Indonesia: Vocational Skills and Job Training

Aligning the course work at Indonesia’s vocational schools with the needs of industry is resulting in better job opportunities for students.

Fast Facts

Number of vocational schools receiving assistance
Monthly earnings of a typical student's family
Monthly earnings of a typical graduate (first year out of school)

Sleman, Yogyakarta—Fifteen-year-old Bintang Jalu Rais Al-amin listens intently to an orientation talk given by a group of senior high school students. He is sitting cross-legged with more than 400 other new students in the auditorium of the SMKN 2—Sekolah Menengah Kejuruan Negeri, or State Vocational School—Depok in the Sleman District of Indonesia’s Yogyakarta Province, Java.

Bintang, whose name means “star” in Bahasa Indonesia, has always wanted to study at SMKN 2 Depok. It is considered the top vocational school in the province, and the ninth best among the 9,000 scattered across the archipelago.

There was a time when SMKN 2 Depok had a reputation as a “second-class” school, producing only low-level employees. But this perception has changed as the government pushes to develop vocational education.

“I’m impressed by the achievements of the school, and I heard it has international recognition too,” Bintang says of the school where he will learn manufacturing processes. 

The same July day of the freshman orientation, the local newspaper reported that SMKN 2 Depok was one of eight vocational schools in the province to receive quality management systems certification from the International Standards Organization.

But for Bintang, the clincher is the fact that his cousin—a graduate of the school—got a good job soon after graduating. 

“My only dream now is to work,” says Bintang.

Matching skills to jobs

That simple dream will almost certainly be fulfilled in 4 years’ time. SMKN 2 Depok has increasingly been partnering with companies operating in Indonesia to produce graduates with specific skills needed to fuel the country’s booming industries.

As Indonesia continues to receive large amounts of investment, companies have been calling for authorities to address the mismatch between education programs and business. Recognizing the problem, the Government of Indonesia’s National Medium-Term Development Plan for 2004–2009 sought to expand the capacity of the country’s vocational schools. An $80 million loan from ADB for the 5-year Vocational Education Strengthening Project (INVEST) was signed in 2008 in support of this goal. It is expected to be completed at the end of 2013.

SMKN 2 Depok—one of 90 vocational schools receiving assistance under the ongoing project—has made a serious push to better align its courses with industry needs.

“We initially only wanted to develop our IT (information technology) courses further,” says Aragani Mizan Zakaria, the school headmaster. “But when we consulted with companies, we found out that there was also a high demand for geology graduates. There are relatively few schools now producing such graduates, but the prospects for the industry over the next 5–10 years is big.”

In one part of SMKN 2 Depok’s campus, a new two-story building is being constructed, with the help of the INVEST project, that will house geological and mining laboratories.

In another part of the campus, a gleaming, new three-story building housing an integrated multimedia library has also been built with ADB support. Adi Pramutyo, a recruiter for the company PT Pamapersada Nusantara, a mining contractor, is in the building, interviewing hundreds of graduates from SMKN 2 Depok and nearby vocational schools. This year alone, he has to hire 3,000 workers—800 of them mechanics.

“This school is the center of recruitment for the area,” he says. “The facilities here are good.”

When it comes to automotive courses, SMKN 2 Depok has taken collaboration with industry to a new level, partnering with Toyota Astra Motor. A class of 32 students now studies in a large training center filled with almost exactly the same equipment used in actual Toyota plants, including a modern automotive body-painting chamber provided by Toyota. Most, if not all, of the students will be hired by the company. The rest will likely be hired by other automotive companies.

Profitable partnerships

This same success can be seen in other vocational schools that have benefited from the project. Several schools now have annual job fairs before the final examinations. In schools such as SMK 27 Jakarta, some students get jobs before even completing their studies, starting off as interns, before becoming full-time employees.

That is the path Inosensia Agusa Trisna, 17, is following. A chemistry graduate of SMKN 2 Depok, she has been interning at Mega Andalan Kalasan, a Yogyakarta-based company that produces hospital beds and other equipment. 

“Here, I’m learning how to do actual work in an actual situation, in a real industry.”

—Inosensia Agusa Trisna, 17, intern

“At school we learned … theories,” she says. “But here, I’m learning how to do actual work in an actual situation, in a real industry.”

Dwi Nurhadi, the head of the production unit at Mega Andalan Kalasan, himself a graduate of SMKN 2 Depok, says he’s been providing these internships to students from his old school for years. The graduates continue to get better, he says. If he notices any weaknesses, he reports them back to the school.

These close partnerships between the vocational schools and companies, according to Sutarum Wiryono, ADB project officer for education at the Indonesia Resident Mission, have proven beneficial for all.

“Through this public–private partnership model, the school can improve quality and relevance of the education, the industry can get high-quality employees, while students can get work experience at relatively low costs, because the materials are provided by the companies,” Sutarum says.

“Through this public–private partnership model, the school can improve quality and relevance of the education, and the industry can get high-quality employees, while students can get work experience.”

—Sutarum Wiryono, ADB project officer

It also pays off well when the students start working. Headmaster Aragani says that once the students—most of whom come from families who earn an average of Rp1.5 million to Rp2 million ($158–$211) a month—move from internship through probation to a permanent position in one of the large companies the school has ties with, they can start earning Rp2 million a month each—the same as a university graduate would get as a bank teller.

Encouraging entrepreneurship

Most students and graduates of SMKN 2 Depok give the same answer when asked why they chose the school they attend: to get work immediately after graduating.

Take 19-year-old Nur Aziz, who graduated from SMKN 2 Depok with a certificate in mechanical engineering in June. He is one of the hundreds interviewed for Pamapersada Nusantara, the mining contractor.

“My father was also an engineer, and I want to work in mining,” he says.

But he says he would also like to own a business, adding that this goal is partly inspired by the entrepreneurship classes now provided by the school.

“The classes, which run for 2 hours each week, teach the students how to develop business plans and management tools and techniques,” headmaster Aragani says.

This is another one of the key goals of the project—to not only produce skilled workers but to create entrepreneurs who will create jobs.

“It’s valid that many students say they want to get a job shortly after graduation because most of them come from low or middle-income families,” says ADB project officer Sutarum. “But they are encouraged to explore different possibilities for their future. They can start their own business. Some indeed take this path."