In the coming weeks, there will be sleepless nights, increased hair loss and heated deliberations between the students and their parents, guardians, mentors and teachers over their future and decisions made primarily with the aim of enabling them to enter a better paying profession upon graduation.
File pix) Politeknik Kota Baru students demonstrating how their invention, a ‘straw filter’, can be used to drink water directly and safely from Sungai Semarak. There are more than 35 polytechnics offering vocational education in Malaysia.
In Malaysia, TVET is nothing new. In fact, it has being quietly donning a party dress, diligently applying makeup and patiently waiting for students to come over to say “Hi” since way back in 1964 when the Technical and Vocational Educational Division was established, followed by the opening of the nation’s first polytechnic, Politeknik Ungku Omar in Ipoh, Perak, in 1969.
Perhaps, being a 52-year-old, it has acquired wrinkles and cellulite along the way, but it is gratefully receiving makeover help from the government in the recent spate of public campaigns to “beautify” and promote TVET.
Under the 11th Malaysia Plan and in tandem with the Malaysia Education Blueprint (2015-2025), the government has projected that approximately 1.5 million jobs will be created by 2020 and 60 per cent will require TVET-related skills.
Polytechnic education focuses on practice-based learning and, more importantly, is often combined with work attachments. Working as apprentices with industry partners is part of their syllabus.
This allows them to gain work experience and get up close with the real-world demands of the industries. There are more than 35 polytechnics throughout Malaysia.
Fresh from the completion of the Polytechnic Transformation Plan (2010-2015) that provided the roadmap to develop and strengthen the polytechnic system, there seems to be encouraging signs that TVET is steadily gaining grounds.
The Higher Education Department said that while student enrolment at universities across the country for the first semester this year was estimated at 60,000, admission to polytechnics and community colleges was projected to be around 90,000.
My former neighbour, Hasliza, is one of those who have benefited from having taken the TVET path. Making the decision to return to her books after her SPM in the late 1980s, she never imagined that she would have the chance to undergo a year-long study programme in the United Kingdom, especially with her poor SPM results.
The 39-year-old mother of three, who has been working for 16 years at a leading Malaysian automotive company, belongs to a group of bachelor’s degree students from a local training institution who will be spending the final year of their studies at Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom.
Leading up to her degree programme, she had completed her certificate studies and received her diploma from the same training institute over a period of eight years while working full-time.
Like Hasliza, there is thankfully increasing understanding among students that TVET is a practical option, particular for those who do not have stellar exam results.
Be it through diploma or degree programmes, and based on the latest offerings of TVET providers via collaboration with reputable international institutions, even MBA and post-graduate programmes are not out of reach for Malaysians.
While the government and TVET providers continue to improve their academic programmes and syllabuses to make it more relevant to industry needs, it would be good if there is an increase in corporate participation in TVET.
Organisations, especially large conglomerates and multinational companies which are key players in their respective business sectors, can step up to offer more work training opportunities for TVET students.
By hiring more of these trainees, the TVET ecosystem is able to play an important role towards making sure that the nation has a steady supply of industry-ready workers and, ultimately, meetthe country’s objective of developing a knowledge-driven society.
An often cited example is the dual training concept practiced in Germany where nearly 60 per cent of workers train as apprentices.
This has made Germany the toast of Europe, with the lowest rate of youth unemployment at around seven per cent. In addition to one or two days spent at vocational schools, apprentices spend three to four days a week at a company that provides hands-on practical training, typically lasting between two and three years.
This approach can be a feasible solution to provide young Malaysians with an educational path that is both practical and offers employment opportunities.