We know that education leads to more opportunities for better livelihoods. Children with access to education can break the generational cycle of poverty in their families, which ultimately impacts their community and country. But the path to education and training is wide, ranging from formal university degrees, to technical and vocational education and training, to apprenticeships. Some students may thrive as entrepreneurs while others may succeed in placements working for employers.
There is increasing recognition of the important role technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutes can play to provide market-relevant job skills to students if given the necessary market information, access and financing. An etimated 75% of Africa’s population is under the age of 35, which drives significant demands for employment and self-employment opportunities. Investments and capacity building in the TVET sector could play a massive role impacting a country’s most valuable resource – their human capital – and more specifically – their young people.
To better understand the landscape of the TVET sector in Uganda we spoke with Jane Aik, Opportunity EduFinance Technical Assistance Advisor for Africa. Earlier this year Jane visited and talked to TVET Institutions, students and tutors to gain a deeper understanding of the sector, building on TVET market research EduFinance also conducted in Uganda to assess demand for relevant financial products.
Thank you for taking the time to provide us a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities TVETs can offer students. I understand you’ve been speaking to some stakeholders on the TVET sector in Uganda over the last six months.
Based on your research, what types of jobs did you find students are looking for and what are the sectors with the greatest opportunities for job creation?
The types of jobs students say they want is very varied. Most want to get self-employed whereas some want to be attached to an institution to learn the skills. It depends on the course they are doing. For example, YMCA Comprehensive Institute is delivering some of the most in-demand courses: salon and hairdressing, bakery and catering and mechanics. Students realize they could almost immediately put these jobs into practice. The bakery and catering students want to be placed into the big hotels so that they may obtain hands-on experience and self-confidence while proving their own skills in a professional work environment.
Uganda's main focus is on the sciences in order to increase the manufacturing sector. The market also has its own demands – most of the students we surveyed were in hairdressing and other non-tradeable skills. We have also seen a boost in construction and there is a tendency for students to go into things like block laying and mechanical engineering. Uganda’s GDP is largely driven by agriculture and 70% of people are in rural areas – however, there is much less demand for this kind of agricultural training. Most youth aren’t as familiar with new mechanization developments in agriculture that can formalize the sector and significantly increase earning potential.
Students are ultimately looking for jobs, as you mentioned. Is access and support for job placements part of the services TVET institutions offer to students as well?
Yes, all TVET courses offer placements to allow students to put the skills they have learned into practice directly in the sector. Generally, TVET programs are for 2 years for national certificate and diploma programs, though some are as short as 6-12 months. Students normally begin their placements after the 1st year of the program. For some courses, especially the business-related ones, they call it an “internship.” The practical vocational courses refer to them as “industrial training.”
Theoretically, TVETs insist that everyone should have a placement. However, the job market may not have capacity to provide placements for all students from TVET institutions, which is a challenge. Also, this placement does not guarantee a permanent job once the training course is complete.
How does the institution find placements and do students receive any pay?
The institution scans the world of work for opportunities to place the students. Sometimes the contacts are through the lecturers/tutors of the TVETs; in some instances students have their own contacts. For some TVETs they specify the geographical area that they prefer the students be attached to for industrial training, mainly for ease of supervision.
The placement is generally for one to three months. Whether they get any pay and benefit largely depends on the employer with whom the student is placed. Some employers that provide lunch to staff extend this benefit to the students and some provide transport allowance or a small token towards the cost.
Some workplaces, especially in hard to reach areas, do provide accommodation for the students. For some TVETs the nature of work dictates that the student stays at the place of work, for example in building sites or road construction.
What type of assessment does the employer give students on the job to measure learning?
There is a workplace supervisor who grades the students. Some also have up to 3 TVET supervisors from the institution visiting the student during the industrial training. The TVET supervisor would ordinarily appraise the student at the workplace as well as talk to the workplace supervisor regarding such issues such as: time management, how they are grasping the real work, confidence, communication and interpersonal skills.
The challenge right now is that not all employers who host work placements have the skill and knowledge to handle and assess student work. Currently many institutions are trying to address this challenge by upskilling prospective employers with knowledge on how to facilitate student placements and conduct assessments of their work.
How is the government in Uganda influencing and supporting the TVET sector? How has the sector changed over the years?
The government currently has a particular focus on TVET with business as well. They are now moving towards a competence-based kind of assessment. They expect that every TVET Institution that has a particular programme should be working with that specific sector to place the students in those areas. From the theory in the classroom they now go to the employers and put this study into practice. Sometimes the employers decide they would like to retain the placement students and offer them a job.
During my time in school, we all wanted ‘white collar’ jobs, but now it is different. I recently spoke to young people in my village. Some were planning to become tailors and others are studying in an agricultural institute. So, we have seen a change in the attitude of the youth.
People are now saying, ‘I do not want to be on the streets, so it’s better that I get skills and employ myself.’
In 2011, less than 10,000 students sat the TVET national exams – in 2019 we had over 80,000. The ministry is now looking at the TVET institutions and saying you should be licensed. Now there is a guide for the syllabus for all institutes; they don’t come up with their own syllabus anymore. The TVET national exams have helped a lot in elevating the visibility and credibility of the TVET sector. Employers are now involved and see value in these exams, which also means the students take TVET courses more seriously.
What are the results of TVET programs?
From what we see, these programs - especially the industrial training component - have enabled students to appreciate what an office environment is like and even if they decide to branch out on their own, they have a reference point. At Some of the salons we go to we find a former student who has set up their own salon. The placement gives them added knowledge and grows their entrepreneurial skill.
How do you think TVET institutions in Uganda can increase their role as a viable option for training and education for youth? What support do they need?
TVETs need a lot of support. Many could benefit from access to tailored loan products that enable them to invest and upgrade their facilities and equipment. Some also need capacity-building support, including structuring more linkages to private employers with entry-level job placement opportunities.
While TVET programs are generally much lower cost than university degrees in terms of tuition and fees, many students still don’t have the money necessary to make a full payment for a term. Similar to the EduFinance School Fee Loan product offered to parents, TVET students need access to financing to cover the cost of TVET tuition and other related fees. Similarly, TVET graduates who want to start their own business could also benefit from tailored small microloans.
Most of the strongest TVET institutions have been supported by the government, but now with accreditation requirements we are seeing increases in privately funded TVET institutions. We are seeing informal sectors becoming formal. The youth population in Africa is huge and there is a focus from governments in Uganda and neighbouring countries on making sure this training is accredited and official. EduFinance is eager to play a role in benefiting students seeking this form of training by working with financial institution partners to tailor loan products that meet the needs of both students and TVET institutions.
Jane Aik, EduFinance Technical Assistance Advisor for Africa
For more on EduFinance's TVET Market Research in Uganda, download the summary here.