Aligning education with the needs of business
Tracking the results of technical and vocational training can help government to develop a skilled workforce and meet nationalisation targets
In the education sector, there is a growing awareness of the shortcomings of traditional degree programs, and the need for more technical and vocational training which will produce graduates who have the skills needed in specific industries. In the GCC in particular, with governments looking to increase employment of nationals, there is a growing focus on developing vocational and technical training that will meet the needs of national industries at the same time as providing rewarding and productive career opportunities for citizens.
As new vocational training initiatives are launched, education authorities will need to forge closer links with business to understand its requirements and also develop information systems to track students, according to Tony Roach, director of Strategic Accounts for education software specialist Ellucian.
“All across the world, and certainly this region is catching up in a big way, industry is demanding expertise, and they are demanding skills. In the diploma space, there is almost an oversupply,” Roach said. “In this country [UAE] last year, 68% of the higher education-eligible students went into diploma-based education. The thing about it is is to look downstream and see to what extent a liberal arts degree is going to get you a job nowadays? The plain fact of the matter is, commercial globalisation, the sheer speed of technological advances is demanding that the workforce have some mobility, and have some very specific skills in order to keep growth advancing forward.”
The approach to vocational and technical training has varied between countries in the Middle East. The American University of Cairo has a long established continuing education program, which caters to an impressive 40,000 learners each year, Roach said, and that approach has been mirrored all over the country.
The government of Saudi Arabia is investing 20bn riyals ($5.3bn), between now and 2020, specifically on the technical and vocational education sector. Saudi’s TVTC (Technical and Vocational Training Corporation) is expected as part of this upgrade, to grow their student base from 110,000 to 220,000, and this number does not include 20 colleges of excellence which were also created last year.
In the UAE, vocational training has been somewhat more supply-orientated, Roach commented, rather than catering directly to the needs of industry, however, that is shifting with a number of government bodies taking a new lead on vocational training. The Abu Dhabi Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (ACTVET) is geared to bring all the vocational training under one authority, while the National Qualifications Authority (NQA) is specifically meant to coordinate, to operationalise, and quality-ensure the provision of vocational and technical education in the country.
“The end result is to turn this provision into a bit more of a demand-centric provision, one of the key roles that that authority will oversee is the introduction of industry back into the planning process,” he said. “The demographics are demanding it, industry is demanding it and governments are responding to it.”
There is very strong demand for skilled personnel coming from most of the major verticals in the region, such as hospitality, aviation, and healthcare, but organisations that aim to provide this training will need information systems that go beyond traditional academic management solutions, in order to manage and co-ordinate their courses.
Ellucian is already serving many of the leading universities in the region, most notably through Banner, its student information system, and it is building on that experience with the vocational and technical training sector.
Roach commented: “We are already deeply embedded in workforce development and continual education training, we have a master agreement with ACTVET, so we manage all of the information related to that particular provision; and we are in the process of moving records into one consolidated, multi-entity, private cloud-based delivery, just for ACTVET. They also use our data warehouse, they have a very rich set of higher education-specific education, aggregated data there.”