Phd, Senior Lecturer, University of Technology, Jamaica,President, Jamaican Council for Adult Education, Vice-President (Caribbean) International Council for Adult Education
Having read the article written by Dana Bachmann and Paul Holdsworth titled, The New Skills Agenda for Europe I saw several themes that have currency in the international discourse around the topic of skills training, workforce education and training, vocational education and training. These themes include: the influence of the digital transformation of the workplace and its implication for work skills requirements; the challenge of robotisation and artificial intelligence; women employability; disparities in education and training; the need for recognition of non-formal learning; the importance of basic skills such as reading, writing, numeracy for work and further education and training; the link between skills, competitiveness and innovation; labour market intelligence and quality skills training; the need for and importance of quality and relevant training; flexible pathways for up-skilling and progression to higher vocational and academic learning; the need for vocational training coordination mechanism; the need for training to be validated; skills and quality work; VET as a second choice; the need for higher, more complex skills in vocational education and training; and skill recognition and validation.
The scope of this response will not allow me to comment on all these themes and so I will comment on and present perspectives on a few of the themes drawing on our experience in the Caribbean Region.
The need for Quality and Relevant training
The need to provide quality and relevant skills training is a big issue for policymakers, practitioners and other stakeholders within the Caribbean region. This regional focus on quality and relevant skills training is seen as a fundamental imperative for regional economic growth. As such this issue formed a key part of the driving force behind the establishment of the Caribbean Association of National Training Agencies (CANTA). This body brings together representatives of National Training Agencies (NTAs), bodies that serve as a single coordinating body, bringing together the disparate agencies and regimes delivering technical vocational education and training (TVET) within countries, and other key stakeholders within the region in a joint and concerted effort to ensure quality workforce training based on established standards. Also enabling the process of quality assurance within the Caribbean are the various National Councils of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (NCTVET) or Accreditation Councils that give focus to accreditation and quality assurance of training programmes. What is evident here is the intricate link between Bachmann and Holdsworth themes of the need for strong coordination mechanisms and the capacity to provide quality and relevant skills training.
The importance of basic skills such as reading, writing and numeracy for work and further education and training.
It is accepted knowledge that reading writing and numeracy are foundational skills that form critical building blocks for advancement in work, education and training. The Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL) is one example within the Caribbean region of an agency of the government that has as a key function the provision of this basic education for its adult citizens where necessary. However this basic literacy is not seen as an end in itself rather it is treated as only one rung in the ladder of work and education. Consequently, the work of the JFLL is closely aligned to skills training programmes and to entities such as the HEART Trust National Training Agency, the agency charged with the responsibility to govern the development and delivery of technical and vocational education and training in Jamaica and the Career Advancement Programme (CAP), a programme which provides additional educational and vocational training opportunities for secondary students aged 16 to 18.
Skill recognition and validation
Skills recognition and validation is a very important issue among educators, policymakers, practitioners and other stakeholders in workforce education in the Caribbean. Focus on this issue has resulted in a number of initiatives among which are the Caribbean and National Vocational Qualification certification systems (CVQ and NVQ). The Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) is “an award that represents the achievement of a set of competencies that define the core work practices of an occupational area, consistent with the levels articulated within the Regional Qualifications Framework”. Trainees are expected to demonstrate competence in attaining occupational standards developed by practitioners, industry experts and employers. It is described as a recognized and portable qualification within the region because the associated standards when approved by CARICOM allow for easy movement across the Region. Complimenting the CVQ is the National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) which is awarded at the country level as proof that trainees have the skills, knowledge and understanding to perform in accordance to workplace requirements. The award is given based on the trainees’ demonstration of performance outlined in the country’s Competency Standards for a qualification. These measures to recognize and validate vocational training are bolstered by the CARICOM Qualifications Framework and the development of National Qualification Frameworks (NQF) within countries of the region. These frameworks cover the span of qualifications recognizing the most elementary of competencies and performance outcomes (Levels 1 and 2) to those awarded at the highest level of academic and professional or vocational education and training (Level 10) as well as experiential learning. Each of the 10 Levels is informed by learning outcomes that can support a variety of education and career paths (Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission, 2015).
Need to develop higher more complex skills in vocational education and training
We live in an era of continuous and rapid technological advancement that gives rise to and drives knowledge based societies and economies. This phenomenon has led to profound changes in how we live, learn and do business. Occupations of these new economies call for skills referred to as 21st century skills such as: innovation, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, information, computer and media technology literacy. According to the OECD in the knowledge economy, memorization of facts and procedures is not enough for success in such contexts. They make the point that among other things educated workers need a conceptual understanding of complex concepts, and the ability to work with them creatively to generate new ideas, new theories, new products, and new knowledge and to understand scientific and mathematical thinking. For vocational education and training this calls for a transition from the hands on drill and practice approach to more complex higher level learning. One approach that is being used in Jamaica to accomplish this goal of developing more complex skills in TVET students is what is termed STEM integrated TVET. This approach to TVET teaching and learning integrates science technology, engineering and mathematics in the teaching of TVET specializations using the project based, engineering design approach. A major difference in this approach to TVET is the idea of broadly educating the students rather than simply training them to perform particular tasks (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000). The approach helps students to link the academic content to vocational and technical content and better prepares the student for work and for higher education. From our perspective it is anticipated that the STEM integrated TVET curriculum will also increase the attractiveness of vocational education for students.
Labour Market Intelligence and quality skills training
One of the key goals of vocational education and training is the preparation of students for work. Therefore TVE institutions must establish a close relationship with the industries relevant to the occupational areas students are studying to ensure training is relevant to the needs of the workplace. Additionally, technical vocational education needs to be dynamic and responsive to the constant technological changes in the society and new developments in various fields should be incorporated into the curriculum so that the graduates can compete and succeed in the job market. Labour market intelligence is one tool that enables training institutions to ensure a dynamic and responsive training system. Labour market intelligence aims to strengthen the connections between education and employment. The HEART Trust NTA in Jamaica recently launched its Labour Market Intelligence portal with the main objective to provide Labour Market Intelligence to assist users in:
Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind experience and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission (2015). National qualifications framework. Retrieved from http://jtec.gov.jm/the-national-qualifications-framework/
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