Why do we still look down on TVET?

KAJANG: Parents want to see their children succeed in life. Many desire their children to live in big houses, have stable careers and drive fancy cars.

Retiree Zainudin Abu Hassan, father of four, feels the same way. The two oldest children of the 53-year-old have completed their tertiary education in local institutions. The other two are still in primary school.

However, he was still worried about the future of his two eldest children. Shamila, his eldest, is 25 and graduated in human resources management from the International Islamic University of Malaysia. Her sister, Najwa, 22, has a diploma in preschool education.

“I thought that with the certification they had, it would be easy for them to find jobs. It turns out that it was harder than expected as they were too many graduates in those fields. It was a few months before my eldest finally found a job.

“Even then, her salary is not as high as those youths I know with vocational skills. They earn quite a lot. But at least, she has a job,” said Zainudin when met at an electrical repair workshop at Jalan Reko Mutiara here, recently.

Like many other parents, Zainudin initially had poor perception of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). To him, there is no “prestige” in learning vocational skill as it is only for those who did not excel academically. His view on TVET is, to put it simply, only for those without any hope for a bright future.

However, seeing the difficulty his daughters were facing in getting a job even with good academic qualifications made him rethink on TVET. The labour market has become increasingly competitive due to the surplus of graduates from the numerous public and private tertiary educations.

“Seeing what my two daughters had to go through made me think about the future of my other children who are still in school. I am not discounting the importance of academic achievements but having (vocational) skills is necessary for that competitive advantage in a globalised world.

“I have come to realise that having skills training would be a bonus for those in the younger generation. That is why parents must change their negative perception and mindset that vocational training is only for children who did not do well academically,” he said. Indeed it is time for us to reframe our thinking when it comes to what constitutes success.

TVET can no longer be viewed as the last resort or its potential dismissed for a fulfilling career. There have been numerous positive accounts in the media of Malaysians who embarked on this less trodden path out and found remarkable success in the field.

These Malaysians have even become role models, something they never thought they would become given the negative perception the public have about those who pursue TVET.

Muhammad Sayuti Rameli is one of them. I met him in 2015 when providing coverage for a vocational training programme at a school in Cheras. He was 20 at the time and pursuing training in welding at a local institution.

He confessed to playing truant at school and often slept under his desk while the teacher was teaching due a lack of interest in academics. He was once suspended from school for two weeks. Many thought his future would be bleak due to his dismal academic results.

However, everything changed when he saw an advertisement for the Welding Skill programme by Yayasan Peneraju Pendidikan Bumiputera. It was like getting a second lease on life as after only three months of training, Muhammad Sayuti immediately secured a job with Sapura Kencana Petroleum Bhd with a salary of RM3,800!

He was able to get a job with a lucrative salary even before he completed the programme. Even my salary when I started working came nowhere near what he earned. That is among the reasons why we can no longer look down upon TVET or those who work in the field. They may not look as smart and dapper as those working in air-conditioned offices but the training they have undergone helps them earn a much higher salary than many of the former. In fact, the government has also made the development of highly skilled workers a priority.

The government has also employed numerous efforts to make skills training mainstream, including rebranding the education system as TVET Malaysia in September.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has also highlighted several initiatives to transform TVET in the country including developing the TVET Masterplan when launching TVET Malaysia at the Advanced Technology Training Centre last month. Najib was quoted as saying that highly skilled human capital was very important in the transformation of the country’s economy and in closing the skills gap faced by the industry.

The country needs at least 35 per cent skilled workers in various fields if Malaysia is to become a developed and high income nation by 2020. Unofficial statistics by the Statistics Department in 2016 revealed that skilled manpower is at 31 per cent and more rigorous efforts need to take place in order to reach the target within the time frame stipulated. Empowering TVET will also indirectly reduce our dependency on skilled and semi-skilled foreign workers in the future.

(This commentary is the personal opinion of the writer.) — Bernama

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