By Gugulethu Mgabhi, Thembumenzi Dlamini and Tengetile Hlophe

Government has, in its Strategic Road Map 2019-2022, prioritised industrialisation as a key area for resuscitating the economy.

Increasingly, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is being recognised as a viable option for supporting industrial development and growth. Studies show that vocational skills are a key driver of industrial growth, creativity, and export driven growth through manufacturing.

Despite these benefits, the TVET sector in Eswatini leaves a lot to be desired as research shows that it is failing to contribute to industrial development and employment creation among TVET graduates.

The knowledge and skills level of a country’s labour force is a key determinant for both business and economic growth (UNESCO, 2016). Investment in education – especially vocational education and training – can improve the skills available to support industrial development.

The World Economic Forum highlights that the key to economic growth lies in the talent, know-how, skills, and capabilities of human capital. TVET is able to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge and skills that can directly feed into industry or the world of work.

At the same time, TVET has the potential to eliminate most barriers to education and training, while in the process, can tackle the many challenges of the unemployed, particularly the youth by improving their access and integration into labour markets.

For these reasons, TVET increases opportunities for productive work, contributes to the economic empowerment of marginalised groups, and plays a fundamental role in the development of industrial economies.

Indeed, TVET has emerged as one of the most effective human resource development strategies that African countries need to embrace in order to train and modernise their technical workforce for rapid industrialisation and national development.

For example, the African Union adopted the Continental TVET Strategy in 2014, which aims to promote the modernisation of TVET in Africa. The Strategy seeks to encourage African nations to establish TVET institutions that promote innovation, creativity, and transformation.

These new-age TVET institutions are expected to produce job creators instead of job seekers, who will be ready to enter the production sectors of the economy soon after graduating.

How do Eswatini’s TVET graduates compare?

Research conducted by the Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (ESEPARC) in 2018 finds that 73.1% of TVET graduates enrolled at the National Handicraft Training Centre (NHTC) between 1995 and 2015 are engaged in productive economic activities after graduation.

Of these, 47.6% are formally employed, 25.5% are self-employed, while 26.2% were unemployed and 0.7% continuing with training. While it is commendable that a majority of the TVET graduates are able to find jobs in the economy, the African TVET Strategy emphasises entrepreneurship, that is, self-employment among TVET graduates.

For those graduates who end up in formal employment, the country should at least see more of them working in industries relevant to their skills to increase productivity of Eswatini’s industrial sector.

Now, considering that one of NHTC’s mandate is to encourage entrepreneurship within the crafts industry, the level of enrolment in craftwork and the level of self-employment (25.5%) compared to formal employment (47.6%) is low among the TVET graduates.

Furthermore, only 27% of those in productive employment after graduating from NHTC use their acquired skills for part-time profit making. Among the formally employed, only 39.8% are in jobs relevant to their skills, which means 60.2% are employed in jobs irrelevant to the vocational skills they acquired.

This suggests that the training curriculum needs to shape trainees’ attitudes towards self-employment and emphasise full utilisation of their skills beyond their normal full-time working hours.

Generally, these findings demonstrate that TVET trainees acquire vocational skills just so they can be hired in any job as opposed to training to start their own businesses and advance their skills trade. Even for the qualified TVET graduates, chances are that they end up accepting any job that comes their way just so that they can enjoy the comfort of a secure full-time job.

Settling for jobs irrelevant to skills acquired speaks to the way TVET is delivered in Eswatini. From the look of things, the TVET delivery system follows the State-Regulated Bureaucratic Model (USAID, 2014). In this model, and given the current situation, it seems as though higher education is operating outside the involvement of industry in curriculum development.

The involvement of industries in TVET delivery is key as it could improve the quality of practical skills received by the TVET learners. What is happening is that TVET training institutions consult industries only when TVET trainees have to go for the internship attachment programme to gain practical experience. At this stage, it is usually too late to shape a trainee into what the industry needs.

What is worse is that even though some TVET graduates are absorbed by industry, skills gaps still exist. For instance, ESEPARC research finds that graduates who possess ICT skills lack practical exposure in working with the various ICT hardware and overall infrastructure to be able to install and service complete computer systems and networks.

For the graduates working in the automotive industry, the research finds that these graduates possess basic vehicle servicing and repairs skills, panel beating, and spray painting but are lacking significantly in terms of motor electronics, which is a serious cause for concern as modern vehicles are advancing rapidly in technology.

Hence, when TVET graduates are absorbed by industry, these employers often always have to re-train the graduates even on the most basic aspects of their trades.

Transforming TVET for industrialisation and job creation

The TVET system should consider adopting the dual system model of TVET delivery, which is widely used in many developed countries. In this model, the design of TVET involves a wide range of collaborations and partnerships with industries and the establishment of public private partnerships (PPPs).

With this wide consultation, chances are that the curriculum could be informed by the needs of industry such that TVET skills supply will meet industry needs. Adoption of the dual system of TVET delivery could ensure that it is industry driven so that graduates can use their skills to service industry as well as start their own businesses to complement existing industries.

Through the establishment of skills levies, these partnerships can contribute to increased funding for TVET. Skills levies, which cater for the technological advancement of the sector, are contributions made by industries to TVET delivery on an annual basis. They provide a significant funding base for TVET delivery.

However, Eswatini is still lagging behind its Southern African Development Community (SADC) counterparts in the financial contribution of industry to skills development. Overall, there are many issues that need to be tackled to transform the TVET sector in Eswatini so that it can start to produce the skills necessary to stimulate industrialisation in the country.

Transforming the sector is a multi-sectoral responsibility that should not be left to the Ministry of Education and Training alone. It is against this backdrop that ESEPARC, in partnership with the Taiwan Technical Mission, will be hosting a seminar on September 25 at the Royal Villas to discuss how Eswatini can accelerate job creation and industrialisation through the TVET sector.

The purpose of the seminar is to engage vocational institutions, industry practitioners, and the public on a discussion around how the country can improve its TVET system to encourage entrepreneurship among TVET graduates. Join us at the Royal Villas for this important public dialogue on how to transform the TVET system to support industrialisation in Eswatini.