Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1279, (21 - 27 January 2016)
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1279, (21 - 27 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Finding a vocation

Too little attention has been given to vocational education in Egypt, long marginalised in favour of academic studies, writes Farah El-Akkad

Al-Ahram Weekly

Nadia Said is a 29-year-old vocational commerce school graduate who spent three years after graduating looking for a job in her field of study. The protracted search ended in failure because, as she was often told in job interviews, “We need Bachelor’s degree holders,” Said says.

Despite the fact that experts have long argued that Egypt has a rich market for vocational school graduates, reality proves otherwise. Ask the average Egyptian what they know about graduates from the vocational education system, and most will think of waiters, engineering assistants or technicians.

Many will add that such graduates do not get the jobs that they deserve. Some may have a negative image of vocational school students, seeing them as mostly teenage boys who only go to school to harass teachers and girls in their neighbourhood.

“It was normal in my school to have classes cancelled every day. I only had two regular courses throughout my school years, and when I graduated I wanted to do something different. I read books and took courses in commerce. This is what I really learned about, but in school things were always out of control and did not relate to the real world or to what the market needs,” Said adds.

According to Egypt’s 2014 ministerial conference on youth unemployment, the country’s labour force in that year stood at 27.1 million, compared to some 25.4 million in 2009, of which women constituted 22 to 23 per cent. There were an estimated 600,000 to 700,000 new entrants to the labour market each year.

“Some of the main characteristics of the Egyptian labour market are high rates of unemployment among highly educated job seekers, low rates of return on education, increasing trends of informality in the labour market, shifting from dominance of public-sector employment to private-sector employment, low levels of labour productivity, and a scarcity of skilled workers who match the needs of a more competitive and globalised economy,” the conference reported.

“Egypt’s labour market policies over the last five decades have proven to be inefficient in creating enough productive and decent jobs for all job seekers, especially fresh graduates and young females,” it continued.

Said believes that a key factor holding back graduates of vocational schools in Egypt is that both officials and businessmen often perceive them as being second class. The education system does not allow most vocational school graduates to go on to university, and the market does not provide them with jobs unless they are from higher institutions and/or also university graduates.

But the market’s need for development in the field is essential, particularly because the country could benefit greatly from more and better vocational education and training centres.

Mohamed Rabie, a factory owner, believes the problem behind the low employment rates of vocational schools graduates is “more than anything else” the attitude of the workers themselves. Rabie has spent the last 15 years dealing with workers and vocational school graduates.

“Due to the lack of practical training in vocational schools, most graduates are not familiar with market needs and must undergo training in the workplace before being employed,” he says.

“In addition, unfortunately many of them do not follow elementary rules such as sticking to schedules, and they may have a reckless attitude towards their employment, moving from one job to another on little more than hearsay.

“I can’t just fire people who do not follow the rules, as this will open me up to litigation. But these workers in many cases want money without working for it, which is the key to many of Egypt’s problems.”


THE VOCATIONAL SYSTEM: Technical and vocational training in Egypt is provided through secondary education at commercial and technical schools and in post-secondary education at specialised institutions.

Other forms of training are through industry secondments, both for the employed and the unemployed. These can be delivered formally or informally, as well as through either private or government institutions.

In 2002, the Supreme Council for Human Resource Development, a government think tank, issued a paper entitled “Policy Statement on Skills Development in Egypt.” The paper set out main strategic goals for the development of technical and vocational education and training in the country.

These included the setting up of a framework that would guarantee and promote lifelong learning and creating a system that better acknowledges the economy’s demands in addition to enhancing labour mobility. The statement focussed on developing vocational education and training in three main industries: building and construction, manufacturing, and tourism and hospitality.

Entry-level vocational schools are currently provided by Egypt’s two educational ministries. In an interview with Al-Ahram last April, however, Minister of Vocational Education Mohamed Youssef said that the system is facing many problems because of years of neglect and poor school-enrolment policies which have allowed students to enter vocational schools without checking their qualifications.

 Nabil Morsi, moved to Cairo from Fayoum City in the 1960s. He is now 76 years old. When he was a teenager his father worked as the headmaster of a secondary vocational school specialising in ironwork and carpentry.

“Most vocational schools at the time specialised in two things only,” he says. The schools were attended by students who often could not afford to go to university. “But the top students received government scholarships, which allowed them to enter universities to do engineering, for example, allowing them to leave with a Bachelor’s degree.”

Research conducted by the World Bank in 2003 found that the technical education sector in Egypt, with about 1.8 million students in 2003, was “comprised of technical and commercial secondary schools that offer a technical diploma for three-year courses and a technical diploma (first technician) for five-year courses. The relatively small vocational education sector (about 200,000 students) is comprised of preparatory schools offering a preparatory vocational certificate and secondary vocational schools offering a secondary vocational certificate.”

