Vocational Education & Training in Vietnam: Opportunities & Untapped Potential

Last summer, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced that it was providing $70 million in loans for the Viet Nam Skills Enhancement Project, which will offer training programs in priority industries in cooperation with the private sector.

As in other countries, vocational education and training is “low prestige” and therefore not attractive to most high school graduates.  It is also one of the highest priorities in Vietnam’s postsecondary education system in order to meet the severe shortage of skilled workers.  Every year, 1.5 million young people enter the labor market and only 13% of all workers have a vocational qualification.  The pressing reality is that Vietnam needs to enroll far more students in vocational education and training programs.

According to the ADB press release, 24,000 students will benefit from the program with 25% of them women and members of ethnic minority groups.  Specifically, the project will fund training programs in public and private vocational colleges in automotive technology, electrical and mechanical manufacturing, hospitality and tourism, information and communication technology and navigation and shipping. 

Workers at Viet-Han Company in Dien Nam Industrial Zone in the central province of Quang Nam operate a manufacturing line. — VNA/VNS Photo Hong Ky

In one recent success story from a pilot project that began three years ago 7,000 students, graduates of Ha Tinh Province’s Viet Nam-Germany Vocational Training College Training Department were earning monthly average salaries of VND3.3 million (US$165) while many university graduates have not yet found a job.  Many companies had recruited skilled workers at an initial average salary of VND2.5 to 4.5 million ($125-225).  To put this in perspective, the 2009 per capita income in Vietnam was $1052, or $88 per month. 

Unlike most programs, the curriculum was based on the actual needs of employers, including the Da River Hydropower Plant, the Prime Group and the Vung Ang Industrial Zone.  Companies were encouraged to participate in the process by specifying the number of skilled workers they needed based on a contract and having input in the examinations.  About 70% of the training programs were based on Vocational Training Department criteria with balance coming from industry. 

Vocational Education and Training at US Community Colleges

Courtesy of Eastern Illinois Community Colleges

Since the majority of Vietnamese begin their US study experience at a community college before transferring to a four-year school to complete their Bachelor’s degree, some may want to think about the possibility of earning an Associate’s degree in a high-demand vocational area.  After completing their degree in two years, they could apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), gain valuable work experience related to their degree and earn some money before returning home.  Some adventurous and visionary US community colleges could consider promoting this option in Vietnam, in addition to the general education track that leads to university transfer.

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