Lao PDR: Closing the GAP: Addressing Skill Shortages in Lao PDR - 2011

January 2011

Students at Pakpasack Technical Scool, Lao PDR. The STVET Project aims to increase opportunities for young women to access technicl and vocational education and training.

Cultural stereotypes regarding appropriate occupations for women continue to promote the notion that women are not eligible for, or cannot succeed in, certain jobs. Women respond by self selecting themselves into traditionally female occupations, which in turn influences recruitment practices of employers. This inefficient use of female labor wastes human resources and is an important development constraint facing Lao PDR. The Strengthening Technical and Vocational Education and Training (STVET) Project aims to increase opportunities for young women to access technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in traditionally male occupations, adapt their skill levels and expertise, and expand their employment potential to the current demands of the labor market.

The Lao PDR economy has grown strongly in recent years, with GDP growth expected to reach 7.5% in 2010 and to average 7.8% over the 2011 to 2015 period. The Government is seeking to maintain its record of strong economic growth to graduate from least-developed country status by 2020 and meet its poverty-related Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Limited human resources, weak capacity and skills shortages in key areas such as furniture-making, construction and automotive/mechanical trades are key challenges impeding growth.

The TVET sector plays an important role in training skilled workers for industry and in meeting the country's labor market needs. However, vocational training institutes in Lao PDR report low and declining enrolments in the very sectors - including the traditional trade sectors such as carpentry, plumbing, electrical and automotive - where shortages are most significant. This is true despite the fact that those with training in the traditional trades enjoy good employment opportunities and relatively high wages in Lao PDR.

One strategy for addressing Lao PDR's skill shortages is to increase the participation of girls and women in the traditional male trade sectors of the economy. Although girls make up nearly 40% of total enrolments in the TVET sector, they are significantly overrepresented in traditionally "female" occupations such as tailoring and hospitality, and significantly underrepresented in traditionally "male" occupations such as automotive and mechanical repair, carpentry, furniture-making, carpentry and construction, electrical and electronics, and plumbing and metalwork (see Figure).

Proportion of Female TVET Enrolments by Skill Area (2008/09)

Source: STVET Project Sector Assessment

The outcome of the STVET project is an accessible formal TVET system more responsive to labor market needs. A key element in the TVET project's drive to improve quality of and access to formal TVET is to make the TVET sector more attractive to girls and women.

The project Gender Action Plan (GAP) includes a number of strategies to address access and equity issues in the TVET sector. First, the project sets gender quotas of 20% for training in three nontraditional priority skill areas - construction, furniture making and automotive and mechanical repair - identified under the project. While this target may not appear challenging, it represents a significant increase over the current near-zero levels of girls' participation in these skill areas.

Second, although TVET institutes exist in all 21 provinces in Lao PDR, distance and the lack of suitable accommodation remain key access constraints for girls. To address this, the project includes the construction of dormitories with 50% of spaces reserved for girls.

Third, the project addresses access concerns by providing training vouchers that can be redeemed to undertake training in the three nontraditional priority skill areas, with 25% of vouchers allocated for girls. In order to encourage the hiring of girls in nontraditional skill areas, the STVET project provides a six-month wage subsidy to employers who hire girls trained under the project's voucher program.

Fourth, the project includes two training programs that make use of the growing private training sector in Lao PDR. Under the first of these, which will finance training in specialist high-cost areas such as mining, 40% of trainees will be girls. Under the second, which will finance training across a range of traditional and nontraditional female sectors, 50% of trainees will be women. It is envisaged that the range of actions in a holistic manner, will encourage women to train in non-traditional fields, support their job placements, which will in the long run, change gender stereotypes and perceptions, and reduce occupational segregation of women.

A range of other gender sensitive measures will support these initiatives, including a 20% target of women TVET teachers, a social marketing campaign to promote nontraditional skills among girls and women, gender quotas for training and capacity building, provision of gender sensitivity training to stakeholders, gender quotas for representation on the National Training Council, public TVET institute advisory boards, and development of monitoring and evaluation indicators to track GAP implementation. In addition, in order to track gender impacts, the project ensures that GAP implementation indicators are integrated within the monitoring and evaluation framework so that achievements and challenges are reported and addressed regularly.

The low level of participation of girls and women in traditional male skill areas such as carpentry, automotive and plumbing is due to a wide range of factors - cultural, social and economic. While the STVET project cannot, on its own, reverse this, it does represent a first step and will yield important lessons for future ADB projects in this new and emerging sector.