Those attending preparatory schools are usually in their early teens, while those in secondary vocational schools and technical secondary schools are between 15 to 18 years old. The research added that “middle technical institutes offer three levels of qualification to about 110,000 students: a higher technical diploma through two-year courses in industrial and commercial fields; a Bachelor of technology diploma through four-year courses to train technical teachers for technical secondary schools; and a higher technical diploma through two-to-five-year courses” that aim to qualify students for employment in different industry sectors.

These qualifications are intended to reflect the students’ higher levels of skills, and many students and employers believe these skills are more suitable for workers in skilled occupations than for technicians.

However, the World Bank research found that “only about half of the 50,000 annual intake (2003) actually complete their courses, and some 60 per cent of those are unemployed after graduation. The flow of students between institutions and sectors has largely been governed by a system of streaming. Although this has been of considerable importance in Egypt, it has also distorted the flow of students between sectors.”


LEGACY OF STREAMING: For the past 40 years, technical and vocational secondary education in Egypt has been expanding. At the age of 13 or 14, students are streamed either to general education or to technical and vocational education.

“Students in general education have come increasingly to expect to proceed to university. This was accommodated by government policies that have limited entry to the general stream while at the same time improving the chances of general students proceeding to university by increasing the budget for universities between the first and fourth five-year plans (1982 to 1998),” the World Bank research said.

This change towards universities has meant that the unit cost of post-secondary education has risen in the country, the cost of a university place being four times that of a technical or vocational school one.

Moreover, few students completing vocational courses have proven capable of competing for university places, “providing only about five per cent of university entrants, the rest coming from general education. Instead, some 40,000 technical school graduates a year have entered the vocational sector, making up 80 per cent of the total intake. Previously, about 80 per cent of the intake had come from general schools,” the research said.

Generally, the education system has allowed general school students to continue to further studies, while the chances for technical school students have been more limited. According to a World Bank review in 2013, university students in Egypt outnumber vocational school students by a ratio of almost 10 to one. At the same time, the educational qualifications of employees have improved in recent years.

“The percentage of illiterate workers decreased from 21.6 per cent in 1997 to 10.4 per cent in 2009, and the percentage of employment among those with intermediate and above intermediate education increased from 27 per cent in 1997 to 34.5 per cent in 2009. The percentage of workers who have university degree or higher also increased from 12.7 per cent in 1997 to 16.3 pent in 2009,” the review said.

Lobna Abdel-Rehim, an expert on vocational schools, wrote in Al-Ahram in April that the key problems of vocational education in Egypt lies with the financing process and the ineffective laws issued by the government.

Due to the poor employment prospects of students graduating from technical and vocational students, added to the higher unit costs of the sector, the government has been obliged to reconsider its policy of streaming. “As part of broader reforms in education, in 2002 and 2003 the government started to cut back the technical and vocational stream, beginning with the 350 or so commercial schools. Later, in 2004 and 2006, some 200 commercial schools were converted to general education,” the World Bank review stated.

Since 2009, and particularly after the 25 January Revolution, most technical and vocational schools were re-established to put more focus on general subjects and reduce the hours spent on technical and vocational subjects.

According to the World Bank, between 2003 and 2010 entry-level vocational training in Egypt was provided to almost “40,000 trainees a year in 232 training centres managed by six ministries outside the education portfolios,” these being the ministries of industry and technological development, housing, manpower and emigration, agriculture, health, and culture.

These ministries provided a wide variety of courses to enhance skills, while four of them ran shorter courses for semi-skilled occupations, some lasting a few months and others only a few weeks. Trainees who completed their courses received certificates issued and accredited by the specified ministry.

The 2013 youth employment conference reported, “Egypt may consider its strategic or growth sectors to be industry, building and construction, tourism, and agriculture.” The industrial sector, which has the largest capacity for vocational training, is served by both short and long-term training programmes provided by the Productivity and Vocational Training Department of the Ministry of Industry, short-term training programmes offered by the Ministry of Manpower, and those offered by the Industrial Training Council.

The building and construction sector is served by training programmes provided by TOMOHAR, established in 1975 by Ministerial Decree 433/1975 as an organisation affiliated to the Ministry of Housing. It has more than 70 centres offering training in trades such as formwork, steel fixing, brick and block work, plastering, electrical installation, plumbing, aluminium and metal installation, tiling and cladding, decorative framework, and painting and decorating.

Another important training provider is the Arab Contractors Management and Technology Training Institute (MTTI), one of the first training entities in the Middle East for the construction and contracting fields. The MTTI offers certified trainers proving instruction in trades such as formwork, steel fixing and bar bending, brick and block work, stonemasonry, carpentry and joinery, plumbing, plastering and scaffolding. It has the capacity to train up to 2000 vocational trainees per year.


PROBLEMS REMAIN: While the government has begun to address the problems surrounding vocational training in Egypt, much remains to be done.

