‘Spaghetti Bowl’ Of More Than 1,000 TVET Institutions In Malaysia In Need Of Streamlining

Once again, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) comes into the limelight and is a focal point for discussion after the recent Budget 2023 announcement by Prime Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the visit of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in February.

While it is a trendy buzzword these days, TVET in Malaysia has been a focal point since Malaysia’s 11th Plan as a key factor in achieving the country’s goal of becoming a high-income nation by 2020 (MOHE 2016), and it continues to be such in the 12th Malaysia Plan.
I can proudly say that I am a TVET graduate of the German Dual Vocational Training in Malaysia.

I have observed the system through the eyes of a trainee and was trained by the industry for three years in an actual work setting. I am now working in the TVET sector for five years to contribute back to the system and to young Malaysian talents who wish to take up vocational training just like me. I am very familiar with the challenges faced in TVET, as a student, a graduate, a job seeker, an employee, and as an employer.

Would I have gone to university instead? No, I would have chosen this path over and over. Despite the multiple claims to work towards enhancing TVET and its governance in Malaysia, we face the same challenges every year. Could it be that we are just not addressing the root causes of the problem?

According to the Penang Institute and Asia Foundation, a major challenge facing the governance of TVET in Malaysia is the “spaghetti bowl” of overlapping jurisdiction and standards and the lack of one lead agency to govern and coordinate the national TVET agenda.

To put this into perspective, there were 11 ministries and 1,295 TVET providers nationwide when the National TVET Council (MTVET) was formed in February 2021. There are also various options for TVET courses, from modular basis to micro-credentials, to upskilling programmes, to re-skilling programmes. It seems that we are very quick to create derivative short-term solutions that become redundant. Which of these ensures industry-relevant skills and quality? Which of these provides opportunities for our youth?

I believe that several challenges of the TVET sector could be minimised by appointing one centralised point of authority for TVET as a means to streamline the fragmented landscape. One viable option is for this appointed authority to audit the quality of the various existing programmes and providers and close underperforming TVET institutions. A Vocational Act should also be established to regulate TVET in Malaysia and set clear requirements to protect the rights of young trainees.

A turning point in TVET is to make a culture out of it and not a business. The programmes ought to run in cooperation with one of the most vital stakeholders of this sector: the industries. Because who else could better assure industry quality if not the industry itself? Companies need to be active as TVET providers in delivering the practical portion of the training whereas theoretical training and practice are provided by the skills institutes. With constant changes and growth in technology, the industry serves as the best place for trainees to be up-to-date on the latest equipment.

By providing a long-term apprenticeship built on a ‘Place and Train’ model, the industry would also have proof of skills that justifies the starting salary of RM3,000 which was recently recommended by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is also the National TVET Council chairman. This was also mooted by the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (FMM) president Tan Sri Soh Thian Lai who believes such a starting salary is feasible provided TVET graduates have the right skill sets.

To facilitate this, funds should be strategically placed to support the industry to reduce the overall unemployment rate of TVET graduates.
Would it not be the ultimate achievement to create an ecosystem where the industry with the partnership of vocational schools and support of the government trains and gains skilled workers, where young Malaysians are enabled to establish their lives and gain higher education debt-free, existing employees have the chance to upskill, and we create a highly skilled workforce for the existing industry and future investors?

By Malaysian-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (German Dual Vocational Training) Head Michelle Abu Bakar

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