Technical education and vocational training in Sri Lanka
Continued from last Tuesday
The government has given priority for the establishment of a
University of Vocational Technology (UNIVOTEC), a brief account of which
is given below;
Training for self-employment
The Task Force recommended several measures to promote
self-employment among those who complete TEVT courses. These included
career guidance, training on how to start a business backed by start-up
capital. The first phase of the ADB Skills Development Project piloted
the Self Employment Promotion Initiative (SEPI), which provided
assistance in these and other related areas.
External assistance to implement TEVT reforms
training for youth. File photo
Since 1998, the ministry responsible for TEVT initiated several steps
to implement the TEVT reforms and to rationalize and streamline the
system. The ministry also obtained external assistance from Germany,
Japan, Korea and the ADB to implement the reforms.
The multi-donor funded Skills Development Project (2000-2006) led by
the ADB substantially contributed to the implementation of reforms in
TEVT. The main contributions of the project are briefly explained in the
Skill standards, curricula and competency-based training (CBT)
The Skills Development Project formulated skills standards for 45
selected occupations. These covered existing and new courses. The method
of delivery of these courses is the Competency Based Training (CBT). In
contrast to the traditional, time-based training, CBT offers a more
systematic mode of training. The CBT is a flexible system, which
provides opportunities for anyone within or outside the TEVT system to
build-on what has been learnt already using modular approach. The
project also developed a large number of manuals and guidelines and
other documentation, which gives planning and operational details of
Skill Standards, Curricula and CBT.
National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) framework
A priority area of reform in TEVT is the development of a National
Vocational Qualification (NVQ) framework. It may be said that NVQ is the
backbone of the quality assurance system of the TEVT sector. Hence, the
development of the NVQ framework by the ADB skills development project
contributed positively to the establishment of a quality assurance
system, which is one of main functions of the Tertiary and Vocational
Training Commission (TVEC).
The NVQ system starts with Level 1, which covers core, entry-level
skills. The NVQ Levels 2 to 4 correspond to increasing levels of
competence at the certificate level. The Levels 5 to 6 and Level 7
correspond to competencies at diploma and degree levels respectively.
University of Vocational Technology (UNIVOTEC)
As mentioned earlier, the establishment of a degree awarding
institution at the apex of the TEVT system exclusively for those
following TEVT is one of the main recommendations of the Task Force.
Accordingly, the government gave priority and sought external assistance
to establish the University of Vocational Technology (UNIVOTEC).
The University of Vocational Technology (UNIVOTEC) has some unique
features. As mentioned earlier, its degree courses are exclusively for
those completing certificate and diploma courses at appropriate NVQ
Levels. Thus, for the first time in Sri Lanka, those who choose TEVT, or
who are already in the TEVT sector will have opportunities to move up,
exit laterally, gain work experience, earn an income, and return to
acquire certificate, diploma, and bachelor degree qualification.
The German Fachhochschule (in English, this is known as University of
Applied Technology) was used as the model in establishing UNIVOTEC.
German assistance was also obtained to provide part of the funds
necessary to establish UNIVOTEC.
The main focus of UNIVOTEC is on new and emerging fields of
vocational technologies related to the new initiatives of the government
aimed at harnessing local resources. Hence, the fields of study that
were planned for implementation by UNIVOTEC include technologies related
to wood and wood processing, clay and ceramics, foundry and casting,
welding and fabrication, manufacturing and production, and polymers,
plastics and rubber. However, commencement of these new fields seems to
be delayed due to various reasons.
Self-Employment Promotion Initiative (SEPI)
The Self-Employment Promotion Initiate (SEPI) Program of the Skills
Development Project referred to above is essentially a loan or a credit
scheme. Loans are given exclusively to those who complete courses and
obtain a certificate from any of the project institutions. The most
significant feature of SEPI is that the certificate is treated as the
collateral for the loan. Those in the TEVT system have never had an
opportunity to obtain loans without collateral.
Future directions of TEVT
The foregoing account outlines the initiatives of the government to
reform and rationalize the TEVT system and the main achievements of the
ADB Skills Development project in the implementation of TEVT reforms.
The project has addressed the major issues related to quality and
relevance of courses by establishing skill standards, developing
curricular, and laying down procedures for assessment and certification.
