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'Korea should make vocational training more attractive'

The Korea Times, Dubai, 26 March 2014 - An education expert called on Korea to make vocational training more attractive by integrating it into the curriculum so that students are not forced to choose between academic and skills routes.

“Korea is facing a problem that the West has already encountered, which is that industries can’t find the skills, and graduates don’t have the work,” said Chris Kirk, CEO of GEMS Education Solutions, the education consultancy division of GEMS Education, an international education company.

He made the remarks in an interview with The Korea Times at the second annual Global Education and Skills Forum held in the Gulf city from March 15 to 17.

He pointed out that Korea’s rapid economic development was a result of it powering itself through with skills, technology and industry. Now, it has its share of developed economy crises that are familiar in Europe and the United States, according to Kirk.

“The West has always looked at Korea as a country that has really strong links amongst its training, employment system and industry,” he said. “In Korea, you’ll want to do many things to try and recapture that link. You need to refocus on the skills agenda as well as the graduates’ agenda.”

Kirk explained the ease of parents wanting their children to be as highly educated as they can be, as society recognizes that the returns on being a graduate are among the highest one can have.

“But then you have this lack of esteem for the vocational sector, which is often seen as the lesser track,” he warned. “You need to find ways to make education not only relevant to the things that people are going to go on and do in the world of work, but also to make it relevant to the employers themselves.”

He pointed out that many colleges are staffed with lecturers who have never been a direct part of the industry they’re training in. He questioned how such lecturers can have the depth, passion and detail for the skill if they haven’t really been involved.

“It wasn’t such an issue in Korea, but it has become more significant in the last five or 10 years,” he said. “If we’re going to have children spend 12 years in school, and they graduate without the skills they actually need in the workplace, then what have we been doing with all this money and time?”

Kirk suggested institutions find ways to integrate skills training into the curriculum. He referred specifically to three types of skills ― the basic skills of employability, including resilience, teamwork and leadership; professional skills, such as project management, finance and engineering; and employer-based skills through learning at institutions such as the CISCO Academy and the Microsoft Academy.

“This is where businesses really need to back education,” Kirk said. “In Korea, you would probably have LG or other major employers actually offering certification in engineering programs or design programs that they recognize and have accredited.”

But he warned that CSR funding in education by businesses is not a sustainable way to deliver all the education needed.

“Rather, we need to make it a core part of what businesses do,” he said. “It helps them motivate their staff, attract great employees and do some of their recruitment and filtering whilst providing training.”

He added, “Most importantly, it will help them deliver a sustainable skills industry.”


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