Practice makes perfect: Vocational training institutions highlight the potential in students

The success of Abu Dhabi’s education sector depends in part on the development of vocational training. Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, the emirate’s long-term plan for economic development and diversification, underlines the importance of vocational education by indicating that greater technical training will improve local workforce skills in both the short and medium terms. Labour productivity and growth will rise as a result.

The different types of vocational education and training can be divided into several different categories. Some students seek vocational training through short course programmes or through apprenticeships, cadet-ships, internships and on-the-job training. Alternatively, vocational education can also be obtained through more formal methods referred to as institutional learning. This includes educational programmes lasting a minimum of one academic year for students who have completed at least grade 12.

ORGANISATIONS: Formal vocational programmes are provided by institutions accredited by the Commission for Academic Accreditation (CAA). Set up in 2000, the CAA operates under the authority of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MOHESR) and is currently the only authority in the country responsible for the accreditation of vocational training institutions offering programmes of one year or longer.

A number of other government agencies are also involved in Abu Dhabi’s vocational training sector. The National Qualifications Authority (NQA), a federal body established in 2010, is in charge of setting national academic standards across all levels of education in the UAE. To this end, the NQA issued a handbook in 2012, the first of its kind, which specifies the standards and policies for a qualifications framework to be used in the UAE, known as QFE mirates. The handbook outlines how qualifications for all levels of education, including vocational training, will be designed in the UAE. Notably, the new qualifications framework will increase awareness and raise the quality of vocational education, and sets out to address potential emerging skills shortages.

Operating under the direction of the NQA, the Vocational Education and Training Awards Commission (VETAC) has the responsibility of interpreting QFE mirates. The agency is currently developing a National Licensure System of Accreditation. Upon completion of the development process, VETAC will use this system to accredit vocational programmes and courses, among others, as well as to license training providers.

Established in 2010 by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council, the Abu Dhabi Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (ACTVET) monitors and regulates vocational education at the local level. The authority sets standards and policies with the objective of building a larger workforce of skilled Emiratis. ACTVET oversees two operating arms: the Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute and the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT) that offer vocational and technical programs at secondary and post-secondary level in the seven emirates. “Part of Abu Dhabi's diversification strategy requires technologists and technically skilled Emiratis in various fields,” Hussain Al Hammadi, director-general of ACTVET told OBG. “This will enable development in new industrial sectors as per Economic Vision 2030, and even support existing industries such as oil and gas that still have a high demand for this skill set.” ACTVET also licenses and trains vocational instructors.

TRAINING PROVIDERS: One vocational training provider in the emirate is the Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute (ADVETI). Established by a decree from Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan in 2007, ADVETI has seven entities and, at the moment, focuses on education groups including: business, IT, travel and tourism, design, environment studies, industrial technology, and logistics and engineering.

ADVETI has obtained a licence from the MOHESR and is building all of its programmes to meet the qualifications as outlined by the NQA. Just as importantly, however, the agency has designed its coursework with the assistance of local industry leaders to align training with the needs of job providers. In addition to its vocational diploma programmes, ADVETI has also developed a foundation programme for students whose English language abilities are not yet sufficient.

BRIDGING THE GAP: The NQA is taking further steps to bridge the current divide between skills and need. The government authority is presently collecting statistical data from both educators and industry leaders across the country in an effort to accurately establish occupational standards and expectations. This includes not only collaborating with larger firms and industry leaders, but also with small and medium-sized companies that may not become involved without some encouragement and support.

Although the NQA is taking the lead in data collection and compilation, industry leaders will ultimately be in charge of developing the occupational standards. Once completed and approved by the NQA, these standards will help vocational educators better prepare students to fulfil the employment needs of industry. Indeed, educators and trainers will be able to more accurately develop curricula for their students, while UAE-based firms should be able to increase operating efficiency and therefore become more competitive. Likewise, recent graduates will be more competitive in the local and international job markets.

GENERATING INTEREST: Perhaps the single most challenging obstacle confronting vocational educators is a general lack of interest in technical training programmes. Indeed, currently only 3% of post-secondary graduates pursue vocational training, according to recent data from ADVETI. Lower enrolment numbers in technical programmes can be largely attributed to the higher salaries associated with university degrees. Resolving this issue requires educators to engage both industry and chambers of commerce, in particular to reform areas of labour law. “There is a need to further develop the apprentice culture within the emirate as well as improve the perception of technical and vocational training,” according to Al Hammadi. “This will help close the gap between education and industry as well as create on-the-job training opportunities.”

Changes are afoot that may help drive up enrolment numbers. In the past, most secondary graduates, regardless of past academic performance, have been able to find a place at one of the UAE’s Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT). The largest federal university, HCT recently raised its standards for admittance, which has resulted in a sharp reduction in admissions. While HCT campuses across the UAE accepted a total of around 8000 students in 2010, this figure fell to just over 4200 admitted students in 2012.

ADMISSIONS: In addition to encouraging more nationals to pursue vocational careers, the new admissions policy is expected to decrease the university drop-out rate and free up funds currently used at HCT campuses for remedial studies in maths and English. In the past, large numbers of incoming HCT students have had to enrol in at least one year of remedial classes, with some students dropping out before completing their first year of remedial coursework.

Educators recognise that not all those offered a place at a technical training institute would enrol. However, vocational education’s reputation is notably improving, and the transfer system between vocational training and traditional university studies is becoming more flexible. Vocational students who retake their pre-university exams and receive qualifying marks will now be able to transfer to a federal university. Knowing that a traditional degree is still possible, more students may in fact try vocational training.

PARTNERSHIPS: One indicator of the vocational education sector’s growing strength is the variation of companies and institutions involved with technical training. The Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA) (see Tourism Chapter), for example, is implementing training courses to raise the professionalism of Abu Dhabi’s tourism and hospitality labour force. Workshops are held throughout the year and are offered free of charge for UAE nationals. The TCA has also implemented a number of training courses with the collaboration and support of ADVETI.

Twofour54, an Abu Dhabi-backed media free zone, offers training to media students in the MENA region through its tadreeb academy (meaning “training” in Arabic). Twofour54 tadreeb is partnering the BBC, Thomson Foundation and Thomson Reuters Foundation to offer over 200 courses including video journalism and social media skills to digital audio techniques and writing for radio programmes. Courses can be customised to clients’ specific needs and requirements, and are made available on demand (see Media Chapter).

Etihad Airways has also taken an active role in the vocational education sector. The airline carrier recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Vocational Education Development Centre (VEDC), a subsidiary of ADVETI. According to the agreement, Etihad will sponsor 20 students at VEDC every year, and offer employment to those who complete the training course. All 20 students will be enrolled in a programme designed by VDEC to fulfil the objectives of the airline.

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The Report: Abu Dhabi 2013

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