Unlocking the promise of skills development through technical and vocational education and training

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Person cutting a piece of metal in a workshop
A new report examines technical and vocational education and training systems in low- and middle-income countries and offers a roadmap for transformative reforms. Copyright: Dubo/Shutterstock

As we celebrate the World Youth Skills Day on July 15, it is crucial to address the challenges faced by young people in low- and middle-income countries when it comes to accessing quality education and opportunities for employment.

Skills development through technical and vocational education and training (TVET) holds immense promise for empowering youth and contributing to sustainable economic transformation.  However, the link between TVET systems and labor markets is broken, hindering the potential of TVET to fulfill this promise.

A new joint report of the World Bank, the ILO, and UNESCO sheds light on the challenges observed in low- and middle-income countries and offers a roadmap for transformative reforms in TVET. Here are the global report’s key takeaways.

The broken link and its symptoms

Three main symptoms in low- and middle-income countries make evident the broken link between TVET and labor markets. Firstly, learners face multiple challenges such as bigger financial limitations, lack of access to information about labor market opportunities, or rigid social norms that restrict their options. Women, in particular, are often driven by these constraints into lower-paying specializations. Additionally, the foundational skills of TVET learners are often weak, both at the point of entry and graduation.

Secondly, TVET teachers are left unsupported with often inadequate pedagogical skills, lack of industry experience, and poor career prospects. These factors hinder their ability to deliver high-quality training and negatively affect the acquisition of practical skills demanded by the labor market.

Thirdly, there are weak incentives for TVET providers to respond to the needs of the labor market, as the means to hold them accountable to learners or enterprises are limited. Insufficient data collection and evaluation systems hamper informed decision-making, resulting in a focus on inputs rather than outcomes. This undermines the potential of TVET to provide benefits for individuals and the overall economy.

Urgent reforms for a promising future

There is an urgent need for TVET reforms in low- and middle-income countries to unlock their promise for better jobs and productivity while sustaining economic transformation. The report identifies three interrelated transformations—three Es—and six policy priorities that can drive these reforms:

The first transformation—from striving for recognition to striving for excellence–aims to elevate TVET from being perceived as a second-tier education track to a pathway that offers high-quality and relevant skills training. The three policy priorities underpinning this transformation urge countries to focus on the main clients of TVET (enterprises and learners), prioritize foundational and relevant technical skills, and promote an integrated ecosystem with flexible pathways, work-based learning, and quality inputs, particularly teachers.

The second transformation—from a focus on inputs to a focus on end results—highlights the importance of increasing autonomy for TVET providers while ensuring greater accountability for results. Policy priorities in this transformation include striking the right balance between autonomy and accountability, and realigning TVET financing to reward reforms and target priority needs.

The third transformation—from decisions based on conjecture to decisions based on evidence—addresses the scarcity of data and evidence in TVET systems. The priority here is to reduce information gaps by collecting and publicizing detailed data on TVET returns, skills needs, and TVET provider inputs and practices to enable informed decision-making by all stakeholders.

Opportunities for reform and quick wins

We find numerous opportunities for TVET reforms and potential for quick wins. By strategically targeting priority sectors and programs, countries can demonstrate the benefits of TVET reform, building stakeholder confidence and trust. Market-driven mechanisms of short-route accountability, focusing on providing timely information to learners and enterprises, can also improve quality and relevance, while capacity is being built for enhanced formal quality assurance mechanisms.

Technological advancements also present significant opportunities to transform TVET in low- and middle-income countries. Leveraging technology in course design, program delivery, work-based learning, and quality assurance can enhance accessibility, relevance, and efficiency of TVET. However, it is essential to accompany these technological advancements with complementary investments in the training of TVET teachers and administrators to realize their full potential.

Collaboration among policymakers, education providers, enterprises, and development partners is crucial to implement effective TVET reforms.  By sharing experiences, best practices, and lessons learned from countries facing similar challenges, the Building Better Formal TVET Systems report can inspire these stakeholders to work collectively towards realizing the true potential of TVET and ensuring a brighter future for youth in low- and middle-income countries.


Indhira Santos

Senior Economist, Social Protection and Labor Global Practice, World Bank

Michael Weber

Senior Economist, Human Capital Project

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