Bahrain- Engaging Industry with Vocational Education

Background

Educational reform is and continues to be a key policy platform for the Government of Bahrain. Under the leadership of the Government a number of new initiatives (Bahrain Technical College, Polytechnic and Quality Assurance Authority) have emerged including the Secondary Vocational Education project (SVEP). A key underpinning objective of the reform process is the need to develop greater connection between Industry and Education. Commencing in 2007 the SVEP was managed on behalf of the Ministry of Education by Holmesglen International Training. In August 2009 Optin Solutions was engaged by Holmesglen Institute to develop and implement a strategy to engage industry with the project and to take students on structured work placements.

Bahrain Grand Mosque after Ramadan

Context

A secondary school initiative the SVEP has resulted in the development of a new qualification; the General Secondary Vocational Education Certificate (GSVEC) which sits alongside the existing General Certificate of Education. While the principal difference between the two is that the former is solely vocationally focused the advanced stream of the GSVEC does provide a university pathway option.
Structurally the GSVEC has two fields, Commercial and Technical, with a number of specialisations existing within each. Integral to the GSVEC qualification is the Structured Workplace Learning (SWL) component which requires students in their second and third years to undertake work placements where they are assessed against employability skills and industry endorsed occupational standards.
Within the broader context of the SVEP, Industry Engagement was acknowledged as the key issue in order to deliver the SWL component of the new qualification (GSVEC) and the management of the occupational standards. In response to this a Ministerial decree has resulted in the creation of two committees; Structured Workplace Learning and Occupational Standards. Membership of both includes Industry and Government stakeholders with the chairs being senior industry personnel. While their roles and objectives are different they both have a mandate from the Minister of Education to provide the link to industry and source advice and intelligence on industry needs in order to shape and influence the GSVEC.

Vocation Education Training Environment

While the Kingdom of Bahrain does not as yet have a national position (qualification framework or regulated training arrangements) on vocation education there is nonetheless significant activity occurring within this space.
From initially consultations it appears that Bahraini industry, lead in part by the larger organisations, deliver a range of vocational training programs targeting existing employees. While these programs don’t have the national standing afforded their counterparts in other parts of the world, the enterprises have through individual arrangements have sought to link the outcomes of this training to standards and/or qualifications from other countries, aligned them to international industry standards or developed their own hybrid models. The outcomes being “qualified” staff in the context of the particular enterprise but with little qualification portability for the individual. Suffice to say such a system provides little assistance evaluating the “skills” of new employees who may already have some of the requisite skills but no “independent” proof of such.
Training providers within the vocational arena vary from those who have official standing within government to private businesses operating totally on a fee for service basis. The programs range from short course to Diplomas and vocational Degrees with many of the higher order qualifications requiring some form of work placement.

Issues

The net effect of this is industry was under increasing pressure to provide work placements for a growing and diverse number of students; a position that was not likely to plateau in the foreseeable future given the proposals before government to increase vocational training and move toward a regulated system.
Anecdotally there is evidence that suggests “Industry Fatigue” was an emerging issue that could likely be exacerbated by another program seeking industry support particularly when one considerd the predicted level of growth in placement numbers the GSVEC would require in the near (1 to 2 years) future. While industry express support for the GSVEC concept and with an industry lead and government auspice committee (Structured Workplace Learning) in place being advantages this initiative enjoys when compared to its competitors (for placements), the issue still remains for the need to expand the pool of Bahraini businesses who are able offer suitable SWL placements.
One of the critical disadvantages this program was likely suffer as placement demand grows was access to those enterprises that can provide exposure to the “industrial” type roles. They are limited in number and have an operating environment that is clearly “high risk” where safety is paramount. In terms of managing or mitigating that risk employers indicated a preference for older students and those with English language proficiency that enables to read and interpret the safety signage which is all in English.
While the employers acknowledge that appropriate workplace supervision is critical they recognise that the individuals do carry some responsibility for their own actions in the workplace and someone who has had even minimal exposure is preferred. Regardless of who the individuals are, no-one will be let on to these sites without having first passed through their safety induction programs.
In addition these enterprises have the capability and willingness to provide a more structured and defined training experience for students which result in them being employers of choice with no shortage of requests for placements.