The skill gap between graduates and the needs of employers is well understood in the GCC. Initiatives to address this include bringing employers closer to tertiary education through curriculum advisory councils and encouraging higher education institutions to include internships or industry-based projects as part of their programmes.
There is significant evidence across the GCC of Government’s recognition of the importance of stronger employer involvement education. Examples of this include employer involvement in curriculum development and justifying the market for qualifications as a mandatory requirement to list a higher education qualification on national frameworks. All GCC Governments have all developed different programmes, aimed at job seekers and students, to help build employability skills with various forms of work based learning such as internships, apprenticeships and work experience. While these programmes have supported people into employment, they are often unstructured with limited ability to measure true impact beyond numbers of people employed.
A structured formal approach to work based learning, such as the apprenticeship model seen in UK and Europe, would involve learners spending approximately 80% of the time on the job and 20% in the class room with a modulised formal programme of study that includes assessments based on real work in the work place. These assessments allow clear evidence of a learning pathways and evidence of skills developed on the job, which can support performance management and tangible impact on the host company. UK studies into the employers' perceived value of formal apprenticeships highlight that they are considered excellent value for money and lead to positive productivity outcomes for employers.
Developing Widespread Work-Based Learning in the GCC
The World Bank stated that work based learning needs to be a top priority as part of post covid recovery for the GCC (Source: ILO, 2022). This is the right time for governments to look at their TVET systems and find ways of enhancing alternatives to traditional academic higher education and ensuring structured work based learning, and apprenticeships in particular, are a formal part of an employer led tertiary education system. There are a number of enabling factors that are needed to support the widespread implementation of an apprenticeship system. These include:
- Alignment of apprenticeships and labour law – apprentices need to have legal rights and responsibilities with their employer, ideally the relationship is governed by an employment contract where apprentices are employees
- Substantive work based learning should lead to a qualification – Apprenticeships are usually a long term commitment to work and study that lead to a formal qualification. This can include degree level qualifications which are gaining popularity globally
- Structured training standards based on employer needs – National Occupational Standards (NOS) usually form the basis for training standards on which a structure learning programme can be designed and include a combination of work and formal learning.
- TVET teaching and assessment expertise – In many countries TVET teaching and assessment professionals are taken from the industry to ensure closer alignment of industry practice and theory knowledge. It is essential TVET faculty are close to industry and able to teach current practice. Some countries have a national requirement that TVET faculty must return to industry for a specified amount of time to refresh their knowledge to have a continuous career in TVET
- Employer ability to mentor and understand work based learning requirements – Many employers in the GCC have only been exposed to hosting unstructured work experience or internships. Employers may need upskilling in how to mentor their apprentices through a structured learning programme and support them gathering work evidence for their assessments
- Curriculum design to suit work based learning – Work-based learning often requires curriculum to be broken down into smaller modules that have clearly specified learning outcomes and performance criteria. Often this performance criteria can be used to assess application of learning on the job. Many educators need upskilling to be able to do this.
Addressing some of the above requires widespread engagement with various public and private sector stakeholders. Traditionally, education has been managed in isolation from the private sector which makes the integration for national work-based learning more difficult. In translating policy into implementable programmes, it is essential that employers have a formal role.
Where National Occupational Standards are used as the basis for an employer-led approach to training, it is particularly important employers are central to the NOS development process. In moving from a supply-led TVET system to an employer-led system, the employer’s role in identifying skills, designing qualifications and hosting apprenticeships is essential and needs to be formalised.
Where TVET systems have not been well established, it is a significant task to transition from a focus on academic tertiary education to applied and work-based learning. Increasing the number of high school graduates choosing alternative work-based learning pathways, such as apprenticeships needs to be a national priority and recognised as a key enabler to national digital economy aspirations.
Structure upskilling of existing employees needs to take a structured apprenticeship model over one-off training events to ensure learning is aligned to business outcome. With all of these adaptations in mind and moving ahead, the GCC is in a great position to weather the double disruption storm as they renew their focus to the role of employers in education systems.
Tribal Education has over 15 years’ experience at supporting different parts of national TVET systems and work-based learning. We understand the unique needs of the GCC labour market and learners.