In practice: A new focus on TVET is helping fill gaps in the labour market

While at an early stage, development of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is a key part of Myanmar’s education reforms. In a country where 59% of 25-year-olds have not completed middle school, the TVET segment is crucial in ensuring more citizens have the skills and competencies needed to work in the rapidly changing global economy.

Myanmar ranked 109th out of 130 countries in the World Economic Forum’s “Human Capital Report 2016”, performing especially poorly in terms of the quality of its education system (116th) and the vocational enrolment rate for those aged 15-24 (117th). In the category of workplace learning for 25-to 54-year-olds the country ranked 123rd.

These rankings have focused attention on the need to better prepare different segments of the population for working life. U Tin Latt, executive director at Chindwin College, told OBG, “The changing job market is dramatically affecting the way companies employ and recruit. The schooling system needs to adapt so that Myanmar youth can take advantage of job prospects in the country and outside.”

Current State

TVET provision, where it exists, is currently spread across multiple government agencies. Some 21 different ministries undertake TVET programmes of some form or another, including the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST), which chairs the TVET Task Force. However, the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security also plays a significant role in the reform drive due to the Employment and Skills Development (ESD) Law, which was passed in 2013 and lead to the creation of the National Skills Development Authority.

The current arrangements “remain largely focused on advanced, multi-year diploma programmes targeted at high school graduates,” according to a December 2015 Asian Development Bank (ADB) report titled “Myanmar Human Capital Development, Employment and Labour Markets”. The ADB has set aside $100m for TVET in Myanmar under a technical assistance programme that began in September 2015. In the same report the ADB also noted that TVET was not providing an effective alternative to higher education or offering the necessary opportunities to poor and rural populations.

According to UNESCO, which is providing support and policy assistance to the government on TVET development, the ESD Law is focused on “non-formal” TVET training in workplaces and for the unemployed, while the MoST is in charge of more formal training, including institutes and the government’s technical high schools and colleges. There are also a large number of essentially unregulated private services providers, as well as NGOs working on community development projects and other initiatives.

Complete Overhaul

Launched in 2012 and completed in 2014, the Comprehensive Education Sector Review identified a number of priorities, including increasing enrolment and widening access; improving the quality of teaching and the numbers of teachers; assuring better coordination of TVET among different agencies; and improved quality control, which are likely to form the basis of a new TVET law that will eventually govern the sector.

Under the National Education Strategic Plan for 2016-21, the Ministry of Education has mapped out a number of routes for vocational training to cater to both those in school and those at work looking to improve their skills. There will also be opportunities for transfer across different streams through short courses and examinations, and for students to move from the academic mainstream to the technical track after lower-secondary and higher-secondary school.

As education reforms progress, foreign involvement is bringing additional expertise to play in the TVET segment. Singapore, which has a long business relationship with Myanmar, opened the Singapore-Myanmar Vocational Training Institute on the site of a former polytechnic in 2016. The centre has a capacity of 800 students each year, offering six-month courses in areas such as hospitality, tourism, electronics and engineering services. The institute also helps graduates find suitable jobs, with about 40% of those who completed their courses in May 2016 securing jobs or internships within a month.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation is supporting the expansion of the Centre for Vocational Training (CVT), which provides Swiss-style apprenticeships in skills from electrical engineering to carpentry and hospitality over three years. CVT, which partners with local companies, currently has about 500 students, but expects to double that number by 2018 as it builds a new school in Yangon.

Building Standards

Germany, meanwhile, has taken a key role in advising on the establishment and maintenance of TVET standards. Since 2012 it has been working with the Ministry of Industry’s Industrial Training Centre (ITC) on the introduction of needs-based vocational training. The ITC at Sinde is being developed into a central training agency for teachers and instructors under the ministry’s vocational training programmes and will also develop new courses for use across the country’s ITCs. The work is seen as central to guiding the sector’s development over the coming years. Shahriyor Turgunov, CEO of Horizon International School, told OBG, “The education sector is 10 years away from developing into a streamlined and, ultimately transparent, system based on international norms and standardisation.”

This programme, which ended in 2016, produced significant results, according to a June 2016 appraisal mission by the German Office for International Cooperation in Vocational Education and Training. “Teachers were better qualified to train, TVET graduates successfully found employment at companies, occupational standards were developed, and policies included concepts for more demand-oriented TVET,” the report said. Discussions are under way on the structure of the next phase of the programme, which is likely to include further elements of capacity development. Although organisations such as the National Skills Standards Authority have already developed skills standards for at least 175 occupations by the end of 2014, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has questioned whether these had been sufficiently adapted to the situation in Myanmar, given that they were based mostly on an Australian framework. The ILO has been working with the government to ensure its skills development is better matched with its economic needs, focusing its attention on two key sectors – tourism and agriculture. The ILO believes Myanmar’s vocational skills training must be more demand-driven with business associations, chambers of commerce, industry and entrepreneurs playing a more central role in training development to ensure businesses can find workers with the right skills, and workers themselves learn the skills they need to find more productive employment.

Regional Focus

Myanmar citizens have also opened industry-specific institutes to meet the needs of growing industries. In 2014, the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation set up the non-profit Hospitality and Catering Training Academy offering eight-month training courses in hotel management and culinary arts for those aged 18-25 aligned to the framework of the ASEAN Common Competency Standards for Tourism Professionals. Entrance to the academy has become highly competitive with about 100 places available on each certificate-level course. About 300 people apply for each place, deputy principal U Thaw Zin Maung Maung told the media, with the academy assessing school performance, English ability and service aptitude in deciding which students to accept. The fourth intake completed their training, including a two-month internship at a leading hotel or restaurant, in November 2016.

Myanmar’s first comprehensive labour market survey in three decades – published in August 2016 – showed just 0.7% of the working age population had received any training in the year preceding it, rising to just 2% over a person’s lifetime. It also found that women were considerably less likely to be working (51.6%) than men (80.2%), because they are looking after the family and home. Nearly half of all workers are employed in agriculture. The ILO expects the survey, coupled with the 2014 census, will help policymakers to devise policies that are more effective in addressing gaps in the labour market and skills training, thereby ensuring a smoother transition from school to workplace for the people of Myanmar.