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Investing in Tomorrow's Labour Force

Published in Sep-Oct 2021

S. Javed Hassan, Chairman, NAVTTC on upgrading the delivery of vocational training in Pakistan.

MARIAM ALI BAIG: What is the National Vocational Technical Training Commission’s (NAVTTC) mandate and how does it function?
SYED JAVED HASSAN: NAVTTC is Pakistan’s apex body for skills, professional and technical training. As the regulatory body, it looks at the certification and accreditation of various vocational institutes as well as policy requirements. We also have an advisory role to the Government of Pakistan. We design courses in collaboration with industry and play a very important role in terms of international linkages and accreditation in the skills area. Traditionally, these skills would include plumbing, electrical, welding, carpentry, etc.; today they encompass high-tech areas such as AI, coding and web design. To summarise, NAVTTC designs policy for the government, allocates resources and ensures that the standards meet the local market requirements and are internationally accepted as well.

MAB: So rather than interact directly with the students, you work with the vocational institutions?
Yes; except that recently the National Training Bureau (NTB) in Islamabad has come directly under us.

MAB: How do you ensure that these institutes deliver quality standards?
After the 18th Amendment was passed, a lot of autonomy was given to the provinces and the Technical Education & Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) could have, had they wanted to, gone their own way. However, a lot of the funding is funnelled through NAVTTC. We are in the process of implementing a reform programme across the entire vocational training sector and this involves, among other things, introducing competency based training, which goes beyond theoretical learning and looks at a trainee’s competency in a particular skill or trade and tests them accordingly. This is a NAVTTC initiative, and given that a lot of the international as well as the federal funding is directed through NAVTTC, TEVTA agreed to adopt competency based training. We have also set up the National Accreditation Council and only provide funding to those institutes accredited with this body. We have designed about 300 new courses based on international standards and migrated them to TEVTA.

MAB: Do you mean competency training in terms of the students or the trainers?
I am talking about the students.

MAB: Surely, a lot depends on the competency of the trainers?
One of the biggest problems in Pakistan is that we don’t have sufficient trainers. The capacity in the system is very limited. The total capacity for training young people is approximately 400,000 – or 450,000, if you include the training institutes that are not formally considered vocational training centres. Yet, the need is for about one and a half million. Furthermore, you have outdated curriculums, outdated equipment and worst of all trainers who are teaching in an outdated manner. We not only need to increase the quantum of our trainers, we need to improve the quality of existing trainers and this is part of the reform programme we are undertaking. NAVTTC’s Hunarmand Pakistan programme consists of 14 components, one of which is training the trainers.

MAB: Who pays the trainers? The provincial or the federal government?
They are either funded by TEVTA or by private sector vocational training institutes.

MAB: Proportionately, what is the contribution of the private and the public sector?
The public sector is about 90% and the private sector is about 10%.

MAB: Do the private sector institutes train people for specific industries?
No, although some companies do provide training for their workforce; Honda and Toyota for example, but it is very limited. Most private sector institutes provide training for what they believe to be the greatest need for their industry in overall terms. However, there is a considerable mismatch between what an industry requires and the training provided by both the private and public sector institutes. The tendency is to focus on traditional skills. Yet, the world has evolved. Given the pace of technological advancements, lots of new trades and methodologies for learning have emerged, but they are neither recognised or adopted. One of the issues is that vocational training requires significantly more investment compared to higher education. Vocational training institutes need plant equipment and machinery in order to impart practical hands-on experiences. In my opinion, the solution is to follow the German or Japanese model, where a large portion of the hands-on training is done by an industry itself and the theoretical training by institutes. This not only applies to engineering or manufacturing, but to the hospitality sector and a range of other trades. If you want to learn to be a chef, you need an elaborate kitchen and not many institutes can provide that kind of kitchen. NAVTTC is trying to persuade the institutes to collaborate with industry and use the capabilities within industry by developing joint programmes. In this way, the vocational institutes will not have to invest in plants and equipment and can concentrate on the course material, the standards and the trainers themselves.

MAB: How receptive is the industry to this idea?
People in the industry always maintain that training is the critical need of the country and we should be investing much more in that direction. The reality is that they look to the government to provide all the training and the facilities; they don’t want to invest time and energy in a more involved collaboration. We have tried to work with the Chambers of Commerce, but so far, we have not seen the kind of enthusiasm that is needed. However, things are changing. For example, we are working closely with the Hashoo Group to train young people in the hospitality sector. We are also working with a few manufacturing companies that are providing training on the factory floor. Pakistan’s main problem is productivity and productivity is dependent on the capability of the labour force; unless industry is prepared to invest in them, it will not have a capable labour force.

MAB: From which educational stream do most trainees come from?
When we were just offering traditional skills, we were attracting young people from the Matric or FSC level from government schools; young people who probably were unable to get into a university. As a result, there was a stigma attached to vocational training, an unfair one in my view – and people preferred not to opt for vocational training, even though there are good jobs out there and with good earning potential. Under Hunarmand Pakistan’s Kamyab Jawan Scheme, we have introduced high-end technical skills that offer entrepreneurial or digital facing opportunities, and since then we have seen a very different kind of student body coming in. Many are graduates who have not found jobs because they lack industry experience (it makes you wonder what kind of graduates we are producing that the industry is unwilling to hire them) and have taken advantage of the courses we offer and almost immediately found jobs. In the first phase, we trained about 40% of our intake in traditional skills, and according to an internal survey, almost 65% found a job. In terms of the high-end technical skills, about 80 to 85% have either started their own companies, are freelancing or are in jobs. We are now seeing young people from different social stratas taking up the trainings we offer. We cannot know everything about the market and one of the best proxies to understand the market requirements is to find out what the young themselves want to learn; they better than anyone else know what kind of jobs are out there and we have persuaded the institutes to talk to industry as well as to the young people and design the courses accordingly. As a result, applications have been much higher compared to the previous ones, when NAVTTC as well as the vocational institutes had to run after people to persuade them to enrol; in fact, this time, the courses have been oversubscribed. We should not underestimate the wisdom of young people. Most of them want to find jobs and stand on their own feet; do not force them on to a certain path; instead, ask them what path they want to follow and enable it.

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