Vocational training: Nepal’s need

Making sure vocational training fits the nation’s need is in everybody’s interest so the opportunity to voice opinions gives the chance to all to shape the way that the nation is skilled

As all young people will tell you, it’s very tough finding a job without the right qualifications and experience. Having a skilled workforce is crucial to the country’s future, especially since Nepal aims to move out of Least Developed Country status by 2022 and to be a lower middle income country by 2030. Both require high economic growth rates, as does the strong national commitment to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (which, as one element, stress vocational training and lifelong learning – goal 4).

Skilling the workforce feeds this process, mainly through private enterprise development. Nepal’s economy is still very rural, with agriculture as the main employer. But this will change as the country grows, with industry and services assuming much greater importance in the economy and employment. Jobs will mainly be created by small enterprises and, to grow, they need people with the right skills.

Making sure that the workforce has skills is partly the business of government. Firms often do their own training, but expect the people they hire to have at least the basic skills for the job. These skills, as well as more advanced capabilities, are provided partly through vocational training. Nepal trains a lot of people annually, with funds from the budget and the development partners, but questions arise as to whether this training is relevant to Nepal’s needs.

This means looking at policy, but it also involves asking whether people who got training had a better chance of getting a job and earned more. To make sure that the policy is heading in the right direction the Ministry of Education, with support from the United Nations Development Programme, has recently launched a national ‘dialogue’ on vocational training policy.

Nepal’s vocational training policy, adopted in 2012, focuses on young people and adults who are illiterate or were not admitted to school or dropped out. The policy has several aims including providing better training linked to what firms need, making sure everybody who graduates has a recognised training certificate, and bringing training under one overall system.

The dialogue asks whether these are still the right aims, but also takes account of the changes since 2012, including recovery from the earthquakes and Nepal’s impending federalisation. Unanswered questions also remain about the role of skilling as people move from the countryside to the towns in Nepal and in the context of large numbers of young people taking jobs outside the country. The move from countryside to town often affects women more than men since women from rural areas have greater difficulty getting jobs in towns and cities and, for a time, many fall out of the workforce. Finding ways to keep them in the workforce is therefore crucial. Training for employment outside Nepal is controversial, but offers the chance to increase remittances as migrants get better jobs (most migrants are currently in unskilled jobs). There is also the question of how to reap the benefits of Nepal’s ‘demographic dividend’: the change in the age structure whereby the number of young people relative to older people has increased. There are economic benefits, but only if the young get training which gives them skills that firms want.

Events under the dialogue are being held in many parts of the country, with the aim that anybody with interests in vocational training will have the opportunity to make their voice heard. Bringing the private sector into the dialogue is also a key. The private sector is, of course, the major consumer of the output of Nepal’s vocational training in that it employs most of the graduates. In fact, it has a wider role in that it also provides training (through private schools) but, as in other countries in the region, should be involved in the planning and management of vocational training. Bringing government and the private sector together in vocational training planning is now commonplace worldwide and helps make sure that the training matches the firms’ needs.

The dialogue is at an early stage, but the desire from many bodies and individuals, including participants in vocational training, to make themselves heard on current and future policy is already strong. Numerous events around the country have the important function of stressing that policy is not only made in Kathmandu, but can be influenced from other parts of the country.

This already resonates well as a federal structure becomes a reality. A second function has also emerged since, rather unexpectedly, understanding of vocational training policy has proved less than expected and the dialogue has helped inform a wider audience about the government’s approach to skilling.

The dialogue on vocational training policy will culminate in an ‘options’ paper for future policy and, in the process, will bring together all the views expressed. Making sure vocational training fits the nation’s need is in everybody’s interest so the opportunity to voice opinions gives the chance to all to shape the way that the nation is skilled. This innovative approach fits vocational training well and could profitably be replicated in other areas of public policy.

Kemkhadze is the Deputy Country Director at UNDP Nepal