Does the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) system in Swaziland produce the much-needed technical skills for increasing productivity in the ICT, electrical engineering, and automotive industries of the economy?

This is the focal question a study recently conducted by the Swaziland Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (SEPARC), in partnership with the Taiwan Technical Mission, seeks to address. The study; ‘An Industry Labour Force Skills Gap Investigation’, focuses on the capacity and quality of Swaziland’s TVET system, the gaps between skills supplied by TVET training institutions, and skill deficiencies in the three industries.

The results of the study were presented to stakeholders – who included representatives from TVET institutions, industry, government, and media – during a dissemination seminar held at Sibane Hotel on Thursday (February 22, 2018).

Welcoming the guests, SEPARC Executive Director Dr Thula Sizwe Dlamini began by quoting one of the greatest leaders in the world: “The former President of the USA, Barack Obama, once said ‘education is the economic issue of our time’. He explained that ‘it’s an economic issue when the unemployment rate for folks who’ve never gone to college is almost double what it is for those who have gone to college. Education is an economic issue when nearly eight in ten new jobs will require workforce training or a higher education by the end of the decade. Education is an economic issue when we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow’.”

For Swaziland, Dr Dlamini said, “education is an economic issue if you consider the fact that our economy is struggling to produce new goods and services. It is an economic issue if you consider that one in two young people are unemployed in a country where about 75 percent of the population is below the age of 34 years”.

He said the study presents strategies to explore in order to improve the employability of Swaziland’s youth or to understand the existing gaps with a hope of bridging them with the skills produced by the country’s TVET system and the skills needs of industry.

“When the government of Swaziland established SEPARC it was in part recognising that we have the skills and know-how as a country to chart our own development path. The formation of SEPARC signalled government’s desire to use home-grown strategies. It also spoke to the state’s own appetite for evidence-based decision making to inform government planning and to develop targeted programming initiatives,” added Dr Dlamini.

The Executive Director further noted that youth unemployment is the biggest issue of today and it boils down to the skills provided to young people. He said, through a collaboration between SEPARC and the Taiwan Technical Mission TVET Enhancement Project, this study was a first of its kind. He further acknowledged the Taiwan Technical Mission’s partnership with the government of Swaziland in building human capital through TVET skills development.

“The involvement of the Taiwan Technical Mission in TVET in Swaziland goes back to the early 1970s with the establishment of the NHTC (National Handicraft Training Centre). We evaluated that investment last year and found that for every Lilangeni spent on HNTC, E4.66 accrued to the economy of Swaziland between 1995 and 2015. That is huge!” exclaimed Dr Dlamini.

The Project Manager for the TVET Enhancement Project, Lynn Ju-Lan Wu, said one of the project’s main objectives included conducting such a study to acquire information on the industry labour requirements in the three industries to devise strategies to bridge the skills gap.

She said these findings would be a benchmark that would lead to the next step of implementing techniques to curb the skills gap and decrease the unemployment rates in Swaziland. Some of these techniques include redesigning the course content so that it is in par with the requirements of industry, with the help of Taiwan experts as well as industry representatives.

Wu said a Quality Assurance Committee that includes industry representatives will be selected to discuss and ensure that the courses offered are of quality and relevant to industry trends. “Besides that, advanced relevant equipment will be donated to the institutions that are cooperating with the project (SCOT and VOCTIM) to improve the instructional environment,” she said.

In addition, Wu said they would be building the capacity of lecturers by sending them to Taiwan for short-term training and Taiwanese experts would also visit Swaziland to train the lecturers. She further announced that they had already started implementing these techniques at SCOT and VOCTIM; advanced equipment has been purchased for seven laboratories and workshops, 10 lecturers sent to Taiwan, and 90 people to benefit from training offered by Taiwanese experts in country.

“I must say that we are confident that these findings (of the study) will go a long way in improving the entire TVET system in Swaziland, which we believe is of utmost significance to the economic growth of the country,” she added.