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Investing in Technical Education for Poverty Alleviation

January 24, 2022
Anna Jardanovsky

A Chinese proverb says that if you are planning for a year, you should sow rice. If for a decade, plant trees. But you are planning for a lifetime, you should educate people.

Today’s youth face a radically and constantly changing world. Even before the transformations brought by the pandemic, the labour market around the world was already going through substantial changes. To ensure the success of the green and digital transition (the so-called twin transition), for example, workers across many different sectors must often adjust and develop new skills. Quality education is key for a just, equal, and democratic participation during this transition.

According to the 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report from UNESCO, if workers from poor and rich backgrounds obtained the same education, the poverty gap between the two might be reduced by 39%. The report also highlights that for each $1 invested in an additional year of schooling, wages in low-income countries increase by $5 and by $2.5 in lower-middle income countries.

However, reducing the poverty gap among low and high-income countries is still far from being a reality. According to the Education Commission, just 11% of youth in low-income countries are enrolled in some type of post-secondary education. In the most developed countries, the average is 80%.

A crucial tool for educating and ensuring a qualified and up-to-date labour force is technical and vocational education training (TVET). It plays an important role when addressing current and future challenges, not only on a personal level by creating resilient citizens, but also on a global level, by contributing to countries’ socio-economic development solutions.

Countries that choose economic progress that is market-relevant, equitable, just and sustainable are increasingly recognizing the importance of TVET. Yet, in spite of the visible effects of climate change, less than half of national education policies emphasize green and sustainable skills.[1] The current pandemic has also highlighted the importance of vocational skills, along with TVET’s vulnerabilities.[2] We need to champion TVET, and its relevance for the labour market, with a strong focus on future-oriented digital, green, entrepreneurial and STEM skills development.[3]

Mr. Friedrich Huebler, Head of Office, UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for TVET

A student in Bangladesh involved in computer programme training. Photo: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO © UNESCO-UNEVOC/Momin Abdul.

The case of ZAMITA – a TVET institution in Zambia

Zambia is one of the youngest countries in Africa, with a youth population (15 to 35 years old) of 4.8 million, which represents 36.7% of the total population. Unemployment is one of the most pressing challenges for Zambian youth. 

ZAMITA, the Zambian Industrial Training Academy, is a Public-Private Development Partnership (PPDP) dedicated to enhancing youth employability in the transport and Heavy-Duty Equipment sector in the country. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Volvo Group, the Embassy of Sweden in Zambia and the Northern Technical College (Nortec) manage the academy and ensure that young people are trained with state-of-the-art equipment.

Chilangwa Emmanuel, an Automotive Engineering Diploma Student from ZAMITA, tells how the academy changed his life. “I thank ZAMITA on my behalf and on behalf of my family because I come from a family that lives below the poverty line. ZAMITA came during a time that my family was hopeless for me to go to tertiary education. Through ZAMITA, I have been given this chance of acquiring new skills. The whole family is looking up to me. I hope not to disappoint them”, says the student.

TVET is arguably the closest educational tool to the labour market. Through technical education, students can safely move from learning to earning. According to Jonathan Francis, Deputy Head of Bilateral Development Cooperation in the Embassy of Sweden in Lusaka, it is important to prioritize this type of education. 

“The students were offered the opportunity to develop real-life skills, and I think the connection […] to Volvo and other private companies that are involved in the project has ensured that the skills the students got are really relevant, useful, and as a result, they are able to get jobs”, emphasized Francis.

Students from ZAMITA. Photo: ZAMITA

UNIDO to advance technical skills development

UNIDO is committed to advance skills development by offering a range of specialized services and know-how to address the specific needs of Member States and provide populations with sustainable livelihoods. The organization is, for example, implementing a project in Ethiopia to support the skills development of commercial vehicles drivers. Since road traffic injuries claim more than 20,000 lives each year in the country, making it one of the places with the highest road death rates in the world, UNIDO is increasing road safety in Ethiopia by providing drivers technical and vocational training at international standards.

For Riccardo Savigliano, Chief of the Division of Agro-Industries and Skills Development, technical educational is a crucial element for an inclusive and sustainable global economy. “UNIDO ensures that skills development programs grow in line with the demands of the industrial sector, while also taking in consideration the local context and its needs. Partnerships among the public and private sectors for the expansion and dissemination of such educational programs are key for socio-economic development”, says Savigliano.

Solutions for keeping TVET up-to-date – Festo Didactic

Future-oriented TVET ensures that individuals are essential elements of the current and future workforce, and looking ahead while learning a new skill is crucial to overcome challenges that innovation in the labour market will inevitably bring. Festo Didactic, a provider of equipment and solutions for technical education and UNIDO long-standing partner, addresses such challenges.

Dr. Nader Imani, Executive Vice President Global Education at Festo Didactic, introduces Festo LX, a digital learning portal that offers individual learning paths focused on technical skills in different formats. “LX is considered as a flexible portal for teachers to re-imagine the classroom in a way where learning content would be digitalized as much as needed”, says Dr. Imani. 

According to Dr. Nader Imani, it is important that the educational system anticipates the demand of the labour market in light of global trends in socio-economic and technological contexts. “Such approach shall provide expected results, that will support the UN Decade of Action calls for accelerating sustainable solutions to the world biggest challenges”, points out the Executive Vice President.

Festo LX learning portal. Photo: Festo Didactic.

TVET for more resilience

Education is a powerful tool for raising incomes, and investing in TVET activities and programmes should be a priority for policy makers when building the pathway for a resilient economy and workforce. According to a report by the World Bank, each additional year of learning can increase earrings by 8 to 10%. Embracing the challenge of making TVET a viable choice is essential, and can be better done when in cooperation with different actors.

The Learning and Knowledge Development Facility (LKDF) is a platform by UNIDO that promotes industrial skills development among young people in emerging economies. Working with the private sector through Public Private Development Partnerships, the LKDF supports the establishment and upgrading of local industrial training academies to help meet the labour market’s increasing demand for skilled employees, ultimately contributing to inclusive and sustainable industrial development.

If you or your organization would like to take action, do not hesitate to contact the LKDF team at lkd-facility@unido.org to learn how to engage in partnerships, projects, and advocacy activities. Together, we can better embrace the challenges and foster technical and vocational education for a better future.