A PROPOSED framework for national Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) was presented by the National Movement of TVET Empowerment on Nov 13 to representatives from many industries.
The movement highlighted that the main setback to TVET in Malaysia was fragmentation as it is under the purview of seven ministries and many more government agencies that were mostly working in silos.
Shrinking from seven ministries to one would minimise overlapping and reduce the government’s total budget on TVET.
Representatives of various industries voiced their concerns after the presentation, one of which was the public’s perception that vocational schools are for weak students.
There was consensus that TVET should be re-branded, but it is critical to recognise that the issue goes very deep, starting with the fundamentals.
For example, if students were asked why they chose to study in a college or university, they would say that a diploma or degree is needed for their future.
Many Malaysians seem oblivious to the huge number of unemployed or underemployed graduates in the market, with many unable or struggling to service their study loans.
If they are truly interested in carving a career for themselves, they should learn how to perform well in a particular job. But general courses approved by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) are largely academic and have little relevance to the world of work.
Those who pursue licensed professions such as doctors, accountants, architects, engineers and lawyers have a much better chance of achieving success in their careers than those enrolled in easier general studies like tourism and hospitality programmes.
These students were told that the tourism industry is very wide and offers them huge opportunities, but most undergraduates have no career plans and upon graduation will apply for any vacancies available in any tourism sector or other industries.
During the job interview or upon starting work, they would begin to realise that they were not trained to perform well in any job. They may have studied a course but have learned little of the skills required in the workplace.
TVET students in general would at least would have the skills to get some physical work done.
Political will is also needed for TVET to make a quantum leap in Malaysia. The federal government should decide and announce a time frame for skilled jobs such as electricians, mechanics and plumbers to be certified and licensed. This will give added impetus in raising the competency and income of skilled workers and attract more Malaysians to these jobs long dominated by foreign workers.
Highly skilled Malaysians also have the option to work in foreign countries and enjoy 10 times higher income.
Apart from making TVET sexy and appealing to school leavers, it is equally important to upskill and reskill the existing workforce. But first, the definition of skilled workers in Malaysia needs to be revised.
TVET should be an open modular concept for both apprentices and current practitioners. A career path should also be charted and displayed to show that anyone starting as an apprentice can reach the top of his career with the right training and determination.
The chart could also illustrate that many blue-collar jobs are paid much more than normal white-collar jobs. In fact, you don’t have to look far. We have a shortage of good trailer drivers who could easily earn RM5,000 to RM8,000 monthly.
All said, the main challenge in promoting TVET is the ignorance and mindset of both parents and students.