complex and bureaucratic. We are aware of the lack of understanding among our employers about our national qualifications system and how they can help. The question remains. What are we doing about these challenges and blockages in our system? Are we really gaining the active engagement of our employers in the development of our training programmes and services to ensure they are relevant to business needs? How strong and robust are our partnerships with other TVET stakeholders, including our international partners, to secure breadth of expertise and capacity to meet employers’ needs promptly and effectively? Are we assigning the required resources at institutional level, human and financial, to support the establishment and maintenance of strong employer partnerships? Measuring and demonstrating impact are acknowledged to be a very important part of being able to build a sound business case to engage employers and speak to them ‘on their terms’. Are we in a position to demonstrate to employers a positive business impact on their services?
These are some of the challenges I expect you to interrogate and probe. Make no mistake, finding local solutions to these challenges will not be easy. The bottom line is, however, we need to give employers more power to shape the provision of TVET through their choices and priorities. We need to embrace new ways to engage them and involve them in TVET.
Indeed, as policymakers and custodians of TVET, we need to be aware of the difficulties faced by our employers in a time of economic austerity. The current economic climate is a significant challenge to employer engagement and changes the emphasis and priority employers are likely to give to training and development.
Can we blame them? No, because they are driven by profit, not by our want for them to invest in the training and upskilling of our national human resource base. However, we need to improve. And it starts with an appreciation that employers will partner with us, if there is a clear relationship between perceived benefits to their business performance and/or the bottom line.
At the end of the day, the real test of success for our country’s TVET sector is the employability of our graduates. And I am confident that employers will be willing to become meaningful partners, only if we can convince them that our TVET system is indeed able to deliver graduates of a high calibre, whose skills allow them to add value to any employer.
Criticism is often levelled against the Government that while we may have excellent and comprehensive policy frameworks, we often fail in delivery, especially when it comes to effective implementation, which is the process of turning policy into practice.
The position of the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation, and indeed the Namibian Government, is that it is no more business as usual. We need to deliver. And the TVET sector, as an important tool in our quest to grow an industrialised economy, needs to do the same.
Allow me to encourage you to not actively participate in the discussions that lie ahead, but to also come up with key recommendations on how we can improve the status quo and get our employers on board as true partners in the development of a modern skills system.
I expect these recommendations to inform the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation on the direction of strategy and policy on how best to engage our Namibian employers in the design and delivery of TVET activities and programmes and to secure the skills and knowledge our country so desperately needs to underpin its economic growth and development.
• This is an edited extract from the statement by Dr Itah Kandjii-Murangi, the Minister of Higher Education, Training and Innovation, at the 2016 National Skills Competition and Exposition.