Indonesia seeks to boost vocational training of young workers

Official data from Statistics Indonesia showed that graduates from vocational schools form 8.63 per cent of the unemployed in Indonesia that totalled 6.82 million people in February. PHOTO: COURTESY OF INDUSTRY MINISTRY

JAKARTA - Indonesia needs to buy more bench vixes and lathe machines while providing better training for its vocational trainers, as the country seeks to gear up the skills of its young army of workers.

South-east Asia's biggest economy churns out more than one million graduates annually from around 14,000 vocational schools, but they form the largest group of the unemployed due to poor training caused by a curriculum that doesn't meet industry needs, a lack of equipment and machines, and poorly trained teachers, say industry experts.

Raising worker skills is a key focus of President Joko Widodo, who will be sworn into his second term on Oct 20. He has targeted human resource development as a major mission in his final five years in office.

"We want to put our priority on human resources development. Human resources development will be key to Indonesia's future," he said this month, in his first policy speech since being re-elected, and when he laid out his vision for his second term.

In his previous term starting from 2014, Indonesia had zoomed in on infrastructure development such as building ports, airports, highways and the country's first MRT system.

While terms like human resource development and upskilling could turn off some people, they are important to young workers hungry to get good jobs, but who have been stunted by the lack of equipment in their vocational schools and poorly trained teachers.

Meet Rokhan Abdillah, a 17-year old mechanical engineering student at a vocational school in Central Jakarta who says he faces incompetent teachers and lack of practice facilities.

"Sometimes my teachers do not explain a topic and directly ask us to do the practice, so we just learn by doing," said Rokhan, who hopes to be an engineer and pursue an undergraduate study after a few years of work.

Faced with the lack of training machines, he and his classmates had to go once a week to a technical training centre last year and a better-equipped vocational school nearby this year.

Official data from Statistics Indonesia showed that graduates from vocational schools form 8.63 per cent of the unemployed in Indonesia that totalled 6.82 million people in February.

"Graduates from vocational schools are not ready to work. They are only ready to be trained to work," Mr Eko Cahyanto, the head of the Industry Ministry's Industrial Human Resource Development Agency, told The Straits Times.

At these schools which specialise on a variety of skills from engineering to accounting, students aged between 15 and 19 are taught basic skills that should turn them into diverse professionals from car mechanics to skilled workers at international footwear factories to administration staff.

In workshops at the schools with engineering majors, for instance, the students learn how to use vices to secure a workpiece to be shaped as required, or operate lathes to turn metal objects for cutting and polishing.

Years of government underfunding have caused a shortage of actual equipment and machinery at vocational schools such as bench vices and lathe machines, although 20 per cent of the annual state Budget goes to the education sector.

The Industry Ministry has now held several programmes to boost the capability of the trainers, such as apprenticeship and managerial training.

The latter was conducted last year jointly with ITE Education Services with funding from Temasek Foundation International.

"A lot of schools are lacking the equipment or their equipment is obsolete. Students are often given illustrations of machines by their teachers, but they never practise to use them," Mr Eko said.

The Industrial Human Resource Development Agency is seeking to build new polytechnics, including one to focus on the petrochemical industry in Cilegon in Banten province. The agency will also help revamp nearly 287 existing polytechnics nationwide in line with the demand of various industrial sectors, and running a "link-and-match" programme with industries at these higher education institutions. The industrial sector requires around 600,000 new workers each year.

Mr Anton Supit, the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's deputy chairman for labour affairs, said he welcomed the President's plan to overhaul the national vocational education, adding that Indonesia can replicate Germany's dual training system, which combines the theory and training applied in real-life work setting.

"In Germany, ideally we see 70 per cent of practice on the ground, while another 30 per cent of theory related to the practice. We strongly support its implementation here as that will help upgrade our labour skills," he said.

Correction note: The article has been updated for accuracy.

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