The role of CSR in promoting TVET

Given its promises to reduce unemployment in the run to the 2016 elections, the government has prioritised employment creation – both in terms of fighting poverty and as an underpinning for economic growth.

Perhaps the current policy of job creation stems from past policy interventions that yielded little results.  In late 2005, the   Kufuour administration launched the National Employment Summit to formulate the national employment policy and strategy in order to promote development of human capital and strengthen links between skills-development and employment.

In July 2006, Parliament passed a bill to establish a Council for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (COTVET) to formulate national policies for skills development across the broad spectrum of formal, informal, and non-formal education (World Bank, 2009).

According to the World Bank, overall, Ghana has taken important steps toward opening access to education and introducing TVET reforms (TVET is now free under the free SHS policy introduced by the NPP in 2017). Against this background, further investments in promoting access to good-quality education and training for all are essential, and it is important to invest in skills-training beyond general education (World Bank, 2009).

Increasingly in today’s global environment, the design of education and training systems needs to promote learning throughout all stages of the peoples’ lifecycle, particularly among the youth. In this context, priority actions could focus on: (i) improving the quality of both formal education and TVET and strengthening the articulation within the two systems to provide choices to youth in acquiring skills and accommodating different learning needs; (ii) strengthening and improving the quality of traditional apprenticeships; and (iii) providing incentives for using resources more effectively through the introduction of performance accountability and performance-based budgeting. However, there are several challenges to providing educational choices for the youth.

Challenges to TVET education

The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) adds another headwind to the list: serious challenges in the region’s education. If African economies are to become more competitive, they must be able to draw on a schooled and skilled population. Indeed, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognise that the completion of secondary schooling is the minimum for being able to compete in an increasingly globalised economy.

According to new data from the UIS, however, at least half of all those aged 15 to 17 in sub-Saharan Africa are not in school – the highest proportion for any region worldwide. In other words, half of those who should by now be fine-tuning the skills they need for the job market, or to progress to tertiary education – to have a lasting impact on their countries’ national development – are not even in the classroom. A chunk of those who made it to the classroom easily dropped out mid-way for lack of both financial and academic support.  The worst-affected in terms of support is Technical and Vocational education. This explains why TVET is the least option for both students and parents.

In many countries, the effectiveness of technical vocational education and training (TVET) systems has suffered by being heavily driven by the supply side, with curricula and standards developed without substantial input from employers – hence without appropriate incorporation of the labour market needs.

Even in the most advanced countries like the USA, stakeholders are now pushing for TVET to be given attention. Throughout most of U.S. history, high school students were routinely taught vocational and job-ready skills along with reading, writing and arithmetic.

But in the 1950s, a different philosophy emerged: the theory that students should follow separate educational tracks according to ability. The idea was that the college-bound would take traditional academic courses (Latin, creative writing, science, math) and receive no vocational training. Those students not headed for college would take basic academic courses along with vocational training, or ‘shop’.

Ability-tracking did not sit well with educators or parents, who believed students were assigned to tracks not by aptitude but by socio-economic status and race – the result being that by end of the 1950s what was once a perfectly respectable, even mainstream, educational path came to be viewed as a remedial track that restricted minority and working-class students.

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The backlash against tracking, however, did not bring vocational education back to the academic core. Instead, the focus shifted to preparing all students for college; and college prep is still the centre of the U.S. high school curriculum. The sad twist is that both students and parents associated TVET with low academic performance, while those headed for college were deemed to be academically endowed.

The reality is that children have a huge and diverse range of different skills and learning styles. Not everyone is good at math, biology, history and other traditional subjects that characterise college-level work. Not everyone is fascinated by Greek mythology, or enamored with Victorian literature, or enraptured by classical music. Some students are mechanical; others are artistic, kinesthetic, auditory or read-learn. In short, some focus best in a lecture hall or classroom; still others learn best by doing and would thrive in the studio, workshop or shop-floor.

CSR and education

Various reports on education in sub-Saharan Africa have identified enormous challenges facing education, especially TVET. The task seems daunting but it is essential. There needs to be a far sharper focus on the wider challenges facing the children and teenagers who are missing out across the region – the poorest, the girls, those caught up in conflict. This brings in the mantra that ‘government alone cannot do everything in education” – hence the need for public-private partnership in the provision of an all-inclusive education.  This comes in the form of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Howard Bowen, often regarded as the father of CSR, defined the social responsibilities of ‘businessmen’ as their obligations to “pursue those policies, to make those decisions, or to follow those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the objectives and values of our society”. Allied concepts such as corporate social responsiveness (Sethi, 1979) and corporate social performance (Wartick and Cochran, 1985) also link the performance of firms to society in general.

Stakeholder models of strategic management typically include ‘government’ and ‘society’ as among those constituencies to whom firms should be accountable. (Freeman, 1984). Such definitions beg the question of the relationship between these business responsibilities and those of government either to represent or to meet the interests and values of society.

In his oft‐quoted essay, ‘The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits’, Friedman distinguishes the responsibilities of business managers from those of government (1970). This perspective is shared by many sceptics of CSR, who are concerned that acceptance of its legitimacy by firms may compromise effective functioning of markets. Friedman’s distinction was premised on utilitarian and accountability grounds.

