Along time ago, our policy makers recognised that our labour market needs had changed. They realised that with thousands of young people finishing higher secondary schools and college, the government couldn’t provide all of them with jobs.

There were jobs but no takers, there were university graduates but no jobs. They realised that a good skill was worth more than an academic degree. They called for a drive to promote blue-collar jobs. Slogans like “Be Somebody” aimed at instilling in the young minds respect for vocational training.

They established technical and vocational institutions. We had separate government departments to lead the way. Thousands of students, mostly from the poorer background found their way in the institutes. Most parents, who could raise their unemployed children or send them to an Indian college didn’t want their children to become plumbers or electricians. Vocational training institutes became synonymous with poor men’s college.

Thousands have graduated from the many technical training institutes. Not many of them are successful or working in fields they were not trained for. They diagnosed the disease. It was the ‘mismatch’ between jobs and skills. It was understandable if the mismatch was between university graduates and technical jobs, but it was not. Graduates of TTIs couldn’t find jobs in their own fields.

The problem was not with attitude. It was with the quality of training, trainers and institutions. It didn’t, like the National Council pointed out, serve the intended purpose. It all happened when unemployment was recognised as the biggest social problem in the country.

Political will and dedicated vision could have resulted in quality vocational training institutes to solve the unemployment problem and the shortage of a skilled workforce. The dependency on hired hands too could have been reduced. It didn’t happen. Everything went wrong from the start. There were no recognition, investments, planning to churn out quality workmanship and attract more youth to pursue vocational training.

Volunteers who worked with some of the institutes are shocked with the quality of trainings and training materials. They cannot provide feedback because they are volunteers and will “anger the authority’. The case is lost when a trainer feels that ministers are driving by in the latest Toyota prados when their mechanical students are honing their skills on discarded beyond-repair cars. Some point out the mismatch starts at the training centres where the wrong instructors are sent to train youth.

The biggest irony is that TVET, after realising the importance, received less than 1.5 percent of the total plan budget in the last three Five Year Plans. We had leaders, during that period, who were part of the TVET initiative.

We need to invest in TVET, raise their standards and build their image. Only then can we expect the institutes to give the country the much-needed skilled workforce. It is encouraging to know that our priorities are not lost and TVET is getting the much-needed attention.