Vocational and technical education is one of the surefire ways a country can ensure that a majority of its youth get their hands on decent paying jobs, or get the skills that help them run sustainable small-scale businesses of their own. In Pakistan, there has only been a limited focus on the potential this key educational sector carries. But will Ali Salman, the new TEVTA chief, get technical education the popularity it deserves?
Experts estimate that in US alone, there are over 30 million jobs that pay an average of $55,000 a year, but do not require a bachelor’s degree. Yet only a limited people are getting to those jobs. Reason? Everybody is running after college degrees to get their hands on jobs that just aren’t there anymore. In the changing times that we live in, skills are becoming increasingly more in demand than degrees and that is where technical education comes into play.Around the world, there are millions of jobs that require not a college or university degree to be tended to effectively, but specific skills that need to be performed to attain perfection. Manufacturing sector is a case in point. While it might be the managers that plan a production run, a manufacturing unit still needs skilled human resource to run the machines, tune them, maintain them and keep their health in check to ensure that the manufacturing cycle goes on unhindered.
In Pakistan, technical education has somewhat been thought of as ‘unworthy’, meant for jobs that no one really wants, but in reality not one person can survive without. Consider this: how long can you go without reaching out to a car mechanic, an electrician, a plumber, a carpenter or even a tailor for some specific need of yours? Not often we reckon. Technical and vocational education is a highly rewarding domain, one that not only primes you for performing at jobs that need skilled hands, but also enables you to be in a position to begin your own work and be your own boss.
With Ali Salman Siddique as the new chairman of Punjab Technical and Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA), we are hoping Pakistan and Pakistanis realize the importance this sector carries. Siddique is a decorated man. He has a BA (Hons) in Economics and Development from University of Sussex, CPE in Law from BPP Law School, London and LLM in Law & Development from University of Warwick. We sat down with the new TEVTA chairman to discuss the scope of technical and vocational education and how he plans to make TEVTA as relevant as it should be.
1: You joined as the TEVTA chairman about 8 months ago, can you tells us about the vision you have for the organization?
When I joined TEVTA in August 2019, I set a 100-day timeline according to which our vision was prepared. The vision is to empower our youth with a new focus on quality, demand-driven skills and to develop economic opportunities through entrepreneurship, as well as ensuring job placements at the local and international level. Earlier, there was focus on quantity, as we had 400 institutes and passed out around 94,000 graduates. The change I brought after taking charge was that I shifted the focus on to quality, not quantity of our students. I believe that the skills that are being provided through 150 courses should be demand driven, and if the courses are not in demand, they should end.
2: What do you think are the major challenges facing you and the organization?
We don’t have any credible data of last 20 years, or of about 2 million graduates that have passed out in the last 20 years. We don’t know if they are placed on jobs, what salary they are drawing or if they have become self-employed. When you don’t have data, you are spending billions of rupees on a product you don’t know about. We don’t even know how much we are contributing with in the country’s economy.
3: What interventions, steps and changes have you put in place to cope with the challenges?
TEVTA provides skills for industries across Punjab. There was not much international effect, but the organization does support local industries and small businesses. But the problem I noticed was that when I asked industry people about TEVTA, their views about it were not ideal. I think TEVTA was formed for industries and to provide them with skilled labor force. How can industry move forward without skilled labor despite having updated machinery and latest technology? I realized that TEVTA had become a department similar to other government departments that don’t have close liaison with the industry sector, meaning TEVTA and industries were not taking ownership of each other. The landmark initiative is the new Apprenticeship Law 2020. According to this model, a student is hired by industry and registered with TEVTA. The industry will provide them on-job training and we will also train them according to his job description. The new law will be replaced by the Apprenticeship Act 1962.
I have shifted the earlier organizational focus on quantity to quality of our students. I believe that the skills being provided through 150 courses should be demand driven, and if the courses are not in demand, they should end.
4: For the past two decades, TEVTA has been focusing on conventional technical education system. Are you focusing on the same or have you planned modern, demand-driven technical education?
At first, we reviewed the curriculum and whether it was outdated or in line with industrial demands and gauged if an international curriculum was required. So I came across a Rs 10 million funding from World Bank parked in TEVTA since 2015 for moving on to Competency Based Training and Assessment (CBTA). It is an internationally accredited system implemented in more than 130 countries. This system focuses on building competencies, imparting quality training and assessing the levels of competency and training for productive economic use. I think all TEVTA courses should be renewed in line with CBTA. Previously, the courses had theory and practical bases in which an individual student was not able to learn and train, but in this system, every student must have to do everything on his own. The student has to pass individually. This enhances quality standards.
5: Hundreds of TEVTA colleges have outdated machinery and rundown labs. How much resources and efforts are required to upgrade the infrastructure?
