Simon McGrath on skills and Technical Vocation Education and Training (TVET)

In this video, Simon McGrath from University of Nottingham, discusses the importance of skills and Technical Vocation Education and Training (TVET). Simon was the expert adviser for the DFID commissioned Skills Topic Guide, which focused on skills immediately necessary for employment and increased productivity. The guide explores the role of TVET skills, which are concerned with the acquisition of knowledge and skills for the world of work.

Simon states that skills and TVET play a crucial role in society. In terms of economic development, as new technologies advance, skills are important to innovation and productivity. On a social level, skills are vital for poverty reduction through community development and improving access to jobs. However, the current state of knowledge on skills and TVET is weak. There is a paucity of good knowledge across a number of areas. For example, there are relatively few studies available that focus on rate of return analysis. Those that do exist are inconsistent in what they show. There has been quite a lot of work done at the policy level on skills, including National Qualifications Frameworks, changing funding regimes and sector reform. However, there is limited evidence showing why these policies were adopted and whether they work.

There are a range of challenges currently being faced. The cost of TVET programmes is a concern. Many programmes require small classes, materials and infrastructure development, all of which may be deemed as expensive. Another major concern is the status of TVET. Many TVET initiatives are seen as low status. This is a major problem that the field faces. Many policy makers have not gone through a TVET system themselves and may have negative views that are not based on evidence. Recent TVET reform has focused on policy and governance. There has been investment in these reforms, despite the lack of narrative around why such policies will work. There is also the problem of a lack of dialogue between partners.

In terms of sustainable skills delivery models, the challenge is the lack of good evidence. The evidence that does exist points towards successful systems being those that maximise network dialogue, trust and information sharing. Sustainability has to be built on shared ownership and partnership. A viable model is likely to involve investment in training by employers and prospective employees, as well as the government.

Part of the debate about skills is whether or not they can make a difference. Simon argues that skills cannot be the answer on their own. They must form part of a wider change in society. Skills are not the silver bullet but should be regarded as part of the solution.

Speaker biography

Simon McGrath is Professor in International Education and Development in the Centre for International Education Research and the Academic Lead for University of Nottingham’s Sustainable Development Research Priority Area. Previously he was Director of the Human Resources Development Research Programme of the South African Human Sciences Research Council and remains a research associate of the HSRC. He has published on a number of aspects of education – development links, especially at the post-school level. He is researching theories of vocational education and training for development; policies on the internationalisation of higher education in small states; and the development of new approaches to institutional development and evaluation in vocational education and training. He has engaged in policy advice and evaluation research for a range of national and international organisations and is currently most active in work for the South African Department of Higher Education and Training, UNESCO and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

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