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The lack of on-demand practical skills in the African labour market has led to the introduction of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) into the education system for capacity building but this has been hard to implement and prioritize in most countries across Africa. But when we use existing economic models from some countries as a conceptual framework, we see that Industrialization, Investment and Entrepreneurship training can be tools for the successful utilization of TVET in the economic development of Africa.

South Korea as a model country

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In the past decades, South Korea (Korea onwards) rose from one of the poorest countries to one of the richest countries, speeding past many countries to compete with the United States and Japan in innovation, and rising among the top countries in ease of doing business (Santacreu and Zhu, 2019). One of the many factors that led to this rapid development is an investment in human capital development, which included capacity building in the industrial sector. This quickly made Korea a major exporter in innovative technological solutions to international markets after shifting from an economy based on subsistence farming (Tai-Whan, 2019).

Korea focused investments into the creation of a conducive environment for business and innovation which would open up the economy to foreign markets (Santacreu and Zhu, 2019). In a matter of a few years, Korea had managed to become a middle-income country and today is a developed country with advanced industrialization and technology. 

Korea is not the only country that has managed to accomplish this in a span of a few years. Fifty years ago, Singapore was at a similar underdeveloped stage with a GDP per capita of $320 but now boasts of a $60,000 GDP per capita; the sixth highest in the world (Geographical Association, 2019).

This growth is attributed to many different factors, but the most obvious is the shift in economic focus from an agrarian and resource-dependent economy to an industrial and information-based economy, directed by an extensive workforce development strategy that equipped the population with the skills needed to work in the industry and service sectors which brought in most of the Gross Domestic Product (Lee, 2007). 

So what exactly did these countries do that African countries can adopt to optimize the role of TVET in development? Here are a few steps that are necessary for this education programme to take off and get Africa where she should be.

Industrialization for Value Addition

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Industrialization for resource-rich countries is the biggest way to maximize the economic benefit of raw products and use them as a way to push forward development. Industrialization allows value to be added to these raw materials within the same economy, creating completely new markets that previously weren’t there to contribute to the overall economy.

Below is a graph that illustrates the different stages of economic development in Singapore, from a  poor third-world country to the current knowledge-driven with the economic focal points of each stage that all depend on capacity building which can best be achieved through TVET (Geographical Association, 2019).

Geographical Association, 2019

Resource Curse and Economic Diversification

The resources curse is a paradoxical phenomenon where a country with abundant non-renewable natural resources becomes stunted in economic growth because of an overdependence on one industry, inhibiting exploration of other sectors and, hence, exposing the economy to volatile market prices (Mittleman, 2017). This phenomenon is often observed in developing countries, for example, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which is very rich in natural resources but lacking in the overall development of the economy. The Netherlands is the source of the classic term “The Dutch Disease” that is associated with the resource curse which was coined after the 1960s crisis when natural gas was discovered in the North sea (Mittleman, 2017).

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The resource curse can also be applied to the creative industries of Africa. The abundance of arts and crafts in all their expressions in Africa has oversaturated the market with too many products because of tourist traffic. The products become too many and crowd each other out, losing value since supply is greater than demand. In many cases, there is no specialization done by the artists, which leads to the replication of every product made, eventually leading to uniformity between all producers, further exacerbating the loss of value. This example demonstrates the effects of lack of diversity in skills and trades in creating homogeneity that diminishes the value and, consequently, threatens the stability of an economy that depends on such a sector for a majority of its domestic product.

Diversity in skills training reduces the number of people relying on one industry to the point of oversaturation and also allows for healthy competition and provision of a skilled workforce, giving the economy a balance where failure in one sector does not automatically take down the whole economy.

Policies for Training and Investment

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A video by UNESCO posed an often-asked question saying, “In developing countries where industries are minimal, why should resources be put into training people who won’t find anyone to hire them?” But then one must respond, “If there is no skilled labour for a particular field of industry, why would a businessman or an investor place their money in a place that is ill-equipped to do the work properly?” (UNESCO, 2012).

We deal with the challenge of employability, and in order that investments come, must deal with the lack of skills needed in a certain industry. Providing for these two issues simultaneously is the way to achieve the best results, and for that, policymaking in training and in the creation of a conducive business environment that encourages direct foreign investment must be focal points.

In Korea for example, the government invested a lot in the skills development of its citizens from its budget, giving state-funded scholarships to many of its citizens. It also worked on partnering with the private sector to offer training to unskilled employees that would be working within the industry (Lee, 2007).

Singapore achieved development in a short time-span through policies that attracted direct foreign investment; “By 2001 foreign companies accounted for 75% of manufactured output and 85% of manufactured exports” (Geographical Association, 2019).

Entrepreneurship as part of TVET

To attract investment, it is also essential to show that vocational training doesn’t solely rely on external employment opportunities in order to give positive results, but must be coupled with skills that enable learners to become self-employed and create their own businesses and enterprises that will, in the long run, give jobs to other trainees. 

This was realized by the European Commission Enterprise and Industry (Europa) as projected in 2009 by an expert on how best to include entrepreneurship in Vocational Education and Training in Europe’s VET schools, and some major reasons for the gap identified in the existing system in Europe were that:

  • entrepreneurship is not included in all parts of the VET system;  
  • student participation is limited;  
  • teaching methods are ineffective;  
  • the practical element of entrepreneurship is missing;  
  • teachers are not fully competent;  entrepreneurship is not linked to specific training subjects or professions;  
  • business people are not sufficiently involved. 

These are gaps also seen in African countries that must be dealt with in order to empower trainees and reduce the current high rates of unemployment.


TVET is an excellent tool to kickstart the development that African countries need, but it can only give optimum results if work is done to improve the business environment for foreign investment and growth of the industrial sector. Government attention should also be on directly investing in TVET education to fund the studies of competent citizens as part of the national budget as well as teach and encourage entrepreneurship to reduce levels of unemployment, offering resources to trainees to make the most of their skills.



  • Lee, Y. (2007). Workforce development in the Republic of Korea: policies and practices. Manila: Asian Development Bank Institute.
  • Tai-Hwan, K. (2019). Population Change and Development in Korea. [online] Asia Society. Available at: [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].
  • Mittleman, M. (2017). The Resource Curse. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].
  • Santacreu, A. and Zhu, H. (2019). How Did South Korea’s Economy Develop So Quickly? | St. Louis Fed. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].
  • Geographical Association (2019). The role of Governments in shaping economic development in Singapore and Malaysia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].
  • Investopedia. (2019). Market Saturation: Taking It to the Max. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].
  • UNESCO (2012). Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) for Youth Employment. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Dec. 2019].