Forging ahead with skills training

TECHNICAL and vocational education and training (TVET), or skills training, has always been a part of the Malaysia Plans, but never a major element.

This has changed in the 11th Malaysia Plan (11MP) announced last week. It finally gives TVET an elevated status in our country’s five-year development plan.

TVET is one of the six game changers — together with productivity potential, middle-class society, green growth, innovation and competitive cities. It underscores TVET’s instrumental role in building the foundation of a high-skilled country by 2020.

A great deal of effort has already been made during the last five years, especially in two fronts — first, the mainstreaming of TVET to be at par with the traditional academic pathway and second, the enlargement of student access by establishing more TVET institutions and expanding the capacity of existing ones.

There were concerns that with so many blueprints and grandiose plans in the education sector, the vocational education transformation plan would take a back seat. But with the 11MP unveiled, we can shelf those concerns away.

Expect bigger push in the TVET sector in the next five years. Efforts undertaken during the last Plan will continue, but the emphasis this time, among others, will be on streamlining governance and service delivery and improving quality.

As in 10MP, the 11MP identifies current issues and challenges and then formulates strategies to overcome them. In TVET, topping the list of issues is the multiplicity of service providers. At present, seven ministries and agencies provide skills training. So do state agencies. In addition, there are more than 500 private education providers. To make the system even more complex, public TVET institutions were established at different times and with different governance systems and objectives.

Most have grown immensely in influence and relevance. For example, Mara has a strong presence in high-skilled TVET as well as a strong and longstanding collaboration with well-established partners from countries famous for their strong TVET sector, such as Germany and France.

The Human Resources Ministry, meanwhile, is able to leverage on its strong authority over human capital-related issues in the private sector. The extensive coverage of the National Occupational Skills Standards administered by the ministry’s Department of Skills Development (DSD) demonstrates this advantage.

Given that there’s no clear leader in TVET, no particular ministry or agency can be granted with an authority over the others. First, the fragmentation in the governance structure is deep-rooted. Large disruptions are likely to be counter-productive. Second, there is little point in creating a single institution that will weaken the unique strengths of each provider.

Instead, there is greater benefit in encouraging the providers to specialise or merge, and leverage on their existing strengths. In contrast, the idea of establishing a single governance system for accreditation and performance rating is more appealing. It is also strategic and practical. In business school-speak, they are the low-hanging fruits — slightly less in complexity but certainly not in significance.

Under the 11MP, the existing accreditation systems currently managed by the Malaysian Qualification Agency (MQA) and DSD will be consolidated. Likewise, the institutional rating systems, currently under the purview of DSD and Education Ministry, will be harmonised. We shall see how the government operationalises this in the next year and beyond. It includes whether a new body will be established to replace MQA and DSD in quality assurance. Although there are fewer agencies to deal with, it is still a big challenge.

In any case, we should aim to minimise duplication and leverage on the expertise in existing agencies. The new governance system should also be fully supported by the industry and private training providers. In fact, due consideration should be given on providing them with a greater role in the governance system. Such an architecture would make TVET more responsive, dynamic, efficient and sustainable.


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