A couple of weeks back, I was sitting on the stage at ICC watching about 500+ young Brunei students get their vocational and technical diplomas and certificates - one of the duties of being a member of the Technical and Vocational Education Council. I did not envy the guest of honour, he had to stand the entire time. For the rest of us, it was not that easy either sitting up there looking very serious and very official and remembering not to fidget too much as the entire hall is looking at you. Though you do develop a technique of doing your sms without being spotted by the 3000+ crowd or the RTB cameras.
The vocational or technical awards are interesting. The subjects covered include automotive engineering, building services engineering, business and finance, computer studies, construction, communication engineering, electrical and electronic engineering, fabrication and welding engineering, geomatics (you have to open a dictionary here), hotel and catering management, instrumentation and control engineering, interior design, manufacturing engineering, marine engineering, mechanical engineering, plant engineering, property management, radio, television and electronic technology, science (I am not sure what they specialise in), carpentry and joinery, electrical, electronics, furniture and cabinet making, heavy construction machinery mechanics, machining, motor vehicle mechanic, plumbing and pipefitting, vehicle body repair, basic cookery, basic food and beverage studies, dressmaking and tailoring, accounting clerk and general office clerk. Certainly an exhaustive list.
What is interesting is that we produce these 500+ people every time (two ceremonies a year - 1,000+) - I have never really met them in real life. Some wise joker told me, you are too high up to see them. In a way that's true, most of us don't really work in those industries and only need to go to workshops etc if you need to. But generally all the workers and the mechanics and the tailors and the whatever you name it, I met are always non-Bruneians or tend to be non-Bruneians. Coincidence? Or the Bruneians are just not in the job market once they got this piece of paper and use that to get other jobs not related whatsoever to their qualifications? I have met government clerks with carpentry qualification and other qualifications as well. So there is also an element of truth there. The other explanation is that most of these do join Shell, the Army and the various government and semi-goverment technical services. Okay that explains why I don't see them. But to me, that raises another important issue - they are not in the private sector and the private sector's vacancies are filled by non-Bruneians. So if there are vacancies, why are then about 6,000+ job applicants registered at Labour Department?
Education and skill demands do not always match. We produce so many people with so many qualifications and try to match with the labour market demands. It ain't as easy as they say. Market demands changed fast. Education syllabus changed slow. Signals from the market take a while to make the policy changes. Nobody can really blame the students for taking jobs not related to their skills - wanting a better life - why not? - that's what everyone aimed for. The salary gap between the government and private sector is a major factor. Job preferences. Even family expectations. There are also family members who even noted that if you are only going to earn that little doing that menial job, you might as well stay at home. All in all, it's a fairly complex world. I am not out to prove any points whatsover but merely to point out to the difficulty in making policy changes as this type of problems tend to be multi-faceted.