Building a Sound Technical and Vocational Education and Training System


Dec 31, 2014

Two Indian college students outdoors

Photo by Intellistudies/Fotolia

Photo by Intellistudies/Fotolia

This commentary originally appeared in EduTech Magazine on November 13, 2014.

Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in India has expanded significantly over the past two decades. Quality and relevance remain as significant issues, and some commentators have argued that both have declined in recent years. Shortages of trained faculty, underprepared students, and lack of connectivity with industry are seen as the main causes. Perhaps for these reasons, TVET is not well regarded relative to a formal higher education degree.

What may be learned from the experiences of other countries? We recently reviewed practices in Germany, Finland, Jordan, South Korea, Tunisia, and Turkey, as well as international literature on TVET systems and programs. In selecting these countries, we sought to represent a variety of TVET models in developed and developing countries with highly regarded TVET systems.

In this article, we summarize some of our main findings. Countries maintain TVET programs for a range of reasons, such as supporting the needs of the labor market, the economy, investment in local labor markets, development of private-sector employment, and entrepreneurship, as well as providing a recognized route to a skill. While there is variation from country to country regarding where TVET programs are situated—secondary, post-secondary, or tertiary settings, or some combination thereof— these educational systems generally have several components in common. Among the key components are

  • involvement of employers and other societal partners
  • financial support mechanisms
  • occupation standards
  • range of occupation offerings
  • curricular relevance
  • teacher qualification requirements
  • quality assurance.

Involvement of Employers and Other Societal Partners

In order to ensure that TVET programs meet the needs of labor markets, educational systems should ensure that institutional mechanisms exist to promote the involvement of societal partners, including employers, sectoral bodies, trade unions, and student unions. In some cases, these relationships are formalized through legislative means. They may also take place at different levels of government—national, state, and/or local—and be responsible for advising on curricula, setting requirements for competencies, and evaluating the numbers of students needed in specific occupations, among other roles.

In Germany, for example, the public and private sectors work collaboratively at all levels of government on the TVET system. Ministries at the national level help determine the TVET framework by identifying training occupations, issuing training regulations, and framing the curricula. Tripartite state-level committees advise on support for disadvantaged youth and additional qualifications requiring school training. At the regional level, bodies involving representatives from the chambers of industry, commerce, and crafts provide support to enterprise-based training, including overseeing final student examinations. And at the sectoral and enterprise levels, works councils support training, as well as collective bargaining for apprentice pay.

Financial Support Mechanisms

Funding models for TVET frequently involve a combination of public financing; employer contributions (for example, as a percentage of income tax or for training equipment and material); and private funding through tuition, admission, or testing fees. In cases where TVET programs combine school-based components and enterprise-based components (i.e., apprenticeships), public funding may be used to finance the school-based portion, while the employer covers the costs of on-the-job training and wages. Employers may also provide support for laboratory equipment and material for training students in the classroom.

Occupation Standards

Many TVET systems establish national standards for each specific occupation or group of occupations offered. These standards are developed with the input of employers, not only to ensure that the curricula include the skills employers demand, but also to make sure that curricula are aligned across secondary, tertiary, and adult education and that students acquire the skills necessary to compete in the labor market. Student proficiency requirements should be consistent with these occupation standards.

India has a similar system that was recently put in place: the National Vocational Education Qualification Framework. This framework is being developed in partnership with industry through the National Skills Development Corporation and the Sector Skill Councils.

Range of Occupation Offerings

TVET programs typically cover a wide variety of occupations within and across employment sectors and jobs within them. Typically, countries offer more than 100 occupations, with many offering programs in the construction trades, transportation, technology, health-related occupations, tourism, and retail-employment sectors.

Determining which occupations to offer requires a balance between student preferences and labor-market needs. Tools for identifying labor-market needs may include employer surveys looking at occupational skill needs and the quality of graduates, surveys of recent graduates looking at the adequacy of acquired skills and employment opportunities, an analysis of job advertisements, and occupational and qualifications requirement projections. This information can help countries determine which training to provide, revise curricula, guide students in making appropriate choices, and otherwise revise TVET programs.

In Finland, for example, this evaluation of labor-market needs is undertaken by the Foresight Network, which coordinates and promotes ministry activities, and ensures outcomes inform policymaking. An annual Network forum provides an opportunity for ministries, local and regional governments, and labor-market organizations to discuss the sort and amount of education needed, in order to target TVET student intake and help avoid labor-force oversupply. And every four years, the government produces a Development Plan for Education that is informed by the Network's input.

For India, this is an important challenge to meet. At present, several ministries sponsor and recognize a range of occupation offerings. Due to an unwieldy regulatory framework, the range of recognized offerings is vast, leading to both overlaps that confuse employers and gaps between market needs and what is available. Simplifying the range of offerings, while at the same time ensuring enough diversity through the approaches taken by countries such as Finland, ought to greatly help the development of a more relevant range of occupation offerings.

Curricular Relevance

To ensure that training is relevant and that graduates' qualifications have value in the labor market, TVET curricula should be developed in collaboration with societal partners. In India, the challenges in curricular relevance include a “soft skills” provision, as well as ensuring that basic reading, writing, and numeracy skills are at the levels needed for different occupations.

In many countries, TVET programs are now aiming to provide students with these desirable “soft skills,” such as the ability to work in teams, good communications skills, and critical thinking. This shift to include a range of competencies not directly linked to occupational preparation can help to ensure that TVET students are not only preparing for immediate job opportunities, but also acquiring skills that will support them in different jobs and careers throughout their lives.

Teacher Qualification Requirements

The best TVET systems require that teachers have had several years of practical experience in a workplace setting, in addition to having obtained a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. Obtaining part-time teachers from industry to work together with full-time teaching faculty is also important for providing specialized, up-to-date skills to students. India faces a particular problem of inadequate supply of well-trained teachers due to the vast scale of the population that seeks vocational skills. Addressing this is not going to be easy and will require long-term investment in building a teaching faculty.

Quality Assurance

While the inclusion of societal partners in developing occupational standards, student and teacher qualification requirements, and curricula contributes to ensuring the quality of TVET programs, program (or school) accreditation and research are two additional approaches that countries can take to assure high quality. Accreditation or inspection may be overseen by the government, or in some cases, undertaken through a process of self-assessment. Some countries also use a combination of internal and external evaluations. These evaluations may be further supported by a research agenda that provides data on different aspects of the TVET system. However, countries will need to tackle the challenge of collecting, managing, and analyzing relevant data from disparate sources. Some countries, such as Germany, Finland, and Jordan, have developed national approaches to meet this need.

Concluding Thoughts

This article touches on several components that are critical to a successful TVET system. Countries like India that want to improve quality while undergoing expansion may also wish to consider additional key arenas for action. These include governance structures, delivery methods, guidance and counseling, and student admission, progression, and graduation requirements. The end goal is to ensure that vocational education has demonstrated value to students and society.

Louay Constant is a policy researcher at the RAND Corporation. His work focuses on school-to-work transition, and the experiences of soon-to-be graduates or recent graduates in seeking education and employment. Cathleen Stasz is a senior behavioral scientist at RAND. Her research areas include education policy, skills measurement, teaching and learning, and vocational education. She has conducted research and served on education advisory boards in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Shelly Culbertson is a policy analyst at RAND. She is an expert in education in developing country contexts, and has conducted education policy analysis in Qatar, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and Jordan. Georges Vernez is a senior social scientist at RAND. His research focuses on education, immigration policy and effects, and immigrant assimilation.