Friday, 12 February 2010

Invest in Vocational Training

Education is key to development – it would be hard to dispute this simplistic truism. But what education ? Primary ? Secondary ? Institutions of high learning ? What ?

This post argues for vocational training being the single biggest priority. There is no doubt that universal primary education has to be a basic human right, and a basic human responsibility. But I would place vocational training a shade above even that. For vocational training ensures people have jobs. Ensures that they have a little more wealth. And when they have that they would themselves ensure that their children receive the best primary education they can find, and afford.

Both China and India do a lot in the field of vocational training. Training people to be machine operators, welders, plumbers, carpenters, nurses, technicians – there are scores and scores of professions where , with a little training, people, who are otherwise unemployable, can find a job. These don’t need a very high basic education for it to be effective. And they offer quick rewards – it does not take an enormous amount of time to acquire these skills and get a job. And even if jobs are not plentiful readily, these skills lend themselves to entrepreneurship.

Start National Institutes of Vocational Training. Give them an aura of respectability. Start dozens of them in every city, in every state, in every country. Governments, in partnership with industry, must invest heavily in them (better to invest in this than to pay the dole). Make it virtually free for those being trained. Make employers, or employees, pay off some portion of the costs after they have found the job.

Make these institutes a place where people can come back to multiple times in their career. If they get laid off, they come back and acquire a different skill, perhaps. If at that point in time, there are plentiful jobs for hair dressers, but not so much for boiler operators, well – whoever wants to train to be a hairdresser can easily do so (incidentally, the most promising profession in China should surely be the hairdresser; every Chinese is obsessed with his or her hair and there are only 5 hairdressers every 10 mtrs in China ! And surely it has to be the most depressing profession in India; Rajalakshmi wouldn’t be caught dead having her hair cut !!)

I also suggest that when somebody is laid off, the employer is required to fund that person’s reentry into the technical school as part of the compensation. And the employee needs to constantly re skill into the professions that are in demand. To my mind, it’s a tragedy that most of us, when we pass out of University and take up work, stop re skilling ourselves.

So IITs, IIMs, Harvard, Jiaotong, are all very good. But they should come slightly lower down in the pecking order. The technical schools should occupy the pride of place. Mao Zedong said, in a completely different context, “Let a hundred flowers bloom”. I suggest, “Let a million technical schools bloom”.


gils said...

wow!!! long febraury to freedom of education :D:D

gils said...

semma valid points..tamila thers is one saying.."kai thozhil ondrai katrukol..kavalai unakillai othukol" for those who cant get the meaning.."learn a skill..u can live without worry (of being jobless)"
u r bang on target wen u say abt vocational institutes being rated high..but i guess once they come in pic..they automatically wl get the status they deserve..they wud be more of exp people who wud be learning skills out of their own free will rather than doing something to earn a living, hopefully.

J said...

A Swiss colleague of mine claims that in Switzerland, there is a separation of those who will pursue academic studies (maybe only a quarter of the students) and those who will pursue a vocational track as early as high school. And interestingly he gives the example of construction where he claims that people prefer the vocational track builders to the academic architects, not from the standpoint of price but quality.

Also, a tangential thought on training for the right skills. It is also important to identify the person's strengths and match it correctly. For instance, apparently there is an organization that trains people with some form of autism for software testing because they have an eye for detail and actually have a comparative advantage for excelling in repetitive jobs. Here is the link:

kiwibloke said...

Another international perspective to add on to J's thoughts. In NZ there is this great demand for trained tradesmen (and women) - carpenters, builders, bricklayers, panelbeaters, auto mechanics, electircians and the list goes on. Given the egalitarian nature of the kiwi way of life, it does not matter if you are an electrician or an accountant or whateverelse. Unfortunately the term "vocational training" in India implies 'failure' at education factories. A skilled job is as good and as key as any of the whitecollar ones. A good accountant with a CA and about 10 -12 years makes about 60-70NZD/hour. A reasonably good electrician or a plumber makes about 50-60/hr. One of the reasons for success is the involvement of industry bodies in forming training guilds for apprentices. My (more than) two cents worth.
PS: A good road train truckie (the long trucks that run from nowhere to nowhere) in Aussie makes a nice 6figure income. Go figure! I wish I had chosen that alternate career, would have suited my wanderlust.

RamMmm said...

Very interesting and forcefully argumentative post, Sire. Thanks.

But caveat that with reality in India. Most of the vocational training oriented jobs are low paid and less respected. Social strata at work! The most important thing as far as I see is lack of real respect for labor. J and kiwibloke's commments bring a pretty interesting perspective.

The "reskilling and funding it for layoffs" idea is already there in a few companies, but it is really few.

All said, I do not know if I may allow a career of their choice for my kids in that direction. I still have to corral them in somewhere.

And I would like to see further comments from your other readers. Thought provoker post, it is!

Deepa said...

