02 SES 02 B, VET Systems in Local and Global Contexts
This paper presents preliminary findings and analysis from research underway comparing the relationships between labour markets and education and training systems in three African countries: Ghana, Ethiopia, and South Africa. This is part of a broader project comparing these countries with three wealthy countries: Canada, Sweden, and Switzerland. The key research question for the broader research is: what is the currency and viability of the notion of occupations as a way of organizing work, organizing technical and vocational education and training, and supporting pathways from education to work in different countries across the world? The focus is on the ways in which labour markets organize occupations, and alternative ways in which education and training relates to work. The three African countries have very different levels of economic development, industrial development, and technical and vocational education and training.
Two key bodies of literature are drawn on. One is institutional political economy (Busemeyer & Trampusch, 2012; Hall & Soskice, 2001; Thelen, 2004). This literature provides insights into the ways in which education and training systems are embedded in modes of capitalist production and social protection, and in networks of “political and socioeconomic institutions, such as collective wage bargaining, corporate governance and financing, labor market and welfare state policies, as well as industrial relations” (Busemeyer & Trampusch, 2012, p. 7). While this body of literature has substantially shaped the way skill formation systems are understood in the developed world, there is very little application of this literature either to African countries or to the challenge of development.
The other body of literature focuses on occupations and occupational identity formation. The notion of occupation is important in understanding the idea of specialization, which is central to educational preparation for work. Where occupations are able to exert control over division of labour, it is the occupations themselves which control the criteria for the licensing or credentialing procedures (Freidson, 2001). Freidson and Abbott (1988) have argued that the acquisition of bodies of knowledge and skill plus meaningful opportunities to practice know-how (practical knowledge) protects workers in organized occupations or professions.
The two bodies of literature—institutional political economy and studies of occupational labour markets and occupational identity formation—come together in studies of vocational education. Successful vocational education and apprenticeships systems have generally been focused on education for an occupation. In other words, they develop competence and identity for a regulated occupational labour market where an occupation is a formally recognized social category, with regulations in terms of aspects such as qualifications, range of practical and theoretical knowledge required, and promotion requirements and procedures (Brockmann, 2011, drawing on Rauner, 2007). The notion of occupation is also important in terms of the meaningful organization of people’s lives and reproduction of society (Standing, 2009).
In today’s changing labour markets, the notion of occupation is shifting, its relationships to education and training systems increasingly unclear, and the relationship of education and training systems to economic and social development is increasingly uncertain. Improving insight into the ways in which occupations are organized and the viability of the concept of occupation in today’s rapidly changing labour markets could assist in understanding (and where possible, improving) how education prepares people for work. In particular, in this paper we consider the implications for vocational education and training in developing countries.
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