Future of Work

New report calls for reforms to improve technical and vocational training in developing countries

Transforming TVET systems in low- and middle-income countries is possible by leveraging new data and technologies.

Transforming Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) systems in low- and middle-income countries is possible by leveraging new data and technologies. Image: Unsplash/PTTI EDU

International Labor Organization (ILO)
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Future of Work

  • A new report by the World Bank, ILO, and UNESCO finds that technical and vocational education and training systems in low- and middle-income countries do not match skills and labour market needs.
  • Training often falls short of expectations in low- and middle-income countries, largely due to difficulties facing learners, unsupported teachers, and weak incentives for providers.
  • Given that low- and middle-income countries spend less than 0.2 percent of GDP compared to 0.46 percent for high-income countries, mobilizing private financing could offer solutions .

Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) systems in many low- and middle-income countries do not match skills and labour market needs and are unprepared to meet the large rise in demand for TVET in the coming years, according to a new joint study by the World Bank, the International Labour Organization (ILO), and UNESCO.

Launched in advance of World Youth Skills Day (July 15), the Building Better Formal TVET Systems: Principles and Practice in Low- and Middle-Income Countries report is the first rigorous global analysis of TVET challenges and reforms in developing economies.

In the context of rapidly changing labour markets and evolving skills needs due to globalization, technological progress, demographic transformation, and climate change, the need for well-performing TVET is even greater to ensure smooth job transitions. This is especially critical as global youth unemployment stands at 16 per cent in 2022, much higher than the overall unemployment rate. These averages mask large disparities across countries, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

However, despite its high potential, training often falls short of expectations in low- and middle-income countries, says the report. This is largely due to difficulties facing learners, unsupported teachers, and weak incentives for providers.

“Many countries are experiencing a fast-growing youth population. At the same time, almost one quarter of youth are not in education, employment, or training worldwide; and among young women, this rate rises to almost one third,” said Mamta Murthi, World Bank Vice President for Human Development. “Good TVET systems will help countries invest in skills and jobs for young people and benefit from the demographic dividend. They also help people navigate the climate, demographic, and technological changes that are already happening.”

“We are witnessing an unprecedented deepening of inequalities within and between countries, a rise in working poverty, significant challenges for youth employment, and a risk of informalization of the formal economy,” said Mia Seppo, Assistant Director-General for Jobs and Social Protection at the ILO. “Effective skills and lifelong learning systems are crucial components for tackling these challenges and advancing social justice. They also empower individuals to aspire to better jobs, better pay, and better lives. Therefore, they are key enablers of human development and decent work for all.”

She also informed that the ILO has recently released its Strategy on Skills and Lifelong Learning 2030 to develop resilient national skills policies and systems and adopted a new international labour standard on quality apprenticeships to support Member States in designing and improving national apprenticeship systems.

“Youth unemployment is one of the biggest challenges of our times, and one that demands our unwavering attention, collective resolve, and full dedication to inclusive and accessible lifelong learning and upskilling,” said Borhene Chakroun, Director, Division for Policies and Lifelong Learning Systems, UNESCO. “Through TVET we can equip the youth with the skills and knowledge they need not only to excel in today’s job markets, but also to be able to capitalize on technological breakthroughs and stay one step ahead in a rapidly changing world.”

The report finds that many factors affect the performance of TVET, such as access, equity, quality, and relevance. Many institutions focus on what they know how to provide, which is often technical skills, but not what students or firms need, such as cognitive, digital, or entrepreneurship skills.

Students are also not well served by under-prepared teachers and outdated equipment. Critically, TVET is commonly considered a second-tier educational track to which challenged learners are directed. This can discourage potential students from enrolling or firms from hiring TVET graduates.

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While reform priorities for TVET differ across countries, the report encourages countries to prioritize the needs of learners and enterprises and realign financing to reward reforms. Since these reforms may take time to bear fruit, the report also urges countries to identify and pursue quick wins, such as starting with priority sectors.

The report notes that transforming TVET systems in low- and middle-income countries is possible to achieve by leveraging new data and technologies, and drawing on lessons learned from earlier experiences, including from the COVID-19 pandemic. Mobilizing private financing can infuse additional resources into TVET, often needed given that low- and middle-income countries spend less than 0.2 percent of GDP in TVET compared to 0.46 percent for high-income countries.

Over the next two decades, demographic trends and higher completion rates at lower levels of education are likely to cause an exponential increase in the number of TVET students. In Burundi, Mali, and Uganda, the number of secondary TVET students is expected to more than quadruple; in Niger, the number is expected to rise ten-fold. Already, many of these countries face increasing pressure from high shares of youth not in education, employment, or training.

The report emphasizes that when TVET functions well, its graduates have the right skills for today’s jobs but are also prepared to adapt in the future as skills needs change. Strong TVET systems can help countries meet the Sustainable Development Goals by sustainably and efficiently supporting employment and productivity.

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