By Chris Cooper, Principal Consultant, Skills Systems, British Council

It may seem a little obscure to be writing about the importance of regional action in relation to employment and training at his time, but a global pandemic which, for now at least, can only be halted through the actions of individuals and their local communities illustrates how global, national, regional, local and individual actions are inter-connected. 

Some changes in the labour market resulting from Covid-19 will be short-term, others may permanently affect employment and the skills needed by individuals, in many ways accelerating trends that have been taking place for some time. The scale and impact of these changes will vary depending on the make-up of economies nationally and regionally, for example regions with predominantly rural economies will have different opportunities and challenges to city regions.

“There are clear benefits in ensuring systems are aligned with regional economic and social development priorities and target resources effectively”

To some extent this has always been the case and explains why regionalisation of employment and TVET policy, planning and delivery has become increasingly common. For some countries regional ownership is because of the wider political devolution of powers such as in Pakistan, but in others regional engagement is because nationally run systems recognise the need for more targeted understanding and response at regional level, such as in England and Morocco. As these different political and administrative arrangements imply there is no single model for unleashing a region’s full potential for driving the creation of relevant and inclusive TVET systems. However, it seems logical to conclude there are clear benefits in ensuring systems are aligned with regional economic and social development priorities and target resources effectively.  

The British Council is currently providing support to TVET reform in two countries that are going through the process of TVET devolution. In Nepal reform is a response to a broader political devolution process for Provinces, whilst in Morocco it is part of a TVET Roadmap to significantly expand and enhance the TVET system across the whole country by more effectively integrating Regional Governments into planning and delivery. In both countries the process is a long way from being complete and has reinforced the importance of a number of the issues we identified in our 2017 research on sub-national TVET governance. These are relevant for countries looking to improve current regional involvement or develop new regional systems and relationships.

Perhaps the most important consideration is to agree the vertical devolution of different aspects of the system, i.e. what parts of the system should be controlled, managed and delivered centrally and what should be done regionally or indeed by Institutions. Getting this clarity from the start is essential. For example, it may make sense for regional partners to work with an automotive cluster to ensure local people receive training relevant to the jobs available, but should the region have the power to develop a new curriculum or qualification (or refine the national version)? What does this mean for Automotive organisations elsewhere in the country, or for learners who may have a qualification not recognised or understood by employers in other regions or in other sectors?

Getting this clarity is the first step. Ensuring there is the capacity, structures and level of empowerment within the system for those working in the regions to undertake activities and make decisions is also a real challenge. Even where national agencies have regional offices a shift to greater regional collaboration can need a change in approach by staff, an increased level of empowerment and more resource. The latter point highlights a danger that regionalisation adds to the bureaucracy of a TVET system without adding real benefit. Regionalisation does need resources but at least some of this can come from shifting resources from the centre and ensuring greater efficiency and impact from regional partners working together.     

One of the main arguments for enhanced regional control of the TVET system is that it enables the system to engage with the private sector more effectively and identify economic and employer needs. However, there are two challenges to making this a reality. Firstly, is the capacity and willingness of employers to engage at a regional level. In most countries there are national employer representative organisations that take on government engagement roles on behalf of their members but in some countries such as Nepal engagement at a national level on skills issues is not as embedded or effective as it could be. In the UK there is a long history of employers engaging at local and regional levels, but this is not the case in Nepal.  In Morocco where there is a stronger employer voice nationally, the capacity to engage at regional levels is still very low. Employers will need time to adjust to a more regional focus and clear evidence that it is worth their effort to invest in any engagement at this level. It is not automatic, it won’t happen overnight and it requires a culture shift as well as a policy one.

“Greater regional responsibility needs to be accompanied by better regional data and evidence collection along with the capacity to analyse it”

A second challenge is the availability of evidence at a regional level to help inform strategic and operational decision making. Our recent assessment  of the relative effectiveness of systemic TVET programmes on employment outcomes identified there is a general lack of good quality evidence of what works in TVET in developing countries and our pilot of the ETF’s Torino process in two Morocco regions reinforced the challenge associated with a lack of data and evidence at regional level. Greater regional responsibility needs to be accompanied by better regional data and evidence collection along with the capacity to analyse it.     

Greater and more effective regional collaboration has the potential to ensure TVET is more relevant and inclusive and more effectively supports employment and entrepreneurship, particularly in the current fast changing environment. Whilst structures, culture and politics mean the practicalities of regional collaboration will vary between countries many of the big challenges are the same. I hope that by sharing lessons and experiences from different countries we can at least help identify the right questions and as a community work towards answering them, ultimately supporting quicker and more effective reform.