Friday, 14 August 2015

Vocational Training in Vietnam: Still Waiting for UNIDO

Vietnam has a unique network of basic vocational training centres that provide an opportunity for educationally disadvantaged young people to gain a useful skill and first work experience. As an International Technical Training Expert (ITTE), a keen interest was taken in these centres during service with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) from 1997 to 1999. Working with one outstanding centre in Ho Chi Minh City, the foundations were laid for a new training programme in computer-controlled machining, and in January 2015, it was possible to make a return visit to see how the work had progressed.

The vocational training centres are long established and probably a relic of the Soviet era in Vietnam's history. As such, they were perceived to be out-of-date and in need of replacement by a more modern system. Many were clearly failing in their mission, poorly equipped and poorly patronised, but two centres in Ho Chi Minh City were found to be providing an excellent wide-ranging service under the leadership of able and dedicated directors.

The view was expressed that these centres of excellence should be used as models to encourage others to raise their level of performance. At the same time, these basic vocational training centres should be inspired to introduce more advanced programmes through links with higher technical institutions. In fact, there was a need to integrate the entire technical training system in a way that allowed the most able students to progress upwards through the system, while new technologies and training opportunities were transferred downwards to the grassroots.

It became possible to connect one of the best vocational training centres in Ho Chi Minh City to a higher-level technical institute supported by Germany. The German technical trainers were enthusiastic about this extension of their influence, and after some discussion it was decided to recommend the introduction of a computer-controlled machining programme at the vocational level. Two metal machining instructors were sent to the technical institute for training and suitable machines were ordered for the vocational training centre. The training had been completed, but the machines had not yet arrived, on departure in November 1999.

In January 2015, there was an opportunity to make a return visit to see how the project had fared. The centre still occupied the same two nearby sites although extensive rebuilding had been undertaken during the intervening fifteen years. Sadly, nobody was still at post who recognised the old man from UNIDO. The Dynamic Mr Nghi had been replaced by a lady director who extended a polite greeting and conducted a brief tour of the workshops.

The facilities looked much the same as in the previous century, but in response to a specific request, access was granted to the computer-controlled machine shop. The two machines were in place but looking somewhat neglected and under-utilised. The director complained that they were old and needed to be replaced by more modern machines. She was told that if she wanted to submit a new request to UNIDO for further assistance, a supporting document and recommendation could be provided.

John Powell

To learn more about life in general and the intriguing story of the grassroots industrial revolution in the turbulent Ghana of the second half of the twentieth century, read John Powell's novels The Colonial Gentleman's Son and Return to the Garden City or his non-fictional account The Survival of the Fitter. More details of these books and photographs of the informal sector artisans of Suame Magazine in Kumasi will be found on the following websites.

How Software Training Institutes Help to Improve the Coding Skills of Students

Software codes are not physical products. We cannot see the codes, but the user can use the results of a running a coded program in the form of a software application. The software applications so developed have redefined our everyday experiences and made life so easy, be it controlling a flight or buying groceries from a supermarket. Learning computer programming is thus an excellent avenue to gain employment and improve a person's career profile.

The first generation of codes are called machine language. The second generation of codes are called assembly language and the third generation of codes is called high level language or HLL. All software programming languages need to be translated into machine codes for a computer to understand the instructions. While most of it happens internally, it is important that software engineers correctly 'write' programs that deliver the desired output.

Coding practice can be improved either by attempting to write a number of new programs suited to specific applications or even by modifying the existing codes. But what exactly is the purpose for which a program needs to be written? How do we define the software life cycle? What are the best languages to use to derive a certain output? How can people without any basic programming know-how get into coding and the software industry? This is where the role of software institutes occur.

Several software training institutes have mushroomed all over the world to address these issues. Often, they help in making people employment ready, give career guidance and training in a broad spectrum of software and programming languages including JAVA, SAP, CAD,.Net etc. Some also recommend software testing courses based on the candidate's profile. With experienced faculty and tie ups with key companies, they deliver real value to a student and help in placements after course completion.

These institutes conduct long and short-term courses. They also prepare students for various international certifications. Further, they conduct workshops, events and other activities to encourage student-industry interaction, prepare novices for their job interviews and make them ready to face opportunities. Job fairs, campus interviews, etc. are also conducted regularly for students to get job placements on successful course completion. Many governments have also come forward to set up training institutes to train homeless people, women, unemployed and under employed persons. In order to encourage children to pick up coding skills, many software training institutes have also made available a number of courses for school students and kids in summer vacations.

While the remarkable results are here to see, the software training industry is rather unregulated. Many institutes seem to promise the moon and charge hefty sums, while the real certification is either invalid or based really on the reputation of a known parent brand. Going forward, it will be interesting to see how various governments tackle the issue and ensure that the benefits of software training reach all sections of society.