The education ministry is correct to look at expanding the scope of vocational education on offer. Basic vocational training is offered at technical schools, but for some years now, the state has also been offering 14 programmes for school-leavers that will be increased under the ministry’s latest plans.
Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou said the number of programmes could be increased to 25 and the number of people attending them doubled from the current 400 in a few years. The government hopes the new premises in Limassol that will house the centre for vocational training with all the necessary equipment and facilities will help achieve this objective.
The economy and the job market have needs that vocational training would help meet, said Prodromou. “Our country needs specialised professionals in several sectors,” said the minister and added: “We must give the opportunity to the young to acquire those professional skills that would allow them to find a job. But we should also help others to complete skills and knowledge they have already acquired, with professional specialisation and skills that would allow them to find work.”
For too long, vocational training in Cyprus has been looked down on, considered low status. Every family’s aspiration was for its offspring to obtain a university degree, in something or other, because it was assumed this would guarantee a respectable job and higher earning potential. This is not the case nowadays, as there is an excess supply of university graduates, a worrying proportion of them without a job.
We suspect there are very few unemployed electricians, plumbers, carpenters and chefs, certainly much fewer than unemployed graduates. People may gradually realise that a university degree is no guarantee to finding a job and much less to securing high earnings. Demand and supply determine wages, which is why an electrician often earns more than a graduate with two MAs.
The fact is that no economy can function just with graduates, nor does it mean an economy with a high percentage of graduates – something we like to boast about in Cyprus – is more developed and prosperous than one with a sizeable proportion of skilled technicians. The government, under pressure from businesses and unions may have realised this now and will be focusing on encouraging vocational training.
One thing the government must also do is change social attitudes towards vocational training and technical professions, which, are regarded as low status. They are not, if they are judged on earnings and it must be brought home that electricians and carpenters are as important to an economy as accountants and lawyers.