02 SES 03 B, Qualification Frameworks and Skills Systems
This paper provides an overview of research into skill formation systems in three African countries—Ghana, Ethiopia, and South Africa. Technical and vocational education (TVET) in Africa is generally weak, despite many cycles of policy reform, including considerable donor attention. We argue that understanding this weakness, as well as understanding the possibility of building strong TVET systems, requires insight into national skill formation systems.
A skill formation system lens is useful because it explores macro-level patterns and relationships: how skill formation systems are shaped by, and shape, the societies and economies in which they exist. This includes factors internal to education and training systems as well as factors such as the relative availability of different types of qualified workers, the structure of the labour market, and conditions of employment for different levels of workers (Busemeyer & Trampusch, 2012; Hall & Soskice, 2001). As Busemeyer and Trampusch (2012) point out, although it is widely agreed that it is desirable to have skilled people, it seems to be, in most instances, very difficult to do, and countries differ dramatically in how they attempt to produce skilled workers and the kinds of skills produced. And while considerable research has taken place in wealthy industrialized countries to respond to this apparent conundrum, very little exists in the developing world, with some exceptions in South East Asia (Ashton, Green, Sung, & James, 2002; Maurer, 2012).
The paper explores what we have learnt so far about skill formation systems in three African countries. Our initial analysis, based on analysis of desktop data obtained, draws on a distinction between the screening and developmental roles of education. Our main preliminary argument is that the small number of good well-paying protected jobs available in these economies seems to aggravate the ways in which education is used for screening (gaining access to a good job or place at university), which then undermines the developmental roles of education (learning). The tiny size of the formal and industrial sectors and the small number of good jobs, as well as the extreme difference between options inside and outside of these sectors, and the desirability of getting a job outside of the country, make ‘screening’ dominate the functioning of education and training. This makes it difficult for policy makers who are involved with developing educational institutions and educational curricula for mid-level skills to get them right. No matter what they do, it seems that the offerings developed are low status, in low demand, attract poorly prepared students, which then aggravates the limited possibilities of such programmes. While there are pockets of success despite these extreme structural challenges, the possibilities for building dynamic skill formation systems are highly constrained by the nature of the labour markets in these countries. The possibility for changing this by changing aspects of the education and training system seem very remote, and yet, lack of mid-level technical skills, lack of basic general education, and lack of high level skills, are all argued to be critically undermining efforts for industrialization and economic development.
Field work in the three countries will be undertaken in the coming months, and our analysis of this will refine, augment, or review this initial analysis.
The paper also explores the applicability of approaches to understanding skill formation systems developed in wealthy countries to these countries, and makes suggestions, as well as posing further methodological questions about conceptualizing the nature of skill formation systems in these countries.
Last year at ECER we presented our initial methodology as well as preliminary findings from the study. This paper presents the next stage of findings and analysis.
We started by attempting to gather information about the five spheres studied in the institutional political economy literature, for the three African countries (Thelen, 2004). Our initial focus was on labour market structures from the perspective of occupations. This was informed by a more specific debate in the literature on the role and viability of ‘occupation’, which suggests that occupational labour markets for mid-level occupations are important enablers for successful TVET, and that countries with strong professional training have occupational labour markets for professions. We therefore started by attempting to gain insight about the occupational structures and the ways in which occupations are organized and regulated across the countries at the broadest level of the labour market—what it looks like in terms of levels of employment and unemployment; main trends in terms of sectors and levels of employment; and what kinds of work are regulated and how and their relationship to education and training. In other words, we attempted to understand how much of the labour markets consist of organized occupations, and what the mechanisms are for regulating occupations. Our first level data collection led to an analysis that the small size of the formal sector reduces the significance of the firm-based analysis that has shaped the analysis of skill formation systems in wealthy countries—the argument provided above about screening versus developmental roles of education and training systems. We then attempted to gather information on four factors identified by Martin (2017) as shaping skill formation systems: • patterns of industrial development and economic cleavages • legacies from pre-industrial patterns of cooperation (eg guild systems) • Political features of the state—structure of party competition, degree of federal power sharing, work for or against collectivist solutions • Characteristics of industrial relations. Initial data has been gathered through desk-top research, and field work will commence shortly, focused on interviews with key informants within labour unions, governments, and the education and training sector, as well as ongoing analysis of relevant academic literature. Three African countries—Ghana, Ethiopia, and South Africa—were selected because they are substantially different from each other, with very different levels of economic development, private sector provision, and the nature of technical and vocational education and training. An additional study of Kenya might be added this year.
The study hopes to contribute ways of conceptualizing skill formation systems in developing African countries. It is not comparative per se, but rather, uses the different countries studies to look for patterns and ways of characterizing skill formation systems, to test what can/cannot be applied from the ways in which skill formation has been theorized in the wealthy countries when applied to the developing countries; what other forms of conceptualizing skill formation systems are required; and whether or not better conceptualizations of skill formation systems in the developing world can add to or contest existing bodies of theory in the realm of skill formation. We hope that an analysis of these different countries at a macro level, focusing on socio-political conditions of possibility as well as on institutional structures and processes, will contribute to tools of analysis for understanding skill formation systems. As discussed above, we are trying to find macro-level patterns and relationships: how skill formation systems are shaped by, and shape, the societies and economies in which they exist. This involves researching dynamics at a national level, and possibly international level. We are also hoping for insights that could contribute to the strengthening of TVET systems in African countries, based on a deeper understanding of the factors which are currently undermining them. Ultimately, we aim to contrast our analysis of the three countries with insights about skill formation systems in wealthy industrialized countries, focusing on Canada, Sweden, and Switzerland, again selected for key differences.
Ashton, D., Green, F., Sung, J., & James, D. (2002). The Evolution of Education and Training Strategies in Singapore, Taiwan and S. Korea: A development model of skill formation. Journal of Education and Work, 15(1), 5–30. Busemeyer, M. R., & Trampusch, C. (2012). The Comparative Political Economy of Collective Skill Formation. In M. R. Busemeyer & C. Trampusch (Eds.), The Political Economy of Collective Skill Formation (pp. 3–38). Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Hall, P. A., & Soskice, D. (Eds.). (2001). Varieties of Capitalism: The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Martin, C. J. (2017). Skill Builders and the Evolution of National Vocational Training Systems. In C. Warhurst, K. Mayhew, D. Finegold, & J. Buchanan (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Skills and Training (pp. 36–53). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Maurer, M. (2012). Structural elaboration of technical and vocational education and training systems in developing countries: the cases of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Comparative Education, 48(4), 487–503. Thelen, K. (2004). How Institutions Evolve: The Political Economy of Skills in Germany, Britain, the United States, and Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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