TVET is defined by UNESCO as “those aspects of the educational process involving, in addition to general education, the study of technologies and related sciences and the acquisition of practical skills, attitudes, understanding and knowledge relating to occupations in various sectors of economic life”. TVET thus equips people not only with vocational skills, but with a broad range of knowledge, skills and attitudes that are now recognised as indispensable for meaningful participation in work and life.
Development agencies such as UNDP, UNESCO and GIZ have been working in countries such as India, Egypt and Sierra Leone to improve the quality of skilled workers produced by institutions, as part of their strategies to help reduce unemployment.
According to the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) 'Skills Gap Analysis for Private Sector Development in Sierra Leone': “There is a strong perception among many in Sierra Leone that going to university is the only assured way that guarantees a good job with a good salary, and that vocational skills-oriented training lacks long term job prospects”. However a European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) Research paper stated that since vocational training is designed to prepare individuals for a vocation or a specialised occupation, it is directly linked with a nation’s productivity and competitiveness.
The huge benefits to a country of improving TVET continue to be emphasised. However, individuals also need to be aware of the benefits to them personally of undertaking TVET instead of going straight for a university degree. Some of the benefits to students in Sierra Leone are:
It is a quicker (but not necessarily easier) and less expensive method of entering the workforce. Most individuals can start earning an income within a year of completing secondary school, armed with a technical or vocational skill. No one says it better than Dick Winterton in his article “Is it time for a vocation?”
TVET entails a lot of practical (hands-on) work thereby better preparing the individual for the required job than the university option which focuses more on the theory.
TVET is only the beginning. It can still lead to a university degree, just at a different pace. By the time an individual gets to that stage, s/he would already have money and significant work experience.
An individual can learn various complementary skills to gain competitive advantage over other job seekers.
With new multinational companies in the mining, agriculture and hospitality industries entering Sierra Leone, there are huge opportunities for individuals with TVET skills and they will be trained further on-the-job.
Individuals can do what they love and learn to be the best at it.
In Sierra Leone, the AfDB report cited a huge skills gap in the labour workforce across various sectors and gave several recommendations for reducing that gap, including harmonisation of the curricula of TVET institutions and upgrade of TVET institutions to improve the quality of training provided. In addition, students need to be made aware of the various skills that can be learnt and the opportunities available for building careers with those skills.
Over a series of blogs, we will feature different technical and vocational skills, how they can be obtained and possible career paths.