PKF studies benefits of vocational training

Published on Times of Malta, 21st April 2016

A PKF study into the labour activity rate for females aged 15 to 24 attributed it partly to the high rate of early school leavers. The government hopes to solve this by introducing vocational training – but how effective is this? A second study was carried out to check its impact, with the help of the Education Ministry and Mcast. PKF explains the results.

The present report on Vocational Educational Training is a follow up to a former study on females in the workforce. Can you provide a brief backdrop and explain what prompted the further study?

Our first study last November was conducted by our in-house qualified statisticians, in collaboration with the key stakeholders, namely the Ministry for Education and Employment, the Employment & Training Corporation, the National Council of Women and the GRTU.

The initial study was inspired by recent findings of the National Statistics Office which show that in Malta the highest female activity rate was recorded in 2014, at 52.1 per cent.

This rate has increased substantially over the years, but it is still not close to the overall EU average of 66.5 per cent.

Of all the results, the most striking was that females in the youngest age group (15-24) gave the highest readings for females in employment overall. Females in this age group should ideally be furthering their education, yet they are the ones least doing so as they join the workforce earlier.

VET is a developing policy aimed at creating opportunities for furthering of education through other than conventional ways, typically having a more hands-on approach to the subject in question

The high employment rate of young females bears a relationship with early school leavers (ESL).

This is being addressed through the National Vocational Educational Training (VET) initiative. Seeking to unearth how far VET courses can be said to alleviate the number of early school leavers fuelled the second and present study.

Briefly introduce the ESL factor and VET initiative respectively.

As defined by the Ministry of Education and Employment, ESL refers to students between 18 and 24 who have finished compulsory school and who do not have at least five SEC passes Grade 1 to grade 7 and are not in education or training.

In the author’s own lay-man understanding, VET is a developing policy aimed at creating opportunities for furthering of education through other than conventional ways, typically having a more hands-on approach to the subject in question.

There are recognised obstacles that traditional examination and assignment structures have elicited over time. VET shifts the focus to a more field-work oriented educational culture that allows one to excel by using diversified tools to measure progress, achievement and ultimately qualification.

As the leading VET promoter and provider, Mcast offers 170 IVET full-time and over 300 CVET part-time vocational courses which range from certificates to degrees over the six levels covering different sectors.

Please explain the methodology and scope of the recent study entitled ‘A study on the link between early school leavers and vocational and educational training’.

During the present study, the 15-24 age group was specifically targeted when identifying students following VET levels 1 and 2 courses.

The aim of this study was to determine with some certainty whether the students in this age-group that are presently following VET courses could be said to have somehow lessened the early school leavers camp, hence making VET a champion of service to the national economy in its own right. In this sense the focus on females was not retained.

Naturally, early school leavers –as well as the VET courses – are not gender specific and apply to both males and females. Hence, while the 15-24 age group was singled out in the first study with specific reference to females, the present second study targeted the same age-group but addressed both genders.

The courses explored met expectations of nearly 100 per cent of participants which is extremely positive and encouraging

The method was simple and, thanks to the support of Mcast, we followed an in-person class-room style survey across three institutes covering both Mosta and Paola. Respondents came from the Institute of Creative Arts, the Institute of Business and Commerce and the Institute of Information and Communication Technology, comprising 18 per cent, 30 per cent and 52 per cent of total students respectively.

The sample size was 50 VET students, of which 70 per cent were male and 30 per cent were female. The male dominance is not truly aligned with the overall student population at Mcast following VET courses, which in 2014 stood at 59 per cent males and 41 per cent females, as outlined below.

In 2014, there were 4,184 students following VET courses, of which 2,487 were males and 1,697 were females. For the two years, 2013 and 2014 (the latest figures available), the total student population in Mcast reached 6,500 of whom males were 2,650 and 3,850 females.

Briefly explain the results.

All respondents (69 per cent) were between the ages of 16 and 17. This statistic suggests a strong inversely proportionate relationship between ESL and VET. Just under a quarter of the respondents (24 per cent) were between the ages of 18 and 20 and just seven per cent were over the age of 21. This strengthens the relevance of VET since it has succeeded in attracting students who are further removed from compulsory schooling years, and who notwithstanding returned to the student mind-frame.

When testing the correlation between gender and the exposure to information regarding courses, it was observed that the ratio of males that were not exposed was higher than that of females. This shows that even though females seemed to be more exposed, the amount of females actually entering these courses is lower in comparison with the number of males.

A suggestion to improve attendance by females is more effective marketing of such courses. This might possibly lead to even more students entering VET courses.

Moreover, such advertisements must somehow convey the message (more clearly than at present perhaps) that the courses are aimed equally at both genders, so as to reduce any existing stigma on certain courses.

The courses explored met expectations of nearly 100 per cent of participants – which is extremely positive and encouraging. The fact that there are many more level 2 students than level 1 students shows promise in the sense that the majority of these students could cope well with above minimum level (level 1 courses) thus underlining the vitality of the VET initiative that is successful in realising persons’ potential.

Finally only 30 per cent of VET students interviewed were female. That there is such a male dominance is a compelling aspect perhaps to be further delved into in a separate study.

This reality poses several further questions such as: are the available VET courses directly or indirectly more geared towards males? Or are young females perhaps not to be swayed irrespective what array of choices in educational opportunity is placed before them, perhaps because they are raising children, possibly singlehandedly? These and other questions are to be answered in further studies going forward.

Contact for a copy of the study.

Published on Times of Malta, 21st April 2016