A wonderful topic and wonderful comments! There were more than one times where I went... 'Ohh yeah, exactly my thoughts'-

//Make these institutes a place where people can come back to multiple times in their career//

gils- //they wud be more of exp people who wud be learning skills out of their own free will rather than doing something to earn a living, hopefully.//

J- about autistic people doing repetitive kind of jobs.

kiwibloke-//I wish I had chosen that alternate career, would have suited my wanderlust//

Another thing is, even employers are so stuck up with degrees even for basic kind of jobs, where you can surely look at somebody's experience or skills more than the degrees they hold. Even in the accounting line, everybody knows that a CA Inter in India probably is more exposed to complex situations and has done more thorough accounting work than a CA who passed out young and started a step higher in the ladder.

Ramesh said...

@gils - Perfect quote that you have made. Very very true.

@J - Thanks for the interesting link. My experience has been very similar - people with challenges have often been great fit for some jobs and perform far better. The Swiss idea is intriguing - maybe its also an egalitarian society like the kiwis that makes this work.

@kiwi - Very very interesting perspective. Almost wants to make me chuck whatever I sm doing and join you as a truckie !

@RamMmm - Yes, there is much less respect for such jobs from a section of the society. In our culture the "caste system" is deeply ingrained - after all it originated by stratifying of occupations. You are right - its tough to work in our culture.

@Deepa - The employer degree equation in India is simply because demand for jobs far exceeds supply, especially in the office variety. Because of our poprulation, thats bound to be the situation for a long while. Its a tough choice - being an unemployed graduate or a fitter with a steady job ....

Sandhya Sriram said...

after such extra-ordinary comments on yet another exemplarary blog from you, i feel kind of shy to write my ordinary lines here, but the shameless me dosen’t give up and here I go

the key difference between a developing and a developed economy is that the former is a pyramid with a large base of low end jobs and as one goes up the pyramid, the value is higher. In a developed economy it’s trapezium. This difference will continue and that cannot be challenged. Hence while for argument sake it is correct to say that vocational skills are paid less, that is how a pyramid is by its very fundamental. But then, since that is the broadest strata, any positive intervention at that level, can make a huge difference to overall prosperity and hence, even if a plumber is paid lesser, he still has a job and can take care of his family and his next generation moves up the value chain by one more step. And step by step, we move the economy up the ladder. Agree with every point of yours Ramesh

Incidentally, even on the point of hair dresser, you are bang on. When I got married, I had my hair knee long. I realized from my husband's grandma later that one main reason why she selected me for her grandson was coz I had a long hair and had got such a backlash for trimming it once that I never attempted it again. Maybe I should talk to her how important it is from an economy perspective for hair dressers to grow and so she shouldn’t mind such small sacrifices from sincere citizens like me :-) :-) :-)

Exkalibur666 said...

Great post. Completely agree. We indians have forgotten 'dignity of labour'..I would also have loved to be a truckie atleast once in a while like Kiwibloke...

le embrouille blogueur said...

Great idea during these hard times.There are millions of ads in craigslist in the US everyday where people want to do anything for money.The schools do not have to be in India/China.They could bloom all over. When the going gets tough,the vocational training will get you going. Good stuff.

Ramesh said...

@sandhya - Nice concept of the traingle and the trapezium. Yes lower skilled jobs will pay less, but that's fine . A lower paying job is anyday better than no job.

@Exkalibur - There's something wildly evocative about being a truckie, isn't it ?

@blogueur - If there's dignity of labour as many others have pointed out, any profession is fine and a mllion times better than unemployment.

Vishal said...

"Let a million technical schools bloom" - Amen to your wish as this is a blessing in disguise. They can definitely change the employment pie for any developing country.

The key over here is social recognition of such vocations on a larger canvas. These jobs should not be looked as residual career options. In fact, this can create millions of employment opportunities. I wonder how could salary levels be rationalized in a country like ours so that dignity of labor finds its best place for any type of labor? Once something can be done about that, perhaps Deepa's concern over employers being stuck up with degrees may get addressed automatically.

Very relevant suggestions by you as always - I hope that one small step in this direction is taken sooner than later.

Ramesh said...

@Vishal - Social recognition is a key factor indeed. Cultures need to embrace dignity of labour no matter what the job is. Some cultures are there; others aren't.

Mark said...

Great post, Ramesh. As usual, you are spot on.

I was a philosophy major. I loved taking those classes and getting my degree. But now that I look back on that time, I often reconsider whether it was the best thing for me.

Studying philosophy taught me how to write relatively well and allowed me to grow in many ways I didn't know possible. At the same time though, it left me high and dry when it came to getting a job after college.

After four years of dedication, hard work, and thousands upon thousands of dollars spent, I, literally, had no tangible skills to offer employers. I've been able to get by and have good work experience, but my college education opened hardly any doors for me.

The path I chose after getting that philosophy degree (including going to China) has been unique and I wouldn't trade it for anything. But it's not a path for everyone and I wouldn't advise most young people entering college now to get a degree in such an ethereal discipline.

Ramesh said...

@Mark - Thanks. To each his own indeed. The study of the arts is a noble undertaking and where would mankind be but for philosophers. This bias towards vocational training was purely from the point of view of getting people ready for jobs. It just so so hurts to be out of a job, look hard for it and be rejected time and time again.

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