Among these, the formulation of NVQ framework and the introduction of
CBT are pioneering efforts. Also, those in the TEVT sector have been
provided with opportunities for upward and lateral mobility, which
enhances their employment prospects.
Elimination of duplication of functions and responsibilities of
major training providers of the government.
As mentioned earlier, the government has taken steps to bring
together the main government-training providers namely, Department of
Technical Education and Training (DTET), National Apprentice &
Industrial Training Authority (NAITA) and Vocational Training Authority
(VTA) under one ministry. However, due to historical reasons, these
providers have been assigned overlapping functions and responsibilities.
One approach to eliminate these duplications and achieve grater degree
of rationalization and cohesion is to amalgamate these providers and
establish a single statutory authority, which will have a clear mandate
to plan and deliver technical education, vocational training and
apprenticeship in a mutually supportive and flexible manner. Two options
for implementing this proposal are described in a report prepared by the
Establishment of a national organization to assess skills and award
An important goal of rationalization is to have a reliable and
independent system of skills testing and certification. At present,
skills testing and certification are being conducted by DTET and VTA for
their own trainees and by NAITA for their apprentices and for others.
This arrangement where trainees are trained and tested by the same
organization is not satisfactory as it affects quality and relevance.
Hence, skills testing and certification functions of these agencies,
together with staff and other resources responsible for such work should
be transferred to an independent body, which may be called the National
Testing and Certification Service (NTCS).
The sole responsibility of NTCS is to conduct tests based on national
skill standards set by the TEVC. The certification should conform to the
NVQ framework, which is developed by the TVEC. The proposed NTCS should
also offer greater opportunities and access for skill testing and
certification to those who acquire skills mostly on-the-job and under a
master craftsman and to those who seek foreign employment. If the
proposed NTCS is to perform this role, it should be an independent and
autonomous organization. Details of setting up NTCS are also available
in a report prepared by the writer, which is referred to earlier.
Post-training work experience
There is popular belief that combining training with production could
yield better results in terms of gaining work experience and recouping
training costs. It is an attractive proposition. However, it has
inherent drawbacks. The main objective of training is to impart skills.
And, if production activities are planned strictly as part of skills
acquisition, there is no reason for concern. Very often, this is not the
case. Production takes precedence over skills training. And there are
abuses. Accountability becomes an issue.
Therefore, separate production units should be established and
operated on commercial lines. The production units should have a manager
and a core group of skilled workers and support staff who will work on
regular basis. Newly graduated trainees should be employed on contract
basis for a fixed period, say maximum of two years.
The instructors, teachers and other staff of training centres may
work after their normal hours on part-time basis and earn some extra
income. The report referred to earlier also contains details of setting
Incentives to the private sector to train and employ
The private sector in general, except some multinationals and a few
large companies, hardly invests in training job entrants. They claim
that inflexible labour laws prevent them from employing job seekers let
alone training them. The most common way is to recruit job seekers as
learners and apprentices under the provisions of the Wages Boards and
train them. If needed, they are retained. When skilled workers are
required, the preferred option of employers seems to be to recruit those
trained by other employers.
When apprentices are sent by NAITA for on-the-job and in-plant
training, most often they are treated as ‘free labour’ as they are paid
a stipend by NAITA. Consequently, the employers are less interested in
NAITA apprentices than those recruited under the provisions of the Wages
Boards. Also, the Skills Development Fund mentioned earlier was not able
to achieve desired results mainly due to the reluctance of the employers
to pay for services. The management of the Fund was also a problem.
There is, therefore, an urgent need to look at these issues afresh
taking into account the current priorities of the government and to come
up with innovative programs that would fulfill the needs of the
employers and the aspirations of the job entrants. There are several
successful models from other countries in the region and outside, which
may be studied, and adapted to suit national needs.
(The writer is a former Senior Specialist, International Labour
Organization (ILO) for 17 years. On his return to Sri Lanka, the
government invited him to be the Advisor on TEVT. And, as member of the
Presidential Task Force on TEVT Reforms, he coordinated the formulation
and implementation of reforms. He was also the Chief Technical Advisor,
ADB Skills Development Project. Presently, he is a Board Director,
Information and Communication Technology Agency - ICTA)