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Spotlight on resilient responses in TVET

Resilience and the ability to cope with disruption can come in many shapes and forms. Learning about how TVET managers, institutions, teachers and learners in different countries and contexts are adapting and transforming what they do in the face of sudden change is one of the aims of UNESCO-UNEVOC’s Building TVET Resilience for a Just and Sustainable Transition project.

“The question for us collectively today is how can we create more resilient TVET systems in the face of disruption and change?” asks Robert Palmer, International Education and Skills Development Expert, at one of two experts’ meetings held in August 2022. Several of those present shared striking examples of how they are doing just this with the attendees.

Responding to the pandemic

As elsewhere, the COVID-19 pandemic brought significant disruption to TVET in Jamaica. Schools had to close for months, teaching had to shift online, but many teachers and learners lacked the skills, and sometimes the devices, to cope.

Another impact of the pandemic specific to Jamaica has been the stimulation of the outward migration the country has experienced periodically since the 1970s. “When many countries lost their workers because they left the workforce, they came to Jamaica to recruit. So our tourism workers, construction workers, teachers and nurses are leaving. We are in that state of constantly having to replenish our workforce,” says Christene Gittens, Senior Director of Strategic Planning and Research at HEART/NSTA Trust or HEART, Jamaica’s TVET development agency, “for a small country, you can imagine what that does for our productivity and our economy.”

The organization responded by launching shorter courses enabling people to enter the job market faster and by providing a more flexible offering including stackable credentials and customized programmes. Focusing on work-based learning and striving to do this in closer partnership with employers has been a third approach. This proved helpful when sectors such as tourism rebounded fast as the pandemic receded.

When the pandemic shut down businesses, many at HEART worried that the reduced level of economic activity would also reduce their funding – supplied by a 3% levy on payrolls. In response, HEART moved to diversify funding by aiming to cut running costs or even generate some income from its training-based enterprises, including a hotel, hairdressing salon and auto clinic. Thus, the hotel now has a spa and a gym open to the public, with a new café and a delicatessen due to open soon. “We are trying to get as many of our institutions equipped with enterprises so that they can bring in revenue of their own,” says Ms Gittens, “this way we can have this subsidy funding components of the training and take some of the pressure away from the 3%.”

“For us, resilience represents the ability to operate in a challenged environment by responding positively to changes with our customers at the forefront,” she adds.

Fresh start for returning migrants

When India went into a sudden and strict lockdown in March 2020, this triggered a mass exodus of migrant workers from the big cities as many became unemployed overnight.

Thousands made their way back to the Sundarbans region in West Bengal but found that, in this rural coastal area, there was little demand for the skills they had acquired in the cities. “Generally, these returning migrants were electricians or construction workers, but the local demand for skills is in agriculture or aquaculture,” says Shyamal Majumdar, Advisor to the Vivekananda Institute of Biotechnology (VIB), India and former Head of the UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for TVET. “There was a need for immediate intervention to minimize the skills gap in the labour market,” he adds.

With support from UNESCO-UNEVOC’s COVID response project Strengthening the Responsiveness, Agility and Resilience of TVET Institutions for the Post-COVID-19 Era, VIB set up a five-step programme to provide training in skills-based entrepreneurship for the returnees as well as disadvantaged youth and early school leavers. The aim was to equip people to start microenterprises focused on the needs of the local economy and enable them to earn a living with limited resources.

Successive lockdowns meant what was planned as blended learning had to be delivered mainly online. “Initially there was a debate among our team on how can we in a short time reach out to young people who do not know anything about digital skills?” says Mr Majumdar, “but it was a real eye-opener for us to see how people in rural areas can pick up the digital skills so fast.”

How technology can facilitate better decisions

Meanwhile in South Africa, the PSET Cloud initiative is aiming to harness the disruptive power of technology to empower people to take better decisions on education and work. In the process, it is hoped that reducing the skills mismatch will help lower unemployment in the country, which in the third quarter of 2021 stood at an all-time high of 34.9%.

The platform acts as an integrated data ecosystem, bringing together information on labour market trends, opportunities for training and available skills, and is aimed at learners, job-seekers, educators and employers in equal parts.

Too often learners may pursue studies in fields where there is little demand and then struggle to find work. By giving access to information on study and work opportunities, PSET Cloud aims to enable students to see where the gaps are and what skills they need to get ahead as well as providing educators with the data to be able to guide them better. The platform also helps employers to find suitable and competent candidates for jobs.

For the past four years, this government initiative has been setting up the digital environment working with South Africa’s qualifications body and the various certification authorities. “We are looking at a governance model using a decentralized and autonomous organization model. As we are building this platform, we are also cognizant that even though it is government-funded, that doesn’t mean it must be managed by government on its own,” says James Keevy, CEO of JET Education Services.

PSET Cloud aims to be inclusive in its scope and does not focus solely on formal education and qualifications. “The ideas we've been trying to convey for the last few years now is that all learning matters, and that most of our learning happens outside of the formal schooling system or education system,” says Mr Keevy.

Turning crisis into opportunity

In India and beyond, the experience of education non-profit Generation shows how an organization can turn the constraints of lockdown into an opportunity to address societal problems.

“As soon as we were faced with COVID-19, we realized we would have to act fast and that we had lot of staff available who could be put to good use, because all training centres were closed by the government,” says Vivek Pandit, CEO of Generation India.

The organization quickly developed an online course for upskilling nurses, aimed at helping them understand the basics of COVID-19 and how to manage the disease, launched in six countries. In India alone, more than 100,000 nurses registered for the course and 52% successfully completed it.

“What it taught us is that, if there is a crisis, instead of waiting for things to be resolved, how do we as an entity make best use of our existing resources and contribute?” says Mr Pandit.

Faced with the challenges of suitable curricula, content, teaching skills and learner devices, Generation adopted a pragmatic approach to shifting its training activities online during the pandemic.

“We narrowed down our set of training programmes to those which had demand from industry, including roles like telecallers and healthcare professionals. And we focused on those roles which could be done well without the need for a physical interface,” says Mr Pandit. In 2021, the organization partnered with the Indian government to launch a two-year programme aimed at providing 30,000 young people from low-income groups with the skills to find work in the post-COVID-19 labour market.

More, practical examples of these resilient approaches – be they individual, institutional or system-wide – are being gathered by UNESCO-UNEVOC as part of the project. These will feed into a practical guide to support policy-makers in building more resilient TVET systems, due to be published in 2023.

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