LEARN A TRADE

TVET programs will only continue to play a bigger role in training the workforce required to keep Malaysia's economic engine running.

It is estimated that by 2020, the Malaysian economy will be in need of 1-1.5 million skilled workers empowered with technical and vocational education and training (TVET), according the Ministry of Education.

As Malaysia moves toward becoming a full-fledged industrial and economic powerhouse in ASEAN, more job opportunities are opening up for skilled workers who can work hand-in-hand with managers and engineers to perform practical tasks. This niche, coupled with the rise of a host of new technologies in recent years, has resulted in the fading popularity of certain outdated academic programs, while paving the way for more practical educational endeavors.

As such, the job market finds itself in need of an upgraded pool of highly skilled TVET graduates who can keep the wheel of the country's industry turning in the age of AI, IoT, and Industry 4.0. It is claimed that up to 90% of those who leave a technical or vocational training course in Malaysia face no difficulty in securing a job, with some trainees receiving offers before even finishing their programs.

This, in part, explains the efforts in Malaysia to revamp TVET in different ways, including by launching a USD7.15-million TVET fund as provisioned in the 2019 budget.

The promotion of technical training is also one of the pillars of Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025, which it is hoped will kick-start a series of long-awaited reforms in the segment. To be sure, the blueprint openly acknowledges the shortcomings of the present TVET ecosystem and the country's urgent need for TVET workers in at least 10 critical economic areas, while predicting that the need will more than double by 2025.

However, these are hardly new observations; many stakeholders in technical and vocational training such as the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) have long expressed their dissatisfaction with the present state of TVET across the country. For one thing, the absence of any responsible government entity for TVET, despite the involvement of up to seven ministries, seems to be the source of much confusion.

That said, FMM has been calling for the formation of a TVET Commission to act as the highest TVET authority in the country, coordinating the efforts of different ministries and stakeholders. This demand was to some extent realized in 2018 when the cabinet approved a national TVET Empowerment Committee to align all interests across the segment.

Meanwhile, the nation's education blueprint puts the ministries of human resources and education in charge of technical and vocational education. The latter, in particular, is expected to increase TVET enrollment in its network of colleges (Institut Latihan Perindustrian) and polytechnics, adding to the nation's pool of practical-minded craftsmen and craftswomen.
According to the blueprint, this objective will be achieved by teaming up with major players in the industry sector and putting in place a certification framework and branding efforts. There will also be some international help, particularly from UNESCO's Strategy for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (2016-2021).

Putting an emphasis on branding seems appropriate as the TVET programs' nationwide success cannot be accomplished without improving the image of vocational certificates among the Malaysian public. Regrettably, some still regard TVET as a soft alternative for those “who cannot make it" in traditional academia. This misconception has harmed the economy by discouraging high-performing students from enrolling in TVET programs. Greater awareness will be raised if “academic and TVET pathways [are] equally valued and cultivated" by government agencies, as the blueprint demands.

The much-lauded German TVET system can be an inspiring precedent in this regard. To achieve a healthy mix of theory and practice, the German system lets trainees learn the principles of the craft in a vocational school setting (berufsschule) while simultaneously learning the craft itself in a real work environment.

As such, only those who express a knack for hands-on work manage to go through the three-year course, young people who will be ideal recruits for their respective industries as soon as they finish the program.
In addition to vocational colleges across the country which currently offer vocational programs of one form or another, Malaysian universities that enjoy long-established links with the industrial sector can also take the initiative by launching TVET courses, so as to make vocational schooling a more relevant option than ever.