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Building women’s adaptability to the changing labour market

Phensera Tewa, kenya

Ensuring women’s economic empowerment and building their adaptability and resilience to the changing labour market has never been more important.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the most significant health crisis that the world has faced in the last century. It is exacerbating new and existing inequalities and structural barriers, particularly in relation to women’s limited access to work and education opportunities. Ensuring women’s economic empowerment and building women’s adaptability and resilience to the changing labour market has therefore never been more important.

With its strong links to employers and the labour market, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is ideally placed to address these challenges. Through its ability to quickly respond to current and future skill needs of the industry, TVET has a critical role to play in promoting entrepreneurial and innovative skills for women to adapt in times of crisis.

The impact of COVID-19 on women’s access to work and education opportunities

Studies show that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis than men’s jobs. Women make up 39% of global employment but account for 54% of overall job losses. Women are also more likely to work in fields, such as hospitality and tourism, which have been badly hit by the pandemic.

At the same time, the burden of unpaid care, which has risen in the pandemic, falls disproportionately on women and girls. Even before COVID-19, women were doing around three-quarters of the unpaid work around the world. This means that for every one hour of unpaid work done by men, women would do three hours. Since the COVID-19 outbreak and closure of schools, these figures have increased, with women providing most of the informal care within families.

This results in a loss of education and employment opportunities for women but also in poorer mental and physical health. Mapenzi, a student at Tewa, our local partner school in Kenya told us:

“Staying at home has affected the education of my siblings. It has been hard on my mum to keep up with providing food and other needs for the family. Due to staying at home many of my friends and neighbours – girls have gotten pregnant at an early age.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought to the surface problems that predated the crisis. For example, the lack of digital infrastructure and connectivity, the shortage of digital skills and the unequal access to education and training faced by women and girls. The pandemic has exacerbated the impacts of the digital gender divide, leaving many women and girls disconnected and unable to access education online.

Building women’s resilience and adaptability through TVET

TVET plays an important role in helping women get skilled, educated and transition into the labour market. This is especially true in contexts where women are excluded, for a myriad of social or structural reasons, from pursuing formal education at the secondary or higher levels. In these contexts, TVET offers another entry into education and into the workplace.

Due to the unique position of vocational training institutions, at the intersection of education and the workplace, they play a key role in ensuring that the training they offer meets current and future skills needs. Their ability to adapt to the changing situation of the economy and the labour market in a timely manner is important to ensure that training programmes are responding to emerging skills needs. 

Amongst others, the outbreak of COVID-19 has accentuated the importance of a diverse skill set. During the pandemic, women who have had both hard and soft skills have benefited from greater job security and resilience in a volatile economy that increasingly calls for an entrepreneurial mindset. 

As sources of income dried up, students and alumni of our partner vocational training institutions have successfully set up their own businesses. One student from Wavecrest College, our partner in Nigeria, has started her own catering business. Thanks to the training she received at Wavecrest, she was able to produce high-quality products and advertise her business well

Indeed, (soft and hard) skills development is key to adapting to a changing business model and labour market. TVET has a critical role to play in promoting entrepreneurial and innovative skills for self-employment. Integrating entrepreneurial segments in TVET and skills training for women also contributes to their personal development, livelihood diversification and empowers them to be resilient and adaptable in times of crisis.

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