Employability and Lifelong Learning in Technical and Vocational Professions. A Joint Partnership Research Project in Austria and Ethiopia

KoEF 11/2019

(öffnet Bild in Modal-Fenster) © Yekunoamlak Alemu Woldeyohanis

Cooperating countries: Austria and Ethiopia

Coordinating institution: Monika Kastner, Peter Schlögl, Department of Educational Science, University of Klagenfurt

Partner institutions: Yekunoamlak Alemu Woldeyohanis, Befekadu Zeleke Kidane, Demoze Degefa Alemu, College of Education and Behavioral Studies, Addis Ababa University

Project duration: 1 November 2020 - 31 October 2023

The photo was taken in July 2022 when the Ethiopian partners came to Vienna and Klagenfurt for their first study visit. Our research group (from left to right): Yekunoamlak Alemu Woldeyohanis, Befekadu Zeleke Kidane, Demoze Degefa Alemu, Monika Kastner, and Peter Schlögl.


Employability and Lifelong Learning in Technical and Vocational Professions: A Joint Partnership Research Project in Austria and Ethiopia is a joint research project aimed at examining the following areas in consideration of SDG goal 4 “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning” by focussing two major issues: On the one hand, it deals with qualification research related to outcomes of formal education systems, and employability. On the other hand, it deals with country-specific development and implementation of National Qualifications Frameworks and their relation to TVET, continuing education/workplace learning, and the labour market.

The proposed research project was co-operatively designed. The endeavour aims at joint knowledge production, borrowing from principles of participatory research. It is in line with international comparative approaches, for they offer context-sensitiveness and support strong outcome by systematic comparison. Two research desiderata have been identified that are of particular interest to both partners:

Qualification Research related to outcomes of formal education systems, and employability: TVET outcomes in terms of employability, employability skill development factors with regard to TVET-school-to-work-transitions, curricula development, qualification of TVET teachers and trainers, competence-oriented trainings structures;

A central task within this joint project is the Employability Study in order to contribute to TVET-development in Ethiopia, because youth unemployment is one of the serious problems facing Ethiopia. Recently, although enrolment in TVET institutions has increased, there is a mismatch between job seekers and available employment possibilities. Moreover, relevance of the training to job and enterprise development, the climate for self-employment, readiness of graduates, absorptive capacity of the industry and service sectors, and willingness of apprenticeship offering companies or enterprises found to be detrimental in explaining the nature of relationship between skill development and school-to-work transition. The main objective of this joint study is, therefore, to share the rich experiences from Austria and based on it suggest ways to minimize youth TVET graduate unemployment in Ethiopia and thereby contribute to analysing and solving local challenges and to achieving the SDGs.

Country-specific development and implementation of National Qualifications Frameworks NQF and their relation to TVET, continuing education/workplace learning and the labour market: Drawing lessons from international comparison with regard to employment of non-trained works in the industry and services sectors in Ethiopia and their skills and knowledge development; validation and certification of non-formal/informal learning within the ENQF (“Occupational Assessment” procedure); permeability of TVET with regard to access to Higher Education; experts for validating learning outcomes;

A central task within this joint project is the NQF-study in order to draw lessons from international comparison especially for the Austrian NQF with regard to recognition of non-formal and informal learning outcomes, and lifelong learning/employability, and permeability based on Ethiopian expertise and ENQF implementation.

The research desiderata are dealt with from different perspectives and by applying different research methods, drawing on quantitative-empirical and qualitative-empirical research methods. Lead and responsibilities will vary according to country-specific research desideratum, and expertise.

Contribution to Sustainable Development

Of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, this cooperative research on TVET employability and lifelong learning is relevant to 6 SDGs directly and indirectly, including:

  • 1 · No poverty – end extreme poverty in all forms by 2030
  • 4 · Quality education – ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • 5 · Gender equality – achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • 8 · Decent work and economic growth – promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • 9 · Industry, innovation and infrastructure – build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • 17 · Partnership for goals – strengthening the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

This cooperation development research and its studies are highly and directly related to the 4th SDG: Quality Education.
In an analysis published in The Guardian (Moore, 2015, September 25), the author postulates, with reference to the (at that time) recently published SDGs: „we’re all developing countries now“. She explains:

„What’s different – and crucial – this time is that the raft of new targets are being applied universally. Unlike their predecessors, the millennium development goals (MDGs), which only applied to those countries deemed to be ‘developing’, the SDGs will require all nations to work towards them. So, in a sense, we are all developing nations from now on. That’s a refreshing and positive message. It says to the global north: you may have much higher GDP per capita, but that doesn’t mean your societies are immune to problems that affect everyone in our interconnected globe.”

