Vocational education and training

Qualified specialists for sustainable development

Trainee mechanics at the Kabul Mechanical Institute in Afghanistan

Universal access to high-quality, all-round education has long been an important focus of international development policy. In line with the principle of "leave no one behind", as enshrined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, German development cooperation aims to afford poor and disadvantaged people the chance of an education.

Vocational education and training can play a part in efforts to achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It helps to make people’s lives more economically, socially and ecologically sustainable. The following SDGs, however, have a very direct link with vocational education and training:

  • SDG 4: "Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all"
  • SDG 5: "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls"
  • SDG 8: "Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all"

Vocational education and training are at the heart of sustainable economic development. Where more skilled workers are available, companies can be more competitive. That facilitates economic growth from which all sections of the population can benefit.

Vocational education and training is also vital in empowering all sections of the population to play an active role in society. It fosters social cohesion not only in developing countries and emerging economies, but right across the world.

Situation in developing countries and emerging economies

Industrial carpentry training at a vocational training centre in Beira, Mozambique

Vocational education and training can only have that positive impact if it responds to the needs of the particular society concerned and the local labour market. In many of the countries where Germany is engaged in development cooperation, this is not yet the case. Employers complain that the formal vocational education and training on offer is not of sufficient practical relevance. Vocational qualifications are often not highly regarded.

There are too few vocational training colleges and the ones that do exist are poorly equipped and many aspects of the curriculum are out of date. Teachers and trainers have no practice-based training themselves and are poorly paid. Generally, the vocational training and education systems in these countries are underfunded. The informal sector is seldom involved in training, even though in many countries it is where most people work.

One challenge facing many developing countries is rapid population growth. Their education systems, both academic and vocational, are already struggling and cannot cope with this added burden. The result is high unemployment rates, particularly among young people. Although many countries are experiencing strong economic growth, jobs are not growing at the same rate. Yet, often, the jobs that are available cannot be filled because there are too few people with the required skills.

This leaves people, particularly the younger generation, facing a bleak future. In many countries, that is posing an increasing risk of social unrest, creating a breeding ground for internal strife and inducing people to migrate. And so countries are losing the most important resource they have – what is often referred to as "human capital".

German activities

The guiding principle in German development cooperation is "lifelong learning". That means all phases of life and all learning opportunities, from early childhood education to tertiary and adult education. Vocational education and training is a key aspect. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) takes a holistic approach in its support for education, with the individual at the centre. Its focus is on the education system as a whole, rather than specific educational sectors.

The BMZ has set out ten aims in its education strategy; expanding vocational education and training is one of those. This aim is not to be pursued in isolation but in conjunction both with other activities in the priority area of education and also with other fields of development cooperation, such as sustainable economic development, environmental protection and resource conservation, health, renewable energies and rural development.

Vocational training is growing steadily in importance within German development policy, as is not least reflected by the amount of funding committed. Between 2010 and 2016, funding for vocational education and training projects more than tripled, from 56 million euros to 190 million euros. Planned commitments for 2017 come to 192 million euros.

That makes Germany by far the largest donor in the field of vocational education and training. In recent years, German funding in this field has even exceeded that of the EU Commission and the World Bank.

Displacement and migration

Young refugees at the information office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Agadez, Niger

In situations where people have migrated or been forced from their homes, the aim of German development cooperation is to offer vocational training and upskilling so as to

  • reduce migratory pressures
  • and also provide support for migration that is voluntary, safe and properly managed
  • raise awareness of the potential benefits that vocational training and upskilling of refugees and internally displaced persons can have for the national economy.

Vocational skills are not tied to any one place. They are an asset that people retain when they flee their homes and also when they return. These skills are urgently needed in the period after a conflict, when people want to rebuild their country and boost its economy.

If refugees and internally displaced people are to be integrated into their host communities (even temporarily), it is vital for them to be accepted by those communities. To minimise tensions or, ideally, prevent them even arising, it is vital that the local population also be included in vocational training programmes.

That is why in Jordan, for example, the BMZ is supporting training for men and women, including Syrian refugees, in plumbing. The programme is helping to reduce domestic water losses so as to prevent future water shortages. In this way, Germany’s development cooperation activities will help to improve and stabilise conditions over the long term in Jordanian communities hosting refugees. The programme creates career and employment prospects for both the Jordanian population and the Syrian refugees. The refugees can put their training to good use not only in the host country but also when they are finally able to return to their home country.

Empowering women and girls

Student at a vocational training institute in Viet Nam

At the 2015 G7 Summit in Elmau, the G7 countries got behind Germany's proposal to commit to empower one third more women and girls in developing countries through vocational education and training. The resulting "Economic Empowerment of Women" initiative aims not just to improve women’s economic standing but also to foster gender equality.

The BMZ is helping partner countries to adjust their vocational education and training and labour market policies in such a way as to foster vocational training for women and girls and improve their employment opportunities. One focus is on improving digital skills amongst women and girls specifically and improving their access to digital technology. Under the G20, for example, an initiative entitled #eSkills4Girls has been launched. The G20 Digital Ministers also adopted a declaration on fostering digital skills in vocational education and training.

With the publication of its "Cornerstones of a Marshall Plan with Africa", the BMZ has lent significant momentum to the discussion about what form cooperation with Africa should take in the future. It contains over 100 suggestions and reform ideas as a basis for formulating coherent policies in the fields of economics, stability, trade and security. The BMZ's aim is to contribute to an economically successful and peaceful Africa whose development is driven by its own people, drawing on all their capabilities.

Vocational education and training is a cross-cutting issue. A whole range of initiatives and programmes are already being implemented. Together with the African Union, the BMZ has launched the Skills Initiative for Africa. Its aim is to help improve vocational education and training for girls and women especially. It is in operation in Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Tunisia. In the "CAADP Agricultural Technical Vocational Education and Training for Women" project, the BMZ is working with the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development to support vocational education and training for women and girls in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Togo.

Special initiatives

In its special initiatives "Stability and development in the MENA region" and "Tackling the root causes of displacement, reintegrating refugees" the BMZ responds to the growing importance of vocational skills for refugees and internally displaced persons.

With its special initiative "One World No Hunger", the BMZ is supporting the establishment of 14 green innovation centres for the agriculture and food sectors (13 in Africa and one in India). By offering vocational education and training, the centres help to boost smallholders' incomes. Activities include training for producers, service providers and businesses on farming methods, animal husbandry and water management. Other activities include developing and updating training material for agricultural colleges and the training of trainers.

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