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TVET or not TVET, that is the question

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TVET or not TVET, that is the question

OF LATE, much has been talked about Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) as a major focus for ensuring that Malaysia is able to address its industrialisation challenges going forward.

The idea is for talent to find a quicker entry into employment and industrial skills development. This is against a backdrop of companies, particularly foreign direct investors (FDIs), who are now more and more favouring skills and attitude over qualifications.

Elon Musk, Tesla Inc’s CEO, has famously declared his disdain for higher education qualifications. The large tech companies shaping our future, it seems, care little for paper qualifications in general.

TVET in Malaysia historically has been associated more with shop-floor factory or tradesmen occupations. Today, we need it to deliver high-tech capable talent. Up to now, these kinds of talent in Malaysia, whom we thought would come from university degree holders, ironically find themselves less and less employable.

One has to ask, therefore, are we missing a trick here? For years, we have spent on universities to get people with degrees, so that companies can have ready access to technologists, and now all of a sudden, it is the TVET colleges who are expected to deliver this?

It would seem that this effort is driven more top-down and as a reaction to an unexpected turn of events.

In Malaysia, these sorts of things seem to “happen” to us more often than not. Recently, the prime minister was quoted as saying that countries like Korea and Taiwan had surpassed us in their ability to develop technology since the 70s.

If you have ever spent time in the industries of these countries, you will find that TVET and higher education have always been closely linked, mainly by virtue of the large local tech companies having apprentice centres in one form or another as part of their basic make-up.

Also in these countries, FDI does not dominate their industrial landscape. Industrial development here is driven by homegrown giants.

So, it seems for these countries, TVET is always part of the plan. I think what “happened” to Malaysia was that we had not planned to develop industry ourselves from scratch, but instead opted to cut it short through FDIs.

Attracting FDIs is somewhat like sitting for a job interview — you show them your curriculum vitae and they assess your suitability.

In the job advertisement are requirements like the number of people with certificates and degree qualifications, so we spent the money to make sure we had the engines to produce these.

It was all well and good when large corporations — focused mainly on mass production, or the processing of commodities to feed mass consumption — ruled the world. All you needed were enough “goblins to man the forges”.

Today, agile technology-driven start-ups growing at previously unheard off pace are the order of the day.

These companies prefer similarly agile technology-driven manpower, “self-learners please apply!” they proclaim, and they have their own means to measure such aptitude.

So, it seems not only do we need to develop our TVET ecosystem, but we need to do it in the context of a brand new industrial landscape…which itself is evolving more and more rapidly.

Let’s take a moment to look at some of the features of one of the oldest and most successful TVET systems in the world, the German Dual Education System.

As with many other European countries, this evolved in part from the guilds of the past where craftsmen were trained by masters. Post-elementary school students have the choice based on their performance and inclinations to enter into several types of high school which emphasise either academic or skills outcomes.

These, then, lead the students into either university education or apprenticeships. The latter is in direct partnership with industry players and comprises a myriad of institutions: Private, public, industrial or a combination.

Overarching this is the Federal Institute for Vocational Training and Education (BIBB in German), which operates at both the central government and state level to manage the quality of talent based on current industrial requirements.

The BIBB also works with industry players to manage things such as job obsolescence. Throughout their journey, students may switch between academics and apprenticeships.

Upon close observation, it is obvious that this flexibility favours the students’ own learning journey. Simply put from early on, the system tells the student “how you learn and where you end up is entirely up to you”, the system is here to facilitate you.

This is rather than “if you can’t score in your exams, then maybe you should train for a manual job”. The reason I make this perhaps harsh comparison is for us to understand what is it that we are demanding out of our current TVET infrastructure.

One that is set up for the latter cannot become the former without a significant upgrade in its capabilities and the structure that supports it.

Once we recognise how significant the challenge is, we need to turn to technology to accelerate this transformation. Here, we need to understand how to use technology to achieve the outcomes we seek.

I am sure many parents can attest generally the attempts of most brick and mortar institutions in trying to provide an online version of their service throughout the various Movement Control Orders.

Here, technology has been applied like a band-aid rather than as the next phase immersive digital learning environment and online education should be.

The long and short of it is that to be successful, we must embrace the need for significant and meaningful change wholeheartedly; half measures at this critical stage in our nation’s industrial transformation will not deliver us the competitiveness we need.

Failing to rise to this challenge will end in more things just “happening” to Malaysia.

Naguib Mohd Nor
CEO of Strand Consulting

Source: The Malaysian Reserve

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