Two young men, Binaya Gupta and Nabin Thapa, stand ready to receive us at the gates of Mahalaxmi Cable factory on the Biratnagar-Itahari road; they are apprentices under a new scheme supported by the project ENSSURE, Enhanced Skills for Sustainable and Rewarding Employment. This project is implemented by the government of Nepal’s Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training (CTEVT) with financial support from the Swiss government (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation), and technical assistance from Helvetas.
Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) has long been practised in Nepal. However, combining classwork with work experience as an apprentice, known as dual VET apprenticeships, is a relatively new concept in the country (as are Dual VET short courses or on-the-job training, described in another blog). In working with business and industries and through the CTEVT, ENSSURE is piloting the concept with the aim of its eventual institutionalization. It has taken some time to establish the model, as it requires a close working partnership between training institutions and industries. Binaya and Nabin are amongst 40 trainees enrolled on the apprenticeship program at the Manmohan Memorial Polytechnic (MMP) in Hattimuda, Morang - part of a larger, pilot batch of 200 ENSSURE-supported apprentices. As apprentice electrical engineers, they have been hired by a factory that manufactures electrical wiring, motorcycle and auto parts, and cartons – with the opportunity to learn about electrical aspects in each of these plants.
As we walk around the warehouse-like buildings, the mix of Hindi and Nepali that we hear being spoken brings to mind the comments of a senior member of the Chamber of Commerce Morang, met late last year:
“The young graduates [from vocational training] are nowadays too theoretical and not sufficiently practical. Maybe this is because they don’t have adequate infrastructure in the training institutes that teach them, and there are too many being trained at a time… Indian workers are more expensive, but we are forced to hire them as we don’t have our own people.” Pradeep Murarka, CIM Chamber of Industries Morang
Dual VET-apprenticeships are designed to address this issue – providing practical experience in the world of work. The full apprenticeship period covers 24 months; 4 months of theory, 20 months in the workplace, and then a final month back in the classroom before graduating. Binaya and Nabin are luckier than some, as they are paid by Mahalaxmi Cables a monthly allowance of Rs 5,000 (some USD 44). In addition, as distant students (from Dang, in the West of the country) they can stay in the MMP hostel without charge. Their supervisor, Nabin Jha, is happy with their performance, and indicates that on finishing the apprenticeship, they will have a job with the company if they wish. Nevertheless, being an apprentice is hard work, and listening to Binaya and Nabin, it’s not difficult to understand why some young people drop out.
Binaya Gupta, apprentice
A recent external review of ENSSURE (June 2019) commissioned by SDC and led by TVET Expert Hugo Sagar, appreciated the Dual VET-apprenticeship model and acknowledged the good collaboration between the private sector companies, associations and government institutions. The review team was nevertheless concerned about the high level of drop-outs within the first batch of apprentices. They went on to give clear recommendations about how the model could be improved – defining standards for working conditions and remuneration, ensuring frequent controls, and establishing an arbitration system through which the rights and well-being of apprentices can be protected. A “trial period” with a company before accepting an apprenticeship was also suggested – as was the greater involvement of the private sector overall. These are all suggestions that can be taken up in the immediate future, in expanding the model to a larger, second batch of apprentices.
According to Dr. Usha Bhandari, a TVET expert and a Senior Program Officer at SDC, Nepal “The dual VET apprenticeship will set the milestones in the history of TVET sector reform in Nepal. It will obviously take a few years for concrete results but some positive signals such as the acceptance and ownership from business, industries and employers are already visible.”