His utilitarian case is that political representatives and public officials are trained for and experienced with addressing public policy issues, whereas business managers are trained for and experienced in managing business organisations. The accountability case is both that business managers’ prime responsibility should be to company shareholders who, he presumes, generally expect profits; while in democratic systems the accountability of government officials to the electorates is secured through elected political representatives.

Economic Responsibilities

It is well known that many developing countries suffer from a shortage of foreign direct investment, as well as from high unemployment and widespread poverty. It is of no surprise, therefore, that the economic contribution of companies in developing countries is highly prized, by governments and communities alike. Fox (2004) argues that this should not be seen in a negative light, but rather as a more development‐oriented approach to CSR that focuses on the enabling environment for responsible business in developing countries – and brings economic and equity aspects of sustainable development to the forefront of the agenda.

Should I say, fortunately or unfortunately, over the past 50 years, many developing countries (including Ghana) have become reliant on foreign aid or donor assistance; paving the way for what has become the ingrained culture of philanthropy or dependency. Given the nature of their operations, the onus has always been on Multinational companies (MNCs) to support government efforts in improving well-being of the people. This is even more justified because the successes of MNCs in host countries often depend on the skilled labour. Countries like China are attracting investments because of the high population of skilled forces.

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For MNCs, motivations for supporting TVET are two-fold; because in addition to direct productivity benefits, CSR factors play a large role in their decisions impacting their social licence to operate. The motivations for firms and employers to become involved in youth employment programmes will vary depending on the nature of the firm, with important implications for policies. Many multinational firms are heavily involved in Active Labour Market Programmes (ALMPs) in partnership with local governments, and also often with NGOs and domestic firms.

In many countries, most of these interventions involve training, but others involve entrepreneurship promotion. The motivations of MNCs may be complex, reflecting, both reputational and corporate social responsibility (CSR) objectives, as well as more standard direct productivity or commercial benefits. The rationale is to have a better-skilled workforce or more reliable supply and distribution networks for their in-country operations. This is a strong justification for MNCs and other private sector players to complement government efforts in TVET progarmmes.

There are classic cases to draw from. A number of international NGOs, such as Youth Business International, International Youth Foundation and Plan International, have achieved wide coverage of entrepreneurship promotion programmes in low- and middle-income countries, often with the support of multinational companies’ CSR programmes.

In developing countries, for instance, domestic firms’ motivations to promote TVET may be more limited because these programmes are designed to generate entrepreneurs, rather than a skilled workforce for their businesses. There have been mixed successes in encouraging local business people to engage as mentors or trainers; finding effective ways of encouraging such engagement should be an area for future research.

Overall, the private sector can be – and has been – involved in multiple ways of promoting youth employment and skills, including but not limited to:

  • Partnering in initiatives to train youth by providing funding, developing course content, contributing to teaching, and providing on-the-job experience to trainees
  • Funding entrepreneurship promotion programmes, and supplying credit, grants, and technical assistance to young entrepreneurs
  • Engaging in high-level planning for training and employment strategies with government and other stakeholders
  • Supplying training services under competitive contracting with the public sector or with employers
  • Developing inclusive value chains in agriculture and other sectors involving young

entrepreneurs

Thus, government should harmonise policies, if any, to promote public-private partnerships to revolutionise TVET. If no policy exists, government should rally all stakeholders to a roundtable and start dialogue on how to integrate the TVET agenda into overall national development policies.

The establishment of a National Council on Technical and Vocational Education (COTVET) is the standard practice in many developing countries. But such oversight bodies have largely become ineffective due to underfunding and lack of policy support. Hopefully, government’s focus on TVET as part of plans to make it attractive and outcome-driven should yield the needed fruits.

References

Avura, F.B. and Ato Ulzen-Appiah (2005) Ghana Youth Employment Programme Inventory

Freeman, R. E. 1984. Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach. Boston: Pitman. 1984

Glick, P. Huang, C.  Mejia, N. (2009) The Private Sector and Youth Skills and Employment Programs in Low- and Middle-Income Countries RAND Corporation.

Moon, J. and Vogel, D. (2009) Corporate Social Responsibility, Government, and Civil Society.

SETHI, P. 1979. ‘Dimensions of Corporate Social Responsibility’. Californian Management

Review, 17(3

UNESCO Institute for Statistics ( 2014 )Missing from school: the education challenge in sub-Saharan Africa.

WARTICK, S. L., and COCHRAN, P. L. 1985. ‘The Evolution of the Corporate Social

Performance Model’. Academy of Management Review

Wyman, N. (2015) “Why We Desperately Need To Bring Back Vocational Training In Schools.” Available (http://www.forbes.com/sites/nicholaswyman/2015/09/)

(***The writer is a Development and Communications Management Specialist, and a Social Justice Advocate.  All views expressed in this article are my personal views and do not represent those of any organization(s). (Email: safoamos@gmail.com. Mobiles: 0202642504/ 0243327586/0264327586

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