How Technical And Vocational Education And Training Can Benefit Unemployed Youth

As the world grapples with the impact of the COVID crisis, including millions of lost jobs, TVET holds huge potential for boosting the employability quotient of those with low skills.

Since 2014, the world has been commemorating World Youth Skills Day on 15 July. The day highlights the criticality of ensuring young people possess adequate skills in raising their chances for securing employment, gainful work and entrepreneurship opportunities. 

In 2021, this day assumes greater meaning in the wake of the pandemic’s second wave in India, which has exacerbated the loss of employment avenues while increasing income and gender inequalities, among others. The loss of learning, training, skilling and employment opportunities for two years running raises the prospect of creating a ‘lockdown generation’ globally. 

Lost Generations and Prospects

Empirical evidence indicates people who came of age or were born during the years of World War I (the ‘Lost Generation’) or the Great Depression and World War II (‘Silent Generation’) missed crucial years of schooling and skilling. Millions remained jobless because they missed the critical window of employment prospects that open up in life’s formative years. 

Given this backdrop, events of World Youth Skills Day shift the focus to the significance of providing suitable employment opportunities to the youth via TVET – Technical and Vocational Education and Training. As the world transitions towards a digital and sustainable model of work and development, the importance of lifelong skilling comes centre-stage. 

Unfortunately, thousands of TVET centres were closed temporarily pan-India due to COVID-19 curbs. As per UNESCO’s estimates, between March 2020 and May 2021, schools remained either fully or partially shut for 30-plus weeks in half the countries worldwide. Just as an economic revival and reopening of institutions began, the second wave struck with shocking ferocity. The present scenario raises fears of young people irrevocably losing vital openings for learning, earning and employment. 

Nonetheless, if public and private institutions and societal stakeholders promote skilling opportunities through TVET, the youth can still be gainfully employed or provided with self-employment skills. TVET can boost responsiveness to the evolving demand for skills by companies, thereby raising productivity and wage levels. For instance, TVET can lower access hurdles to the employment universe via work-based learning and ascertaining that the skills acquired are certified and recognised. 

Besides, TVET can offer better prospects for skills development of people with low skills who may be unemployed or under-employed, out of school or happen to be NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) individuals. 

Whatever the case, lifelong learning opportunities coupled with inclusive skills development are indispensable in preventing such persons from missing the bus, helping maintain their employability while ensuring that enterprises and economies bounce back swiftly from the current crisis. Don’t forget that individuals apart, institutions also benefit from skilled people who can hit the ground running after being on-boarded. 

Digital Benefits and Divide

Responses to a joint survey of TVET organisations by UNESCO, ILO and the World Bank revealed that distance learning had become the norm in skills training. But there were major challenges regarding curricula adaptation, preparedness of trainees and trainers as well as connectivity and certification or assessment processes, among others. 

Moreover, young persons between 15 and 24 years of age were more severely impacted by COVID-19 than adults. ILO estimates indicate youth employment dropped 8.7 per cent worldwide in 2020 against 3.7 per cent for adults. A major drop was found in middle-income nations. Young females were especially hard hit by the coronavirus crisis compared to young males. Before the crisis, 22 per cent of young people were NEET – one in three young women and one in seven young males. The dip in employment rates on account of the pandemic has not been offset by returns to training and education. As a result, in many countries, the NEET rate has risen and is still higher than in the pre-pandemic period. 

Going by historical precedents, consequences of such disruptions on the initial labour market experience of young people could linger for years. The good news, however, is the degree of disruption triggered by the pandemic has been contained by TVET stakeholders through the adoption of remote training despite difficulties such as low levels of digital skills and connectivity issues. 

But other barriers exist. In principle, systems of skill development are supposed to benefit all people seeking to acquire relevant skills for earning their living and finding a rightful place in society. In practice, many cohorts in society are excluded from a variety of learning opportunities for a plethora of reasons. Persons in unstable, informal employment confront multiple access hurdles. Additionally, accessibility and availability of training centres could pose problems for persons residing in remote regions or those with disabilities. 

Stereotypes and misperceptions can also cloud the choice of training courses, discouraging youngsters from joining select courses. The training ambience may also be unconducive for some sections, causing dropout rates to rise if learning methods don’t consider the special needs of learners such as challenged individuals. Or if separate washrooms with adequate lighting are not provided for women. 

Even if these groups do graduate, the transition to employment could be equally or more challenging if stakeholders in the jobs market perpetuate discrimination. In such cases, ascertaining that these disadvantaged groups are offered an inclusive skills development environment would help them in successfully transitioning to worthwhile work. 

The role of TVET in such situations cannot be overemphasised since soaring youth unemployment is one of the perennial problems that societies face universally, in developing and developed economies alike. In this volatile mix, climate change has emerged as an urgent and possibly irreversible threat. 

Significantly, the UN’s 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development Goal 4 outlines the vision of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education while promoting “lifelong learning opportunities for all”. The strategy for achieving this goal vests on three priority pillars: (a) encouraging youth employment and entrepreneurship (b) advancing equity and gender equality (c) enabling the shift to green economies and sustainable societies. 

Notwithstanding economic growth and technological advancements, inequalities and poverty persist across many geographies globally. Going by the available data of some countries, on average, 10 per cent of the wealthiest earn up to 40 per cent of a country’s total income. Conversely, the poorest 10 per cent barely earn about 2 per cent of the total income. 

Meanwhile, digital deployment has been fast-forwarded by the pandemic. Yet, the majority of the global populace continues to remain offline – cut off from the exponential prospects digital opens up. Therefore, communities and countries must work cohesively and collaboratively to conquer the digital divide in providing equal opportunities for all as the world transitions towards a sustainable, inclusive and circular economy. In achieving this objective, TVET serves the purpose in more ways than one.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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