Swiss-style apprenticeships for Myanmar craftspeople

In a large shed in the north of Yangon, Myanmar’s future craftspeople practice their skills. The saws are roaring, the students discussing aloud. But when U Nay Lin is speaking, his apprentices listen to him quietly.

The teacher of future cabinet makers shows his students a three-dimensional drawing of a jewellery box, asking them to craft one on their own. Together they smooth pieces of wood where the grain is uneven.

This two-week practical training course is part of the program at the Centre for Vocational Training in Yangon (CVT). There, apprentices complete a three-year course with a partner company – mostly local small and medium-sized companies in fields such as furniture, construction, or food and drink.

Trainees work four days a week at the companies, with one day reserved for theory classes and general education courses such as English or economics. The partner company is expected to pay a contribution to their studies of around K100,000 per year.

While most of the students see their future at their partner companies, some eventually want to establish their own business, such as 21-year old Hmuu Thaw Thaw. He is currently learning how to fit out a house with cables. “It is my dream to start my own electric installation business,” he said.

The CVT is the only school in Myanmar that combines practical education and theory. This dual approach is inspired by founder Max Wey’s home country Switzerland, where two-thirds of the population enroll in an apprenticeship.

The school currently offers programs for five professions: commercial assistant, electrician, cabinet maker, hospitality assistant and metal worker. Additionally, underprivileged youth can enroll at a so-called E4Y (education for youth) program.

The school employs 46 teachers, all from Myanmar, and educates over 500 students, with a view to increasing its intake to 1000 by 2018.

Next year the CVT, with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, will build a new school in Thingyangyun township, at a cost of around US$3.5 million. Once this is complete, the annual cost of operations is expected to rise from $555,000 to about $850,000.

The investment seems to resonate well with businesses in Myanmar. “There is a shortage of skilled workers in our field in Myanmar, which is why programs like CVT are so important,” said William Oei, spokesperson for construction and industrial equipment manufacturer Caterpillar.

Verena Baumeister, who works for Heliocentris, a German company in the energy sector, also sees a skills gap, mainly because candidates do not have enough practical experience.

“I think the dual approach is a good opportunity for students to gather theoretic and practical experience in their respective fields, which is highly appreciated by employers,” she said.

Stefan Vogler, director of development at CVT, said Myanmar’s production methods are outdated and below international standards. For instance, electric cables used in houses are often too thin and the wood used for furniture not properly dried.

“This is why companies that want to invest in the country find it difficult to recruit the staff they need,” he said.

This is echoed by a joint study published by the United Nations, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the government of Myanmar last year. Nearly 60 percent of businesses find skill shortages a major problem for operations, making it the country’s second-biggest obstacle for investment, behind corruption.

The need for skilled workers is highlighted by World Bank figures. It estimates the labour force – the number of people available to work – to be close to 30 million. About 30pc of workers are in the services and industry sectors. This means that 9 million people are working in fields where skills training is essential.

Myanmar must further improve its education system to sustain economic development, said Mr Vogler.

“It does not make sense to have a nice car when nobody knows how to repair it,” he said.

Source: Myanmar Times

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