Why Marketing is Important in TVET
The traditional educational community does not easily accept the marketing of an educational service or product. As Government servants and educators, the concept of marketing is foreign and the notion of education as a product is often offensive, conjuring images of carpet salesmen.
On the other hand, the private sector has approached education as any other service and has effectively understood the market, and responded with products and services tailored to individual client group needs. The private sector is being successful. The public sector is failing. Thousands of young people chase academic degrees all the way to unemployment because they know nothing about TVET or their parents misunderstand TVET goals.
Demand-driven institutions must respond to the needs of clients for skills or for learning products. This idea is not new to educators. After all, meeting students needs has always been the objective of education. Being demand driven in TEVT is the most direct way to meet the educational mission of satisfying industries needs for skilled Technicians and at the same time helping find jobs.
Institutions respond to the demands of the educational market; that is the expressed needs of students and industry for appropriate skills. TEVT institutions are a key part of the marketplace for education and if they choose not to work there, they will be marginalized by employers who set up their own training programs and by governments who will be delighted to partially fund employers rather than underfund current TVET colleges.
Responding to the market leads to strong well-grounded technical education. It is also the basis of cost recovery. Cost recovery in education depends on marketing the institutions’ products and services to clients. These clients are Business/Industry, individual full and part-time students, government, and donors.
Collectively, this is the market for institutions’ products and services. Understanding how to work in this market is the basis of cost recovery. There can be no cost recovery without a direct, positive interaction with the market place. And TVET institutions' future depends largely on cost recovery. No government even if it desires so will be able to fund the increasing demands of TVET training given the phenomenal changes in industries. So, how can TVET institutions survive if they don't start recovering cost?
The Role of a Central Training Authority in TVET Marketing
In the past, TVET institutions teach only what they can given the limited resource they have. As such, their graduates often know only the theories but have never practiced the skills. So, they remained unskilled. And what happens if employers need welders, or machinists or electrical installers using the equipment they just purchased? Or what if they need skills not taught in the TVET institutions in the area?
Responding to the market is determining what the market wants and meeting that need by adjusting what to do accordingly. I remembered when I was working in a Canadian College and our Vice President, Continuing Education asked me if I want to teach spirituality or meditation with him.
All of us smirked but I did a blurb for the catalogue and meanwhile, my colleagues said not to worry as no one would enroll. I left it at that but when we checked weeks before the date, 25 already enrolled and, for the course to be offered, only 8 registrants were required. So, I scrambled to prepare for the course which we did really well. But that was our Vice President's way of finding out if the community was interested in spirituality courses. After that, more courses were offered on spirituality.
Spirituality may not be a TVET concern but a marketing strategy is a major management priority for TVET and this means a major shift in energies from institutional administration to organizational management.
The Need for a Marketing Strategy
Brochures without a context are not marketing! Television is not marketing! Public visibility without an overall purpose is wasted. Advertising without a marketing strategy is ineffective. Marketing has many components that need to be related to a central plan. Advocacy, advertising, promotion, publicity are part of this, but so are association membership, targeted meetings with clients and relationship building with possible partners as well as career counseling in schools and meeting community leaders and parents. These elements need to be planned to meet clear, measurable objectives or the result will be a waste of time and resources. A marketing plan is central to an organization’s success.
A marketing plan is designed to accomplish the objective of using the resources of the organization to create value for clients or in more recent interpretations, to create a mutually beneficial relationship. In the private sector the concept of “at a profit” would also be added, however, in the public sector there is still some debate on this. Educators from my own experience hate to be asked to meet the bottom line. Many think they are giving up the lofty mission of education when they put profit up front.
In some jurisdictions, Government departments are seen as having revenue potential and responsibility and, hence, the sense of profit might apply. In any case, a marketing plan assumes that the agencies' responsibility is to respond to the needs of its communities. To do this it must search out the training needs of those communities and design responses to those needs. Marketing means active engagement in understanding the needs of industry and of learners and responding to those needs.
The focus is the need of external clients, not the internal traditions of the academic community. To achieve this, there must be a detailed understanding of the market TVET serves. This requires market research to understand the external environment in which the client works and to understand which problems he faces for which our services provide an answer.
In a national service environment, the marketing plan brings together an assessment of market needs and wants with the strengths and weaknesses of the service organization. It shows the organization’s design for “creating value”, to satisfy the needs of the targeted customers in a manner that creates a profit for the clients or recovers costs where that is appropriate.
Marketing is understanding what the client wants/needs and designing a product or service to meet those needs. Finally, marketing is ensuring that the entire process not only meets the client’s expectations but exceeds those expectations in every way possible. Once the client is identified, marketing planning is determining how an organization will achieve its intent of meeting and exceeding client’s expectations. It focuses on the inside of the organization and it involves every aspect and department of the service provider.
Managing the Marketing Process
The development of a marketing strategy will require a full time professional within TVET to head a small team. This person would also take the lead role in training TVET institutions in the development of market strategies which reflect the overall direction of the TVET plan.
Regional Directors would each appoint an individual as the regional marketing coordinator and these individuals would be part of the overall team. Under the leadership of the Director of Marketing, the National Team would develop an overall plan for TVET. Each Regional Marketing Coordinator would work with the Provincial offices and an individual appointed by each TVET institution to develop institutional strategies.
Such a unit would signal to the economic community that TVET understands its new role of leadership in the building of a national human resources development strategy and was reaching out to both understand and respond to the needs of employers and learners.
One danger of creating a central marketing department is that it will be treated as a promotions and public relations unit setting up display or greeting visitors. This misunderstanding of the function of a marketing department is evident in many Government offices and without a commitment from senior management, seems inevitable.
A New Direction
Because TVET , in the past, has concentrated on provision, it has not yet exercised its direction setting role in a meaningful way. TVET must do its promotional and marketing role in a meaningful way. If TVET wants quality students, they must have products that lead to high paying jobs. To do this, it must be demand driven. It must get the message out.