Vocational training in Viet Nam: still waiting for UNIDO

Vietnam has a unique network of basic vocational training centers that provide an opportunity for educationally disadvantaged youth to gain a useful skill and first work experience. As an International Technical Training Expert (ITTE), I paid great attention to these centers while serving with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) from 1997 to 1999. Working with a center of excellence in Ho Chi Minh City, the foundations were laid for a new training program in computer-controlled machinery, and in January 2015 a return visit was possible to see how the work was progressing.

Vocational training centers have been around for a long time and are probably a relic of the Soviet era in Vietnam’s history. As such, it was seen as outdated and in need of being replaced by a more modern system. It was clear that many of them had failed in their mission, poorly equipped and poorly cared for, but two centers were found in Ho Chi Minh City that provided excellent wide-ranging service under able and dedicated managers.

The view was expressed that such centers of excellence should be used as models to encourage others to raise their level of performance. At the same time, these basic vocational training centers should inspire the delivery of more advanced programs through links with higher technical institutions. Indeed, there was a need to integrate the entire technical training system in such a way as to allow the most capable students to progress upwards through the system, while new technologies and training opportunities were carried down to the grassroots.

It has become possible to link one of the best vocational training centers in Ho Chi Minh City with a top-ranking technical institute supported by Germany. German technical instructors were enthusiastic about this extension of their influence, and after some discussion it was decided to recommend the introduction of a computer-controlled autopilot at the professional level. Two metalworking instructors were sent to the technical institute for training and suitable machines were ordered for the vocational training center. Training was completed, but the machines had not yet arrived upon departure in November 1999.

In January 2015, there was an opportunity to pay a return visit to see how well the project had worked. The center still occupies the same two nearby sites although extensive rebuilding has taken place in the ensuing fifteen years. Unfortunately, there was no one in the position who recognized the old man from the UNIDO. The dynamic Mr. Nghi was replaced by a female director who gave a polite greeting and gave a brief tour of the workshops.

The facilities looked much the same as they had in the previous century, but in response to a specific request, access to a computer-controlled machine shop was granted. Both machines were in place but somewhat neglected and underutilized. The manager complained that they are old and need to be replaced with more modern machines. She was told that if she wanted to submit a new application to UNIDO for further assistance, a supporting document and a recommendation could be submitted.

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