An ADB-supported project in Indonesia is helping people get the skills needed to find well-paying jobs.

Jakarta student Dinda Layallia has always been fascinated with anything that flies: butterflies, dragonflies, birds, kites, and airplanes—her favorite.

"I just love airplanes," says Dinda. "When I was a young child I would always run and wave at any airplane flying overhead."

When Dinda graduated from junior high school 3 years ago, she asked to enroll in an aviation vocational school. Her parents initially rejected the idea, preferring to send her to a regular high school, just like any other girl her age.

But Dinda did not want to go to a general high school, because she knew that it would be difficult for her parents to send her to a university to study aviation engineering. An expensive education was beyond their reach.

Dinda hoped to attend Sekolah Menengah Kejuruan (SMK) Negeri Penerbangan 29, a senior secondary vocational school in Jakarta, so she could get a job as an airplane mechanic right after graduation.

The school's programs in mechanical engineering, electronics, refrigeration, and aviation are traditionally geared toward boys. Of the 890 students in the school, fewer than 90 are girls.

But Dinda's determination finally convinced her parents to allow her to attend the school. She now stands a much better chance of making her dream come true.

Her school is one of dozens of vocational schools in Indonesia supported by the Vocational Education Strengthening Project, which is financed by ADB. The project helped students obtain the skills they need to get a job after graduation.

The government recognizes that workers need to upgrade their skills, particularly in the fields of technology and management, to help Indonesian companies compete globally. The challenge was to develop a curriculum that is up-to-date to match the skills needed in the workplace.

The Vocational Education Strengthening Project was launched in 2008 to directly address the mismatch between education programs and the skill needs of businesses.

"Improvement of vocational education in Indonesia is key to meeting the increasing demand for skilled workers."

Sutarum Wiryono, an education specialist at ADB

"The government wants to ensure that the country produces the skilled workers that meet both Indonesian companies' and foreign investors' needs," says Sutarum Wiryono, an education specialist in ADB. "Improvement of vocational education in Indonesia is key to meeting the increasing demand for skilled workers."

A perfect match

At a state vocational school called SMK Negeri 3, near the world famous tourist area in Bali, this process of matching skills training with industry needs is in full bloom.

About 400 skilled workers graduate from the school each year, with about half of them continuing their studies at the nearby Academy for Hotel Management. To make sure that the most needed skills are being taught, the nearly 40-yearold school has partnered with 30 hotels and restaurants; 13 cosmetic studios, spa resorts, and beauty salons; international cruise ship operators; and an English language training institute in Bali.

One of those par tners is Suwar no, the manager of the Sunset Residence Hotel in nearby Kuta. He helps organize 6-month internships at nearby hotels for students of the school.

"We have high expectations of our future employees," he says. "So we support the school wherever we can."

The school, which is assisted by the project, works with the hotels in the area to prepare the students for their internship, and later their employment.

"Our students know exactly what to expect, because we prepare them well for their placements, and the hotels provide us with feedback on their performance," says Yulie Astini, the school's principal.

To keep their skills up-to-date, teachers at the school are encouraged to work for 2 to 4 weeks a year in the local hotel industry. In addition, the school has set up small businesses on its campus—called production units—that not only teach the students practical skills with actual paying customers, but also contribute to the school's coffers. This includes a fully operational hotel on campus where students work with the alumni of the school.

Anggi Martha, a student who worked in a nearby hotel as part of her studies at the school, says the practical experience of her internship had served her well.

"What I have learned in school perfectly matched the jobs I do in the hotel," she says. "Compared to students coming from other schools, I've got a lot more self-confidence."

More jobs, higher pay

The Vocational Education Strengthening Project has helped 90 model vocational schools by improving school facilities, upgrading the quality of teaching and learning, and strengthening schools– industry linkages. The project links private companies directly with the schools, so they can advise on what skills are most needed in their industry.

Seven out of 10 graduates from the schools supported by the project have obtained jobs within 4 months from graduation, according to the Vocational Education Department in the Ministry of Education. Their graduates have generally been receiving higher paying jobs than workers who graduated from vocational schools not assisted by the project.

Administrators at schools covered by the project reported that the training they received allowed them to operate their schools more efficiently. They could also save money while helping more students.

Income from business ventures with private companies also reduced the need for government assistance to the students, and decreased the amounts that parents needed to pay in tuition. In addition, employers have reported that graduates from the project-supported schools are starting their new jobs with skills that more closely match what they need.

The Indonesian education ministry has announced plans to adopt the methods at vocational schools supported by the project in other institutions around the country.

From student to entrepreneur

For Richard Theodore, a 20-year-old graduate of the government vocational school SMK 3 Tangerang, his training helped him understand better how to run his restaurant called Tacose, located at Ciputra Mall in West Jakarta.

He owns and operates three outlets of the restaurant, employing 29 people. His learning experience at the ADBsupported vocational school has been critical to the operation and expansion of his business.

"I learned so much about basic culinary knowledge," he says. "My teachers were great and very experienced, like professional chefs and hotel managers. I learned both theory in classrooms and practice in culinary techniques in the kitchen."

"I also got very valuable lessons on entrepreneurial skills, such as how to promote and sell a product, prepare a proposal, and conduct simple business analysis," he says. "I think the curriculum in SMK has been good, practical, and relevant to businesses and industries. The learning environment is also favorable. I feel so fortunate to have had a chance to study at such a wonderful school."

A dream made possible

The 15-year-old Bintang Jalu Rais Al-amin listens intently to an orientation talk given by a group of senior high school students. More than 400 new students are also in the auditorium of the state vocational school, SMK Negeri 2 Depok, in the Sleman District of Yogyakarta Province.

Bintang, whose name means "star" in Bahasa Indonesia, has always wanted to study at the school. It is considered the top vocational school in the province, and the ninth best among the 9,000 in the country.

There was a time when the institution had a reputation as a "second-class" school, producing only low-level employees. But this perception has changed after the school received support under the ADB project.

"I'm impressed by the achievements of the school, and I heard it has international recognition too," Bintang says of the school where he plans to learn about manufacturing processes.

He knows that he has a strong chance of finding a good job after graduation. His cousin, who recently graduated from the school, did just that.

"My only dream now is to work," says Bintang.

This article was originally published in Together We Deliver, a publication highlighting successful ADB projects across Asia and the Pacific that demonstrated development impacts, best practice, and innovation.