In Europe, especially in Germany and Switzerland, vocational education and training (VET) is considered a necessary and preferred skill for professional jobs. Companies look beyond secondary and even higher education to hire vocationally trained individuals who possess the strengths and soft skills, experience and on-the-job training needed to tackle challenges in an everyday work environment.
As a result, youth unemployment remains relatively low in Germany and Switzerland, attributed in part to vocational training and apprenticeships. Following this success, other countries, like India and Vietnam are looking at the similar model to curtail unemployment and to power their economies through a workforce that has been empowered by vocational training.
But despite its advantages, apprentices tend to have an image problem. In Sri Lanka, for example, companies will hesitate to hire an employee without a ‘degree’ despite having the advantages of on-the-job training, skills and learned knowledge.
In Germany, vocational training follows the dual programme where students receive on-the-job training as well as work experience. Programmes usually last between two and three and a half years and comprise theoretical as well as practical elements.
German Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Dr. Jürgen Morhard said, “In Germany, vocational schools are run by the Chambers of Commerce, which goes to show how important this form of education is. Ninety five percent of the German economy is run by small and medium-sized companies that employ 4/5 of the students who have undergone vocational training.”
“I am confident that Sri Lankan companies will also learn to appreciate this trade off. Moreover, by following this German system it will shift the onus from the government to the private sector to provide training to the youth of this country, because the private sector knows best its needs and is also able to quickly adopt the training to changing requirements.” However, several large companies, including Jetwing and Diesel & Motor Engineering PLC (DIMO) have played a constructive and active part in training, interning and recruiting students from several VET centres in the North and East. Many of these apprentices have gone on to make a significant difference to their employers and changes to their own lifestyles. Many others have found lucrative employment overseas.
According to Switzerland Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Heinz Walker-Nederkoorn, “Seventy percent of the Swiss labour force comprises employees who have undergone vocational education. They are the backbone of our economy and power our labour market.”
A study conducted in 2011 states approximately 58,000 Swiss companies provided VET programmes to roughly 80,000 apprentices. This is an impressive number in a country of only eight million people where businesses regard training of young people as their social responsibility.
Walker-Nederkoorn refers to a personal story where his own father learned through VET and went on to head a successful company. “It is time that Sri Lanka changed its perception of VET students and looked at the benefits and advantages of hiring them. It is also time the private sector made a concerted effort at changing this perception,” he added. Dr. Morhard and Walker-Nederkoorn have been hands-on advocates of the Sri Lanka German Training Institute slated to open in Kilinochchi in July 2016. SLGTI is a new national level vocational training institute in Kilinochchi functioning under the purview of National Apprentice and Industrial Training Authority (NAITA). This Institute will offer vocational training programmes to young people to acquire higher levels of qualifications for employment or self-employment meeting the existing demands on the labour market in accordance with the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) framework.
The GIZ is responsible for technical assistance, including capacity development, provision of qualified managerial staff, teachers and trainers of SLGTI. The financial assistance is provided through Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (German development bank - KfW) and encompasses the construction of the training centre, the supply of equipment, machines and teaching materials.
The SLGTI aims at teaching apprenticeships and other work-based learning that will provide youth in the North and East as well as other parts of the island a combination of learning with work experience. “This system also strengthens cooperation between governments, employers, training institutions and other stakeholders,” Dr. Morhard added.
He is also confident that the SLGTI will be a striving centre that will attract many positive, forward thinking students with the right entrepreneurial skills. “This is also the centre that will bring students from across this nation to help in its post war reconciliation.”
On average in the EU around 25 percent of enterprises with over 10 employees trained apprentices in 2010. Many European countries, including Germany signed an agreement in 2012 to promote apprenticeships and in 2013; the European Commission launched the European alliance for apprenticeships. The European qualification framework focuses on outcomes of learning rather than institutions where people acquire qualifications.
Dr. Morhard says that countries like India and Vietnam are paying for the implementation of this concept in their countries. “And while this is internationally recognized, it is time to change the mentality of Sri Lankan employers to look beyond just a paper qualification and to give VET individuals, who have acquired basic skills, sound knowledge and quality standards through on-the-job training, the opportunity to progress in life.”
During his tenure in office in Sri Lanka, Dr. Morhard has spent much of his time interacting with the students and staff at these vocational training centres in the North and East of Sri Lanka. “I have personally seen the determination, courage and the perseverance to succeed in these students and it is time to give them the opportunity to make a difference in this great nation’s future.”