Has TVET a role in this growing labour migration across international borders? What can a Government, especially the agency responsible for TVET, do to facilitate this global mobility of the workforce?
Global mobility is not just a trend. It is here to stay. Even in the most remote of parts of a country, labour moves across international borders. In fact, in some countries, it is most felt in border towns of ten remote from the country's capital. In the boundaries of Laos and Thailand, Laotian labourers cross over to Thailand to get better pay. In between Vietnam and Cambodia, a similar thing happens. Mexico and the US? Watch the news.
The flow of labour from top executives to plantation workers is growing and will continue to do so. Poles going to the UK have changed both countries. Turks to Germany have bailed out an economy with a shrinking labour force.
Is labour mobility good for the economy? In many cases, yes. It opens up the market for better skills especially for highly specialised skills not readily available. Imagine Silicon valley without Indians and Chinese and Canadians. Companies no longer recruit in their backyard if they want exceptional talent. Talent is International and they search for talent across borders.
Just as countries in the past sent out expeditions for spices and gold, countries today send out companies to recruit the best and the most talented of the labour force. Is this the new Imperialism?
Universities and Colleges have moved to the global market to advantage themselves in recruiting the talent and in offering their courses and services to students in different countries who have become aware of the nature of the global job market. Australia is a cheap place to master English although not as cheap as the Philippines. The US has the great engineering and management schools and the influx of foreign students hoping to graduate to become foreign workers is almost a tsunami.
But even stronger is the desire of labour in many developing countries to move to developed countries. Many of them pay hefty fees to recruiters or smugglers to be able to work in destination countries like the United States, the UK, Canada, Germany and in real desperation, France. To be smuggled to some of the places where they can find better jobs, workers pay from $3,000 to $50,000.
Government is uneasy. When these international workers cross borders to renew visas to be able to extend stays in their countries, Governments are not happy. They institute regulations to stop this practice. They guard the borders for so many job seekers going in or out. In some cases, Government facilitates this labour migration because of their own inability to provide enough jobs in the country. As with so much of Europe, shrinking populations do battle with fear of cultural swamping.
While some governments have defined their roles of facilitating such migration of labor, many are still suspicious of something they really are not familiar or comfortable with. Is strong labour mobility good for the economy?
Or, should destination countries like the United States build stronger walls? Are labour mobility agreements among clustered countries like NAFTA, the EU, ASEAN benefiting the economies of participating countries? In its desperate need for new workers, will Japan open its doors or simply accept a dying society and economy that has peaked.
A few Governments have recognized the contribution their off shore workers make to the home economy. India, the Philippines and Sri Lanka would have much smaller economies without remittances.
Studies on the impact of labour mobility to a country's economy have yielded both positive and negative results. It seems to depend on how the new host country manages the influx of labour in its economy.
Some countries need to bring in talented labour. Others, labour ready to take on jobs their citizens will not do. Who will pick North America's fruit if the Mexicans and Jamaicans stay home? And what about China as its population begins to shrink in the very near future? Whatever the effect, Governments need to do their job of managing such increasing mobility. In this role, how can TVET help?
Key Roles for TVET in Labour Mobility
1. Qualifications Framework
TVET must have a clear pathway for labour to keep climbing a skills ladder tomaster the competencies needed by the economy both local and international. Such pathways must identify the qualifications needed at each level and must incorporate alternate entry and exit points to enable those already in the workforce or those planning to move to another industry to easily learn the skills they need. Internal mobility leads to external mobility.
2. Quality Standards
Standards for training are often set by the traditional curriculum used in many TVET systems . Most of these have no connection at all to the labour needs of the economy. The tests are mostly based on theoretical knowledge so graduates do not have the skills the industry needs and often turn out unable to get decent jobs.
Meanwhile, the economy does not progress because of lack of skills needed. Industry must set the standards and TVET institutions must develop strong links with industry to be able to offer programs that meet industry standards.
So much of training in developing countries happen informally. Skills are passed one from father to son, mother to daughter or uncle to nephew or brother to brother. Many of these skills are not given credit towards certification so we have labourers who have the skills but without certification and we have labourers who have certification but lack practical skills and cannot even perform simple construction jobs.
Accreditation of both Institutions and trainees is key to raising the level of the workforce and the systems must recognize skills learned from various ways. Skills bridging programs and accreditation of prior learning must be instituted by TVET systems to enable workers to escape poverty and begin the magic career journey that accreditation opens.
4. Skills Upgrading
TVET must work to enhance the skills of its country's workforce. A skilled workforce is a strong driver of economic growth. And this means skills for the workforce, not just grade 9 graduates who need to work.
TVET is expensive. This is more true when TVET wants to supply the skills needed by the economy to become more competitive. On its own, Government cannot afford to fund this. It must develop alternative ways to sustain TVET especially through partnerships with those who benefit such as employers and the learners themselves.
TVET has a major role to play in the country's economic competitiveness. It must do its part and it must start now. Mobility of Labour is not just an international phenomenon. Within a country, it assures that all industries can find highly skilled workers with assure credentials and the FDI can grow to build new enterprises and services.