It is not a matter of bringing the "Philosopher's Stone" from the Global North to the Global South in a paternalistic attitude. Rather, it is a matter of researching together and learning from one another. It is precisely this spirit that the project members want to breathe life into in the cooperation research development project presented here, because both countries have a lot to offer and to learn from. This cooperative endeavour of joint knowledge production was described in terms of a participatory approach and of in-depth systematic comparison.

At the same time, however, one can and must ask what significance the SDG Objective 4 "Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning" have for Austria.
In Austria, the level of formal education attained is highly dependent on social background. In all OECD countries, the socio-economic background plays a role in determining educational success. In Austria, however, the hurdles for children from educationally disadvantaged and socially disadvantaged classes are higher and social mobility is lower (for the Austrian situation, see Bruneforth, Weber & Bacher, 2012). With regard to the question of participation in lifelong education, the finding is that participation in continuing education is characterised by considerable social disparities. The factors school education and vocational training, employment and occupational status, gender, age and class affiliation as social characteristics go hand in hand with considerable differences in participation in Adult Education and CVET (Reich-Claassen 2015, 81).

According to labour market data, people with a low formal qualification (compulsory school, no upper secondary) are at risk of becoming and remaining unemployed: there is a risk of 23 per cent for this group compared to a risk of 6.5 per cent for those with an apprenticeship qualification. People without a formal qualification beyond compulsory schooling make up almost half of those registered as unemployed (44 per cent) with the Public Employment Service (AMS – Arbeitsmarktservice, 2018).
The European Union Strategy "Upskilling Pathways: New Opportunities for Adults" also targets socially and educationally disadvantaged European citizens (European Union, 2016):

„In 2015, there were 64 million people, more than a quarter of the Union population aged 25-64, who had left initial education and training with at most a lower secondary education qualification. While there are no means to measure the basic skill levels of those people, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Survey of Adult Skills (‘PIAAC’), which tested levels of literacy, numeracy and problem-solving in technology-rich environments, indicates that similar proportions of adults aged 16 to 65 performed at the lowest level of proficiency in 20 Member States.”

And CEDEFOP, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, describes adults at risk (within the European countries), the so-called „low-skilled adults“ as follows: low educational attainment, disadvantaged background, unemployed and inactive, trapped in low-skilled occupations, precarious work, poor working conditions, and participate less in LLL (CEDEFOP, 2017).

This brief inventory shows that the SDG 4 also indicates measures for implementation in countries of the Global North (European Union). The cooperation development project proposed here aims to contribute to this task and challenge by cooperating with a strong partner from the Global South. Especially the much longer experience with the implementation of the NQF in Ethiopia offers a resource from which Austria will learn for the future. For the NQF can facilitate re-entries into Lifelong Learning and promote the participation of those with low formal qualifications by recognising non-formally and informally learnt learning outcomes. Building on this, higher qualification can be promoted.

Ethiopia is a country, with a great antiquity located in the horn of Africa. Administratively, the country is divided in to nine Federal States and two City Administrations following decentralized system of governance since 1992. There are about 110 million inhabitants, of which, nearly half are female and about 85% dwells in rural areas. Ethiopia has its own alphabet that dates back to the Axumite period (4th century A.D), but paradoxically the country remained the "Land of the Thumb Print" with about 39% literacy rate (CSA, 2007).
It is also interesting to note that although nearly half of the total population (49.2%) constitutes the active labour force, unemployment is still a glaring problem in the country. Unemployment rate in urban areas of Ethiopia is 17.5% (2012 est.). However, the country is investing in education, health, infrastructure, etc. in order to get rid of the poverty circle. The Government spends nearly 20% of its budget on education sector and about 20 million children enrolled in schools. As a result, Ethiopia became one of the counties that is striving to reach the MDG target. Education and training are one the means for socio-economic development.
These days, there is drastic educational expansion in Ethiopia at all levels (primary, secondary, vocational training, and tertiary). The number of public universities is radically increasing from 1 or 2 to 9 and very recently, to 33. In 2013/2014, there were 33,940 enrolled undergraduate students, 13,000 postgraduate students and 1,733 PhD students, making a total student body of 48,673 at Addis Ababa University alone.

TVET institutions increased from 153 in 2002/2003 to 582 in 2016/17. Enrolment increased from 72,162 in 2002/2003 to 302, 083 in 2016/17. Female’s participation also improved from 48.2% (2002/2003) to 51.32% (2016/2017). Nevertheless, graduates’ school-to-work transition (STW) is constrained by school and out-of school factors. The education system needs to travel a long distance in order to improve the quality of education. Inequality of education is observed between urban – rural (nomadic areas) and boys – girls. Training institutes focus on knowledge with inadequate consideration for value and skill formation. Graduates also lack soft or employability skills.