New school year, same old problems

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As a new academic year approaches, vocational training schools nationwide are facing familiar problems.

Despite the fact that their students are able to find jobs quite easily, the schools are unable to meet their enrollment targets.

Yet again, blame is being apportioned to the lower status that vocational training has in Vietnamese society, barriers to transfer credits that would facilitate students to pursue higher studies at universities and low pay after graduation.

"Last year, we expected to enroll some 1,000 students but only had 750. I don't think the situation is better this year," said Bui Quang Son, director of Bao Loc District Vocational Training Center in Lam Dong Province.

Son said many people look down on vocation education as being inferior to regular studies. High school graduates treat it as a last resort.

Furthermore, "more and more universities and colleges are opening and enrolling students. This makes it difficult for vocational training institutions to attract students," Son said.

According to the General Department of Vocational Training, more than 75 percent of students from vocational schools get jobs right after their graduation - a high percentage.

Nguyen Duc Tan, vice rector of the Ha Giang Vocational School, said his school is looking to attract 2,000 new students this year, but expects to fulfill only 60 percent of the goal.

 "Vocational education is not highly valued and firms do not prioritize on employing graduates from vocational schools."

Tan said his school's students have been trained to work in agricultural and forestry sectors but governmental agencies in the province are not willing to recruit them.

Two private firms in the locality - a car assembler and a paper pulp producer - offered very low salaries between VND600,000-700,000 ($30-35) per month. "No graduate from the vocational school wanted to work there," he said.

Son of Bao Loc center said the average income of a graduate from his school was VND1.2-1.5 million, which is not enough to meet daily life expenses in the current context of high inflation.

More barriers

Students were also reluctant to enroll in a vocational training school because they were not allowed to skip subjects they had already completed after being transferred to a college or another higher education institution later, officials said.

Vocational training schools and colleges can come to an agreement to about future exchanges in theory.

However, Nguyen Quoc Huy, vice principal of the Bac Ninh Vocational College, said his school has not yet come to any co-operation agreement with universities because the requirements were very strict.

He said the curriculum at vocational schools had to be similar the university's, a difficult task because the focus in his school was on practice instead of theory.

Tan of Ha Giang Vocational School said universities are not interested in cooperating with vocational schools.

The high dropout rate is another problem vocational schools are having to grapple with.

Son of Bao Loc said: "Up to 30-35 percent of our students drop out of school every year. The rate has even gone up to 50 percent. Many students who have been with us for half an academic year drop out to enter universities."

Nguyen Thanh Hiep, head of the vocational training bureau under the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Affairs, said vocational schools should improve their training quality, and strengthen their promotional programs to attract more students.

Vocational schools nationwide hope to attract 1.86 million students in the coming academic year, according to the General Department of Vocational Training.

Meanwhile, a shortage of skilled labor supply is forcing many firms to recruit unskilled labor and train them by themselves.

At a human resources seminar in HCMC on June 3, the HCMC Export Processing Zone Authority (HEPZA) said that a total of 252,500 workers are working at 14 industrial and export processing zones in the city. Half of the workers have graduated from primary and secondary schools and 34 percent are high school graduates.

Nguyen Tan Dinh, vice director of HEPZA, said that many companies have had to offer training courses to their workers because they had not been suitably trained for the jobs.

He also said that low incomes have played a role in the shortage of workers that has emerged in recent years. Many workers were willing to quit for even slight increases in pay, he said.

According to a report by HEPZA, up to 30,000 workers quit jobs in the first five months this year.

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