Experts believe that the most telling criticism of the system is that the curricula of the vocational schools are not sufficiently related to the needs of the labour market. The reason can be traced to the supply-driven nature of the system. Because of the absence of suitable financial incentives, it has been found difficult to make real changes, explaining why the curriculum taught in vocational schools tends to be outdated and is rarely reviewed.

“Training courses are still largely institution-based, and although greater efforts are being made to develop systems that use more industry attachments, far more industry participation than is evident so far will be needed if these systems are to succeed,” the World Bank says.

Even with the development of appropriate standards and curricula, there is the question of the ability of the system to deliver good results. Abdel-Moneim Dawood, a 54-year-old vocational school teacher, says that the institutions suffer from limitations in two key respects: a lack of suitably trained instructors and a lack of adequate equipment.

“Despite the Egyptian market’s strong needs for labour and people who work with their hands, a vocational school graduate student still needs to be well trained before starting a job as a technician,” he says.

Dawood recalls his father-in-law, who owned a furniture factory. “He was a graduate of a carpentry vocational school and never went to college. However, he was amazingly talented, and working with his hands for years made him more experienced than almost all the engineers he hired at his factory,” he says.

According to the World Bank report, “the lack of suitably qualified and experienced instructors is probably the overriding factor limiting the effectiveness of technical and vocational education and training in Egypt. It results largely from inadequate recurrent funding, since it is mainly attributable to the low wages offered.”

The report further explains that instructors who are graduates of technical secondary schools often have little work experience of their own, while instructors who have acquired skills through work experience usually have no formal training or preparation as certified trainers.

The report advises, “In the long-term, this problem must be considered in the general context of redefining teaching careers by ensuring that teachers are properly selected and that they subsequently have a viable teaching career.

“In the shorter term, there is a significant difficulty in financing the training of those staff already in the system. There are almost 3,000 trainers (2006) in vocational training centres providing entry-level training, together with 800 technicians (2006) and about 1,000 managers, supervisors or specialists. The training of all these staff is beyond the capacity of the system, and yet even these numbers are far too small if the system is to expand.”

Such factors have led the government to consider financing from international donors to undertake staff training. “This is usually an important feature of projects supported from both Europe and North America. However, these projects do not, by themselves, institutionalise staff training. Like capital investments, investments in staff training are not necessarily sustainable. The problem, again, comes down to finance,” the World Bank report says.

The second issue, the lack of specialised equipment, is just as difficult to deal with. “Because of inadequate recurrent budgets, centres find it difficult to maintain adequately the equipment and supplies. They also find it difficult to ensure that equipment is used efficiently and to its full capacity, especially because of the difficulty of making sure instructors are fully trained in its use,” the report claims.

Decisions taken by the government in 2003, such as the establishment of the Supreme Council for Human Resource Development and the creation of a National Training Fund, have “positioned the country to implement far-reaching changes to its technical and vocational education and training system,” the World Bank says. However, implementing these changes has been difficult, and as with all such changes there has been a risk that they will not bring about the expected outcomes.

For this reason, it has been crucial for experts and researchers to define and highlight the risks and suggest ways they can be mitigated. As World Bank review says, “The Supreme Council has been responsible for training issues for over 20 years, but its performance over most of that time has been minimal. It had been established as a ministerial body involving all ministers with a direct interest... and by the time it was revitalised in 2000 it had not met for years and was to all intents and purposes defunct.”

The report advises that a “National Training Authority should be in charge of the oversight of training quality and the management of the Training Finance Fund. Being responsible for maintaining the quality of training would mean being responsible for accrediting training providers and certificates.” A National Training Authority would also allow an integrated policy on vocational and training institutions to be developed.

The main goal must be to increase youth employment and to provide decent and productive jobs for young people by increasing youth skills and providing job opportunities and developing new labour market policies and programmes to improve standards of living and equal opportunities.

With this in mind, the Social Fund for Development (SFD) was established in 1991 by Presidential Decree 189, as part of the Economic Reform and Structural Adjustment Programme that was then in place. The SFD was to act as a safety net to protect vulnerable groups against the adverse effects of the economic programme.

It was also seen as a suitable organisation for creating jobs at all skill levels through the development and growth of both start-ups and existing small enterprises, especially for new entrants in the labour market, primarily young graduates, who make up over 80 per cent of the total unemployed population.

The World Bank has consistently reiterated the need for “the creation of employment opportunities to reduce the problem of unemployment, poverty alleviation, addressing the effects of economic reform and the transition to a market economy, the development and financing of small and micro projects through the provision of financial and nonfinancial services, raising living standards of targeted areas and the development of civil society.”

It praised SFD interventions focussing on five specific target groups: young graduates of both sexes with intermediate and above intermediate education, potential small business entrepreneurs, small business owners wishing to expand their activities, the unemployed, and marginalised groups, including women, children and people with special needs.

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