By Murray Hunter

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--There are over 1,000 technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions in Malaysia. Around 500 are public institutions, made up of community colleges, polytechnics, training institutes, and other higher education institutions that accommodate around 230,000 students.

Polytechnics are principally focused on preparing students for further studies in diploma, advanced diploma, and degree levels. Community colleges provide students with practical vocational education that leads to a certificate at various levels.

In general, TVET is primarily focused on technical education to provide people with skills for jobs within the industry. However, while TVET provides a pathway for employment, the system lacks the curriculum and capacity development to assist students engage in entrepreneurial activities.

The need for focus on entrepreneurship

There are two major reasons TVET must now recalibrate towards the nurturing of entrepreneurship.

Firstly, youth unemployment is extremely high, being 15.1% in 2021. Every year, university graduates add to this number, with some mismatch in universities between courses offered and available jobs in the industry. Graduates are finding great difficulty in obtaining suitable jobs that meet their expectations.

Secondly, Malaysia’s reliance on foreign labour distorts the labour market. And there is a two-tier labour market. This effectively keeps wages low across many job categories. Categories held by foreign workers are socially undesirable for the nation’s youth. They carry a social stigma, usually under harsh supervision, with very poor conditions.

This situation is not easily remedied. Sectors where foreign workers dominate will not anytime in the future become attractive to locals. Thus, fostering entrepreneurship through the TVET system is the best strategy to decrease unemployment.

Towards an entrepreneurial TVET system

The situation of teaching entrepreneurship in Malaysia has been precarious. There is little sound understanding about the elements of entrepreneurship, where many courses available are just “cut and paste” jobs from foreign sources, without any consideration given to the different situational context in Malaysia.

Another major issue is that while entrepreneurship can be learnt, it’s extremely difficult to teach effectively. Many existing entrepreneurship curriculums resemble small business management courses, rather than entrepreneurship. Stirring a start-up to become an SME is an art requiring very specific skills.

Many entrepreneurship instructors around the country, particularly within public institutions, have little business, if any, entrepreneurship background.

These issues must be confronted and solved in order to develop substantive entrepreneurship programmes. Curriculum must be directly related to developing start-ups within the student’s selective field of interest. For example, if students are interested in the food and beverage industry, teaching must occur within such an environment where students can be “hands-on”.

Entrepreneurship curriculum should be concerned with identifying entrepreneurial opportunities, and evaluating ideas to determine any potential opportunities. Students must then be assisted to acquire the skills relevant to launch their proposed venture. Here, practademics, people who have deep industry experience, are preferable to academics. Students must be shown how to acquire the resources they need for their venture. These would include business location and premises selection, financial, human, materials required, machinery, along with other intangible resources. Finally, students must be shown how to develop the networks they need to launch the enterprise.

TVET entrepreneurial education can be broken down into micro-credentials. Short-term focused learning can provide quick learning achievements, assisting potential entrepreneurs gain specific skills relevant for their direct needs. Students can come and go for specific parts of the entrepreneurship learning taxonomy that cover all aspects of the entrepreneurship start-up. They can also elect to stay for the whole course.

This short-term learning will be more suitable for the current generation that finds it difficult to focus on long-term objectives, being unlikely to finish a three-year formal education course. Rather than drop out, students can pick up micro-credentials, which can be added together as they are obtained. This greatly assists potential entrepreneurs build up their skill sets without having to commit to long-term programmes.

As the private sector has expertise across the industry landscape in Malaysia, TVET entrepreneurship education should be primarily undertaken by private institutions embedded within particular industries. This guild approach will allow industry to set their own standards within their respective professions, such as electricians, plumbers, and auto-mechanics. Micro-credentials can be incorporated into apprenticeship programmes, where students may stay on with the employer as a work option if mutually agreeable between the student and the employer. Government can set the standards required in such programmes.

With more than 600,000 micro-enterprises in Malaysia, such programmes as outlined above will have a major impact upon youth employment. Such programmes will also enhance the problem-solving skills of youth, creativity, and innovation within the enterprises they create.

This is an attractive alternative to certificates, diplomas, and degrees. Micro-credentials will become educational milestones for potential entrepreneurs.

Such programmes will assist the Malaysian economy turn from rent-seeking activities engaged upon by large corporations towards an innovative and strengthened MSME sector economy.