14 Dec 2010 - Story by Catherine Sasman
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WINDHOEK ' For his PhD thesis, expert in vocational training in Namibia, Raimo Naanda, considered the integration of identified employability skills into the Namibian vocational education and training curriculum. The study shows that
graduates from vocational training centres do not have sufficient life skills, which are more and more considered to determine 'employability'.
Namibia should develop a policy framework for employability skills in the vocational education and training sector, concluded Raimo Naanda, after a study of 244 companies in Namibia.
The publication of his study, which was completed in October this year, follows hot on the heels of a similar study commissioned by the Namibia Employers Federation and executed by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), in which more than 90 percent of respondents said there is a desperate lack of sufficiently skilled workforce, particularly that of degreed professionals.
Naanda's study considered which skills, other than technical ones, are considered important in the workplace and those expected from graduates from vocational graduates, in particularly the occupational sectors such as the automotive trades, construction, metalwork and the electrical engineering trades.
What was found is that companies require ' above and beyond the technical competencies ' 'generic' skills such as teamwork, time management, a positive attitude towards work, problem solving, planning and coping with multiple tasks.
And these were found roundly lacking from the graduates.
For, as Naanda puts it, the structural adjustment in the labour market requires that job entrants possess new and different skills from those applied in former heavy industries.
In his view, workers need 'coping' skills to situational demands, and such skills make people more employable.
Hence, employability skills education has become an important issue among employers and educational policy makers worldwide in the constantly changing demands of modern economies.
The Second International Congress on Technical Vocational Education and Training held in South Korea in 1999 thus recognised the importance of reforming the vocational and training sector to develop synergies between the education sectors and industry and to 'foster the development of generic competencies' such as work ethics, technological and entrepreneurial skills.
The importance of employability skills in the workplace, said Naanda, is thus becoming ever more important, but up to now such 'generic skills' have not hitherto enjoyed the prominence it deserves because thus far, education and training sectors have failed to produce graduates with these desired skills.
A 2006 study in South Africa found that despite improved Grade 12 results, only between five to seven percent students found jobs in the formal sector.
Moreover, it suggested that learners were found ill equipped for the modern world of work. The researcher put the blame squarely on the education system that fails to prepare learners with skills required in the workplace.
The South African 'youth market' was further characterised by severe challenges like the mismatch between the educational outputs, the options for further study and higher education, or pre-employment training, as well as the actual employment opportunities available in the market.
A conclusion drawn from this was that the mismatch between education and the labour market results in the high unemployment among the youth and that the schooling system has grown over the past decade while the number of formal sector jobs for school leavers had shrunk.
In was also argued that schools are failing to impart those skills that employers seek, with an observation made that graduates and first-time job seekers lack the personal, transferable and employability skills that employers require.
A 2000 report on the Windhoek Vocational Training Centre (WVTC) stated that trainees lacked interpersonal skills and a basic sense of work ethics.
It was argued that the trainees showed little or no sense of moral excellence in their daily lives, and that they were still ignorant about maintaining high moral standards and a well-balanced life, showing little regard for values like hard work, respect, commitment, honesty, and responsibility.
But it is not all because of poor preparation at school level, suggested Naanda.
'The 21st century workplace demands workers who possess various skills ' and not only technical skills ' to be able to contribute to the productivity of the workplace,' suggested Naanda.
And, he added, what drives today's workplace are the manifestation of globalisation, emerging new technologies, the expansion of information communication technologies, changing structures of firms and industries, and production processes that demand new forms of skills ' above and beyond the technical skills.
Today's youth is thus confronted with a far more complex world; they have to deal with 'more than their immediate worlds', and are forced to cope with the demands and challenges of 'global lives'.
This further means that the shift in the labour market is more focused on the individuals and their individual qualities that equip them ' or not ' for a 'knowledge-driven' and increasingly competitive economy.
This also means, said Naanda, that the modern workplace is more service-orientated and customer-focused requiring workers to possess non-technical to satisfy customer needs.
In today's world of work, said Naanda, employers require workers who are knowledgeable, who get along with others, who are dependable and reliable, who are eager to learn, and who have good communication and writing skills.
They further want proficiency in mathematics, computing, reading, writing and reasoning.
As far as the Namibian graduates of vocational centers go, 65.2 percent were employed.
The remaining graduated never found employment.
Some companies, reported Naanda, have not employed VTC graduates because they were considered unsuitably qualified, or had irrelevant training, or because of a general dissatisfaction with the quality of the vocational training and education system.
Conversely, the majority of those who did employ VTC graduates felt that skills were relevant to the industry.
Twenty percent said they have provided in-house training, and 17.7 percent said they were aware of the availability of training opportunities that suited their needs.
About 10.8 percent said they are not happy with the quality of the vocational education and training qualifications.
And a further 7.1 percent of the employers said they do not require fully qualified workers, indicating that their workers received training relevant to their operations.
A small percentage said they have not employed VTC graduates because their current staff is pursuing similar qualifications the graduates offer.
Naanda's study further showed that employers preferred those with good academic results, followed by relevant work experience, willingness to learn and the ability to work in teams.
The least preferred criteria were written and oral communication, followed by interpersonal skills.
Employers did say that the benefit of employing VTC graduates are that they are more able to learn, that there are less training costs and time required for training involved, that there is increased productivity in the workplace, that they are more achievement orientated, and more independent with better analytical skills.
Among others, said Naanda, this suggests that employers are keen to employ graduates, provided that these graduates are eager to continue to learn in an ever-changing environment.
He further found that investing in skills could result in higher productivity of workers and economic growth.
What was found lacking, though, is that the VTC curriculum does not make provision for the development of employability skills.
Naanda thus assumed that those graduates who have found employment have developed those 'employability skills' in informal settings like the home or other social contexts.
There is thus an expectation from employers that these skills are developed in those settings, and not within the work setting, where performance, and not so much training, let alone training in 'generic skills', is the focus.
In short, he said, Namibian employers expect workers to demonstrate skills that will make them more flexible and adaptable, and that 'employability skills' should be better assessed in the Namibian vocational education and training set up.
'The implications for employability skills development in Namibia is that policy makers should enact policies that will promote the development of such skills by the education and training sector, and particularly the VET sector,' said Naanda.