The four checkmarks for proper vocational education

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By Esly van Dam

Project Officer at Wilde Ganzen that specializes in volunteer work. Esly is an expert on local ownership and collaboration between organizations, private initiatives and their partners.

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Wilde Ganzen regularly receives applications dealing with vocational training for women, young adults or people with disabilities. Often, the idea behind it is that they can start providing for themselves if you teach people a trade. Not surprisingly, many people use vocational training to fight poverty. However, what contains a good vocational training course? 

Technical and vocational education and training (TVET), is defined by UNESCO as follows: education, training and skills development related to a wide range of occupations, production, services and livelihoods. There are vocational education opportunities at all levels of education; high school students also taking classes in agriculture or sewing at school or training for adults, for example. 

Looking at successful vocational education projects, I have identified four important points: 

  • Learning a trade. This probably goes without saying. Whether someone takes a two-day soap-making training course or a three-year carpentry course, a skill has to be learned. This can be done in various ways; in official and accredited schools, but also at NGOs or in workshops, for example. In each case, students learn a particular skill in a very targeted way. 
  • Learning business skills. Many vocational schools train for a life as a (small) entrepreneur. But someone who can weld well is not automatically a good entrepreneur. So, does it include accounting, marketing and computer skills? Many projects target people who have not finished school. Reading, writing and mathematics are not so obvious to them. 
  • Start-up investments. For training to help fight poverty, people must be able to use it to make money. So how does a newly graduated seamstress get a sewing machine and fabrics? There are many ways to do this. By means of microcredit, an investment or by forming savings and loan groups already during the course in which students put money aside. Stichting Nieuw Leven Afrika and their partner in Rwanda give graduating seamstresses a ‘starter kit’ that includes a sewing machine. That way, the ladies can get started. Within three years, the value of the kit is repaid, and new kits are bought for new students with that money. 
  • Attention to context. It is important to think about the context even before starting a programme, and, if possible, keep thinking about it during the programme. Will students need certain permits to start working? Is there actually room for more bakers in the village, or will the new graduates chase away existing businesses? What role can local governments play, for instance in finding a location for the business? And, what about the union? To give an example: Sierra Leone Youth Initiative and their partner work closely with the tailors’ union. This way, the new tailors are immediately included in the bigger picture. 

How many of these ‘four tick boxes’ for vocational education does your project meet?