Yes that’s true, but we are updating labs and machinery in 83 institutes because the most important factor in technical education is practical know-how. The problem was that we just did not have proper labs and equipment to impart that training. So in March, 83 labs and equipment at as many institutions are being upgraded with funding from World Bank and GIZ. Until now, 36 courses have been shifted to CBTA and the remaining are under process. It’s difficult to buy up-to-date machinery, so we are in liaison with international agencies and donors and government to provide the required funding. For the theory part, we are introducing smart classrooms and simulations where students will be exposed to modern technology with multimedia and computers in the classrooms. In collaboration with Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), we are also working for simulations of various courses. For example, a student goes into a lecture of an electrical course and finds only a blackboard and half decent books. In the future, students will learn all operations of a machine through readymade simulations.
6: Around 100,000 graduates pass out from TEVTA institutions each year. In what ways do you think these graduates will be employed and what steps are you taking to ensure their absorption?
I think it is our duty to provide students skills, it’s the responsibility of the industry to provide jobs to skilled labor. About linkages with industry, I have bifurcated the 150 courses into 18 different sectors. We are offering courses in garments, civil engineering and others; all these courses are being tailor-made by industry folk themselves. We will link it with national skills council that has been set up by the federal government.We also set up a Career Development Division in TEVTA for the first time. This would be headed by top executives in various sectors including local, international and entrepreneurial. Industry stakeholders would be connected with career counseling and job placement centers at TEVTA institutes across Punjab. This would facilitate both students in connecting with the local and international industry for job placement as well as industries as they look for valuable human resource.
We don’t have any credible data of last 20 years, or of about 2 million graduates that have passed out in the last 20 years. We don’t know if they are placed on jobs, what salary they are drawing, or if they have become self-employed.
7: Some of the courses being taught date from 20 years ago. What is your plan to update them to suit industry’s needs?
We don’t really know what the demand of the industry is different cities, as there is no such data available across the country. So we are working in collaboration with P&D department for skill mapping that will help us offer new courses as per the demands of various industrial sectors across Pakistan. Initially, courses were initiated without taking the industry on board. These courses used to change after three years on recommendations of experts, but a considerable gap has remained between what the industries want and what TEVTA offers. After I took charge, I ordered a gap analysis that included Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank, GIZ, industry and National Vocational and Technical Training Commission. I met all these stakeholders and asked them about the problems our department was facing. After all the meetings, we came up with a 100-day program and gave a vision that is being implemented.
8: Tells us about your plans to upgrade TEVTA institutions or the problems you are facing in this regard?
If we upgrade the 403 institutions that we have, we would need Rs 50 billion. Therefore, we can’t do it all at once. What we did was identify various economic zones in the province. In collaboration with ADB, we will upgrade eight Centers of Excellence with the funding worth $100 million. These centers will support in areas of Food Preservation and processing, construction, IT, automation, technology and other sectors. Four centers are being set up with the assistance of National University of Technology (NUTECH).These centers will not be constructed from the beginning, but existing facilities will be upgraded. So instead of spending money on infrastructure development, we will spend money on human development. We are also working for international accreditation for all our courses so our students can look for work abroad.
9: Pakistani workers in the Middle East, Europe and other countries number in hundreds of thousands. What are your plans to enhance this skilled workforce?
For our international wing, separate desks will be set up at overseas commissions and foreign offices for data sharing of the demand for skilled manpower internationally. These organizations have the data of worldwide jobs so our international wing will collaborate with them for placement of our students globally.
10: You have been working very closely with the private sector ever since you joined TEVTA. What is the reason behind that?
Yes, we initiated partnerships and collaborations for the first time and we are now working with several private academic institutions for various purposes. LUMS, UMT, FCC, Home Economics University and University of Lahore are our partners. All MoUs with these institutions were signed in just six months and will help with research and development. Also, we have started the first entrepreneurship program in collaboration with LUMS. As a pilot project, National incubation center of LUMS is mentoring the first batch of 30 TEVTA students and equipping them with business skills to begin their own startups. We are also collaborating with Microfinance Bank and government entities to provide funding for these initiatives. Our goal is to develop our own incubation center to institutionalize entrepreneurship program for our students.
12: The current regime is facing a financial crunch. Has TEVTA also been affected?
We are facing financial problems because TEVTA was never a priority for past governments. For the first time in history, everyone from the PM to the education minister and the chief minister is talking about skills-based education and technical training. We have set up an international desk for donor agencies, so if there is a lack of resources and financial problem at the government level, we can raise donations from international donors.
13: Good teachers are the key to success. Do you think TEVTA’s teachers are well trained?
No matter how good we construct a building or provide state-of-the-art equipment, there will be no quality until there are no good trainers. A center of excellence for training of teachers is being set up that will be functional by October. This center is being setup with the help of GIZ. All teachers have to be trained on CBTA basis. We are in shortage of 6,000 teachers and we are going to fill this shortage very soon after the approval of the Punjab chief minister.
14: Where do you see TEVTA after five years, based on the interventions you have taken?
The TEVTA 2023 vision is that I want to provide skills and give economic opportunities to around one million students across Punjab in five years. Every year, 20 to 25 percent increase will be seen in the current enrollment of 200,000 per year. We want these students to become entrepreneurs; job creators instead of being job seekers. So I want TEVTA to become a leading resource is South Asia for skill provision. I want every TEVTA student to be able to easily get a job anywhere in the world.