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Sawa Center for Vocational Training: Building Skills and Promoting Development

Just this past week, the National Center for Vocational Training (SCVT), located at Sawa, within the Gash Barka region, held its 11th graduation commencement ceremony.

A total of 1248 students proudly received their graduate certificates. Notably, 52% of the graduating class was females, serving to reflect Eritrea’s longstanding efforts to promote gender equality in all areas of education. Since its establishment over a decade ago, the SCVT has steadily expanded to offer students training within 15 different departments, while the rigorous two-year learning program offers a useful mix of both theoretical and practical, applied training. Every year, thousands of Eritrean students from all corners of the country enroll in the SCVT after they have completed their formal Grade 12 education in Sawa. Overall, the recent SCVT commencement ceremony is not only a proud and exciting moment for graduates, their families, and their communities, it is also a great reminder of the country’s continued efforts to promote general socio-economic growth and tangibly improve the living standards of its people. In this article, I will briefly outline several significant, yet frequently overlooked, aspects about vocational training and the SCVT.

First, it is well worth considering just how fundamentally important the SCVT is for Eritrea and many of its young people. Recall that youth unemployment is one of the most critical social and economic problems that less developed countries, such as Eritrea, face today. Generally, young people frequently remain at the end of the job queue for the formal labor market because they lack adequate skills and relevant experience. With little access to formal employment, youth then may instead turn to the informal sector. While the informal sector can frequently offer certain tangible benefits, it can also be characterized by long, unpredictable hours and limited protections, returns, safety, or security. More problematically, youth unemployment also poses severe economic and social risks and costs. It can potentially lead to crime or other harmful or dangerous behaviors, such as sex work or illicit drug use. Furthermore, it can contribute to irregular migration. In fact, there is a broad body of literature on migration that details the significant influence of factors like wage differentials, employment prospects, cost-benefit calculations, and returns to investment, amongst others.

However, the various types of skills acquired or honed within technical and vocational schools, such as the SCVT, can provide youth with a viable avenue toward employment. In Eritrea, through developing critical technical and vocational skills within the SCVT, many young people are finding more opportunities to work. To date, thousands of Eritrean youth, both male and female, have graduated from the SCVT after acquiring training within an array of different program areas. Upon graduation, the overwhelming majority of these graduates have secured steady and permanent employment in jobs that are directly related to their specific skills training.

Vocational training and the SCVT offer other benefits as well. Of particular note, through helping allow young individuals to fully develop their capabilities and gain dignified employment, the SCVT plays a positive role in the fulfillment of a range of fundamental human rights. Additionally, it provides an array of other notable benefits, such as contributing to gender equality and empowerment. For instance, although carpentry, woodwork, and metalwork have long been considered as a “man’s job” in Eritrea, the SCVT has helped many young Eritrean women develop skills in these areas. Subsequently, they have gone on to thrive in these fields, demonstrating autonomy, voice, and agency, and helping to shift deeply-rooted societal perceptions about gender. Other benefits of the SCVT include helping young people to increase lifetime earnings and tangibly improve their lives, significantly contributing to the social inclusion of disadvantaged groups, enhancing social cohesion, and improving health and psychological wellbeing among young Eritreans.

Another key dimension to recognize and understand about the SCVT is how it may be directly linked to improving the nation’s overall productivity and competitiveness. In a number of previous articles for Eritrea Profile I have explored our country’s mining and energy sector. Among the many different points I have raised has been that the mining and energy sector has greatly contributed to broad socio-economic growth and development in the country. However, it is important to also bear in mind that as Eritrea continues to grow and progressively integrate into the broader regional and global economy, it will face a range of different challenges. One of these challenges will be to considerably raise and vary its exports, moving away from low-value added and potentially unstable primary products. Manufacturing is one sector that remains essential to growth, and with rapid technical change and global economic integration, it has long been recognized as an important means of modernizing and diversifying the economic base.

As a result, focusing on and investing in technical and vocational programs and human capital development, such as through continuing to invest in the SCVT, is especially crucial since it can help to build, expand, and refine the population’s skills and capabilities to compete within fiercely competitive markets. Notably, advanced skills are not just a requirement for “hi-tech” sectors; even supposedly “simple” areas such as apparel, footwear, and basic engineering products require a degree of skills to compete. A skilled, knowledgeable workforce also dramatically improves the investment climate since a trained, skilled labor force that adds value to goods and services creates an attractive economic environment for investors.

Finally, it is quite interesting to see how the general mission, work, and “product” of the SCVT starkly contradict many of the mainstream external portrayals of Eritrea. For a number of years now, numerous reports and analyses of Eritrea (and Sawa in particular, of which the SCVT constitutes a large section) have painted a dark, gloomy picture. The objective reality, however, is far different. The SCVT is just one clear and pertinent example.

For instance, while flawed reports have made unsubstantiated assertions about youth being neglected, downtrodden, repressed, and not invested in, the SCVT aims to develop the skills and capacities of young Eritreans, to equip them to make the best use of their talents, and to be a vehicle for achieving equity in the distribution of opportunity and achievement among Eritrean citizens. Notably, students learn for free, eliminating potential obstacles related to wealth or economic status, and they are provided with access to new, up-to-date learning materials, tools, machinery, technology, and computers acquired from companies in Asia and Europe. As well, the teaching faculty and staff at the SCVT have considerable experience and training, with the learning curriculum regularly revised and updated. Annually, the number of enrolled students and graduates continues to grow, while expansions and financial investments similarly rise year on year. Ultimately, contrary to the misinformation about Eritrea and Sawa, young Eritreans are being invested in and empowered, given important opportunities to learn, helped in developing vital skills, and offered the tools to tangibly improve their lives.

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