Vocational Education and Training (VET) has proven to play a critical role in developing countries’ economic adaptability. In the past ten years, Vietnam’s GDP per capita has more than doubled. This can be largely attributed to the “doi moi” policy implemented in 1986. This reform allowed for a rush of privately owned enterprises, foreign and domestic, to take control of a large share of the previously state-run economy. But, with this economic reform came the need for an adequately trained labor force matching the substantial technological and institutional changes to allow for continued growth. With the right forecasting, a robust VET program can be key to providing the needed labor reforms.
There are two obvious considerations needed when thinking about the role of VET in a nation’s educational system, and more broadly its economical development.
- What is the appropriate balance between general education and VET in the nation’s education system?
- How does a country’s VET program adequately forecast the needed skills and labor structure?
VET vs. General Education – Policy Position
Over two decades ago, the international policy community hotly debated the merits of VET. The World Conference on Education for All (EFA) was the first to come out with the thesis that basic education was the most important element of education for development. VET was further dismissed following a World Bank policy paper, in 1991, claiming that public VET is largely inefficient and ineffective. Recent academic publications have sought to reboot the discussion around VET’s potential in the context of global development. While recognizing traditional VET’s many shortfalls – such as low pass rates, poor labor market insertion, poorly qualified teachers, inadequate resources, etc. – examples such as Vietnam’s successful integration of VET within their reformed economy call for a review of its potential impact. Many argue for the need to redirect efforts on fixing these issues through multilateral integration instead of gradually eliminating this educational approach.
In Vietnam, VET central management, relevance of programs, and the need for rapid expansion of the system represent some of the greatest challenges. However, it does not necessarily justify a greater priority on general education. There are a number of successful programs significantly contributing to poverty reduction and a rise in opportunity equality.
An Illustration of VET in Vietnam
The Hoa Sua School for Disadvantaged Youth was established in 1994 by a group of retired teachers with the objective to “participate in the poverty reduction effort in Viet Nam through vocational training and employment generation for disadvantaged and disable youth.” At the nexus of Vietnamese basic skills standards, international standards, and private sector needs, the students are trained to become professionals in the hotel, restaurant and tourism industry. The program is a mix of theoretical classes and hands-on practice in a number of businesses through a strong private sector partnership. As of now, the school has successfully provided 7,000 students with permanent employment and integration into society. This achievement can largely be attributed to the robust partnerships the school has built with a number of governmental institutions, industry local and national businesses and international organizations.
Lessons in Organizational Structure for Appropriate Labor
The Hoa Sua School shows that effective VET must originate from a local view, coordinate with various levels of government, and make use of international resources. Depending on the locality, differing social and economical variables will dictate the needed proportion of students attending VET and the type of training provided. The Hoa Sua School recognized a group of the population with unequal opportunities and bridged them to an industry in need of trained professionals. This would not have been accomplished without the active involvement of private partners, illustrating the great potential of establishing private-public relationships. The Vietnamese law even stipulates businesses’ responsibility for vocational training. VET equips students with practical skills by allocating 65% – 90% of its curriculum to internships. Thus, the private sector not only dictate the training needs, they also are largely responsible for the quality of the training. Through these partnerships and proactive approaches, vocational training quality in Vietnam has been increasingly upgraded, contributing to improved worker quality, economic competitiveness, and economic growth.
A focus on VET-based professional development is not always the answer for a country’s development. In fact it is only ever a part of the answer and will greatly vary in approach depending on cultural, economical, social and geographical variables. However, as new industries continue to enter the country, an increase in qualified workers will be needed in a wider variety of sectors. The lack of multi-lateral interaction between vocational schools, enterprises and governments will impede on the ability to train the needed amount of professionals with the required skillset.
The Hoa Sua School demonstrates the undeniable potential VET can have for development at a community level. There can be no doubt that without such vocational programs Vietnam would not be capable of sustaining its position as one of the fastest growing economies in the world.