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Vocational training: personal identity and shared community

Traditional routes into employment have been disrupted by the pandemic. So what is the value of vocational training beyond the job it offers after graduation?

 At WONDER, we believe that quality education must lead to good work. For this reason, we partner with a number of colleges that offer TVET courses (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) for young women. The training offered by these courses is directly linked to labour market needs, thereby easing the transition between education and work for women who, for cultural or socio-economic reasons, do not have access to academic education beyond a primary level. 

However, the COVID-19 crisis has completely disrupted the labour markets for which TVET courses in our partners’ communities are tailored. The tourism industry has collapsed, leaving few job opportunities in sectors such as hospitality and catering. In our previous blog post, Building women’s adaptability to the changing labour market, we discuss ways in which our partners are pivoting their training courses to better prepare their students for this shifting job market, through additional entrepreneurial segments and innovative skills development. 

Aside from hard skills, vocational education offers women other benefits

When the routes into good work traditionally provided by a vocational education are disrupted, it is important to highlight the additional, alternative ways in which a vocational training course can improve the lives of young women. 

There are inherent ancillary benefits to a vocational training course, beyond the route to employment that it traditionally provides; TVET training courses can unlock opportunities for personal development, self-fulfilment, and community participation. Indeed, a good quality of life extends beyond financial stability, and is achieved by satisfying both physical and emotional needs.

Vocational education gives women a sense of agency and identity

Good quality of life includes, amongst other factors, a sense of agency and identity. The skills taught during TVET courses grant students not only routes into employment but also a sense of pride and personal satisfaction at mastering a profession. 

Students from the TVET courses that we partner with have spoken extensively about this sense of fulfilment and identity. Phensera, a student at TEWA college in Kenya, has said: 

“Since I joined Tewa, my life has changed. I have learnt a lot of skills. My favourite is food production and service. I have learnt how to relate with people from different backgrounds and the mentoring system has helped me to be a better person. I have been taught to work hard and be myself, not to be influenced by others’ behavior because I know where I have come from.”

Vocational engenders a sense of community and support

Furthermore, during their years of training, the young women form friendships with their fellow students, engendering a sense of community and building a network of support. This support network can in turn boost confidence and happiness, and lead to opportunities for employment in the future, all of which contributes to the empowerment of these women.

Beyond friendship, TVET courses also provide opportunities for participation in the wider community. The technical and personal skills learnt during a vocational education grant students the opportunity to take an active role as a citizen of their local community. 

Firstly, technical skills enable young women to take a necessary and important functional role in the economy, bringing in income and occasionally even providing employment opportunities for others within their communities. 

Simultaneously, the development of personal skills such as confidence and communication allows women to participate as leaders of their communities. The development of these skills is formalised in many of our partner institutions through mentoring schemes. Lillian, a student from Lantana College in Nigeria, explains wonderfully the benefit of having a mentor: 

I must state that having a mentor has really helped me 100% because she is not only a mentor but a tutor and an assessor as well. She has taught me how to manage things, how to control my emotions and at the same time stay focused. Previously, if I had any problem with my aunt, I would be sad and disconnected from my work in school but my mentor taught me how to manage with all these emotional worries and stay focused. My grades have gone up since then and she also taught me how to manage my time.” 

A sense of self, strong personal skills, and a supportive community network: we must not overlook these additional benefits provided by vocational education. It is our hope at WONDER that, while job opportunities remain few and far between, these supplementary benefits to the TVET courses provided by our partners will continue to sustain the students in some form. They will be important factors in building young women’s resilience in the face of the pandemic.