The future of jobs through vocational education

“I feel strongly that we have to have an education system that starts with preschool and goes through college. That’s why I want more technical education in high schools and in community colleges, real apprenticeships to prepare young people for the jobs of the future.”
Hillary Clinton

The future of jobs lies in rethinking what we do now and how we do them, particularly when it comes to education. The prism with which we look at what we tag as education needs to change, and this must happen very quickly. We do not need to re-invent the wheel; all that is required of us is to place less emphasis on ‘education for degree/certificate acquisition’ and ‘embrace education for applicable knowledge acquisition’. Education should be looked at beyond what transpires only within the four walls of the classrooms. It must be seen as a total package capable of positively affecting body, soul and spirit. Such education will enable the society to ideate, create, innovate and re-create what we need to do to be on the path to sustainable development! What kind of education can do this? Like Hillary Clinton, the former Democratic Party Presidential Candidate in the 2016 United States of America election put it succinctly in the opening quote of this article ‘more technical education…real apprenticeships will prepare young people for the jobs of the future’, this submission, to me, is apt and is worth looking at.

In my search for an appropriate meaning for technical and vocational education or better still a meaning that will fit into this discourse, I found this: “Technical education is the academic and vocational preparation of students for jobs involving applied science and modern technology. … Technical education has as its objectives the preparation of graduates for occupations that are classed above the skilled crafts but below the scientific or engineering professions.” Given where we are as a nation, there may be need to first beam our searchlight on preparing our graduates for occupations that are classed above the skilled crafts and below the scientific or engineering professions. Why should this be, you may want to ask? I am making this submission because a child must crawl before he walks. I am aware there are few exceptions to this. We can however not make a generic rule based on exceptions.  This implies that a society must gradually evolve based on the resources available to it. If we must prepare our graduates for such jobs, there may be need to rethink our technical and vocational education. In a country with over 100 Technical Colleges (Federal and States), it is apparent even to a blind man that we have what it takes to achieve this. In terms of local resources and/or natural resources, the nation is blessed. No country can however grow sustainably on natural resources, unless value is added to it. This is where ‘skilled craft’ becomes imperative. Our indigenous resources can be re-invented and re-packaged using technical and vocational education.

It is worrisome that our Technical Colleges are not being patronised despite huge investment in them. I have visited a few and interacted with some stakeholders there. For this reason, I can boldly say we have relatively good Technical Colleges in the country. The challenge however is how the society views such schools. They are perceived as inferior and less beneficial to an average student who will prefer to either go to the university or a polytechnic because of ‘status symbol’, not necessarily because of the utilitarian function of the acquired knowledge. Indeed, this is the root of the problem when it comes to perception of technical and vocational education. It is seen as a haven for the less privileged education-wise, and so it is not a school to be attended by the elite of the society. How saddening! It is saddening because developed nations of the world such as Germany place high premium on technical and vocational education, not just for its utilitarian function, but also for its significant roles in achieving sustainable development.

It is high time we began to rethink our attitude towards technical and vocational education as the jobs of the future revolve round problem solving which requires a lot of technical competence. The future is not far away. The future is now. Generic knowledge that leads to certificate acquisition without any specific skills targeted at solving some specific problems is no longer relevant. The stakeholders in our education sector must wake up to the reality of and demands of the 21st Century which call for constant learning, unlearning and re-learning with a view to finding workable solutions to the array of challenges plaguing the society. The cheering news of late is that Agencies of government such as the National Centre for Technology Management (NACETM), an Agency of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), among others are beginning to interface with key players in technical and vocational education through workshops, seminars and conferences. There is need for more efforts in this direction, if we must be seen as being ready for the jobs of the future.

In view of the above, we must as a matter of urgency declare a total war on education without utilitarian function. Technical and vocational education must be accorded the attention it requires. To this end, I will advocate for:

1. Re-orientation of the populace on technical and vocational education.
2.      More emphasis should be placed on education that solves societal problems, rather than education that glorifies ‘status symbol’.
3.      Agencies of government, particularly those in the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board should collaborate with Technical Colleges with a view to coupling knowledge with the existing local content in Nigeria.
4. Technical Colleges should be well equipped with state-of-the-art facilities that can help in grooming minds sufficiently for the jobs of the future.
5.Technical Colleges across the nation must constantly showcase their products to the world to demonstrate what they are capable of doing.
6. Teachers at the Technical Colleges should be trained and re-trained constantly in line with the global best practices.
7. Graduates from Technical Colleges should be well remunerated and well-integrated into existing companies where their skills are required without discrimination.

It is not too late to go back to the basics. No matter how far one may go in the wrong direction, one will never arrive at one’s desired destination unless a U-turn is made. We must revive and revamp our technical and vocational education, if we do not want to lag behind perpetually amidst the comity of nations. The future of jobs lies in problem-solving skills, which are abundantly available in our technical schools and colleges.

Isaac Oluyi is a Personal Development Advocate and Head of Public Relations Unit of the National Centre for Technology Management, an Agency of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.

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