In Morocco, a Big Push for Vocational Education
In early May, at the Institut Specialisé de Technologies Appliquées (Specialized Institute of Applied Technologies) in southwestern Casablanca, dozens of students were gathered at a new career center, a convivial space filled with brightly colored aluminum chairs, particle-board desks and computers. They were editing their CVs or writing them for the first time, with the assistance of the center’s staff, in anticipation of a job fair the following week.
The new career center is part of a pilot program operating at six universities and vocational centers in Morocco, and also online. The program is a collaboration between USAID and the Office de la Formation Professionelle et de la Promotion du Travail (Office of Vocational Training and the Promotion of Work, or OFPPT), the country’s main provider of vocational education, which according to official statements has trained 1.6 million young people since 2002. It is just one example of a stronger push towards supporting and expanding vocational education here, and facing the significant challenge of youth unemployment.
For students at vocational schools—who may hold high school degrees or have not completed their secondary education—“the biggest weakness is in communication,” says Ilham Sebai, regional coordinator of the career center program. Even technical jobs require a good level of French and in some cases English. These languages are needed to read manuals and specifications, interact with customers, and communicate with foreign headquarters. The lack of ease in French translates, for many students, into “a lack of self-confidence,” explains Sebai. In fact, at first students at the institute hesitated to even enter the career center, which opened in December of 2016.
The career center doesn’t offer language classes—all it can do is help students realize that they are in need of them, and suggest online materials—but it does help them practice their communication skills. Today, a group of students from a nearby institute are engaged in mock interviews with industry professionals who have volunteered their time.
One hurdle students face is “an ignorance of the job market, an incorrect knowledge,” says Sebai. Student and their families generally believe that pursuing advanced studies is a plus, whereas employers say they are not in need of highly educated employees but of ones with technical certifications.
In 2014 and 2015 Morocco created only 21,000 and 33,000 new jobs a year, respectively, and in 2016 it actually lost jobs. More surprisingly, as a recent study showed, the unemployment rate among graduates of vocational schools is almost as high as that of university graduates, ranging between 22 and 25 percent. (The unemployment rate of the general population is about 10 percent.) Those statistics suggest that even though graduates of vocational schools are more in demand, they are still lacking some key soft skills.
But there are niches in the local job market that are growing and recruiting new workers, such as tourism and the aeronautics and automotive sectors. Ms. Sebai—who also networks with prospective employers and directs eligible students to apply for positions that she learns about—says she has job offers that she cannot find eligible candidates for.
The school’s director, Mr. Hamid Korchi, applied to host a center because he had noticed that students were in need of soft skills, although the school already offers language classes and modules on job searching and entrepreneurship.
“We are focused on quality,” Mr. Korchi explained. “We realized that parents, students, employers were not satisfied. We are not just responsible for students’ education, we are also responsible for follow-up, for employment.”
The OFPPT collects data on students’ trajectories and employment after graduation, at the three-month and two-year mark. Mr. Korchi says his institution regularly compares its data to the national averages and will do so in coming years to try to gauge the career center’s impact.
The OFPPT is also moving forward with ambitious plans of its own, which include building 24 new institutions a year over the next five years, at a cost of 30 million dirhams, or about $2.9 million, per institution.
About an hour’s drive from Casablanca, on a windswept hill near the freeway exit for the town of Settat, sits the brand new Ecole Mohamed VI de Formation dans les Metiers du Batiment et des Travaux Publics, (Mohamed VI Training School for Construction and Public Works Jobs), inaugurated by the king in 2016.
The school, which is run by the OFPPT and the National Federation for Construction and Public Works, will be home to about 2,000 students, pursuing 20 different degrees in construction and public works. Students who earn a degree as operators of heavy machinery—a job that is in demand given the number of construction and infrastructure projects underway in the kingdom, and the number of accidents that take place due to untrained operators—can earn 5,000 dirhams a month (about $500), twice the minimum wage.
The Moroccan authorities are studying or developing a number of collaborations in the field of vocational training with companies that are building factories here, such as Boeing, the aeronautics company, and several French car companies. The state-owned solar energy company MASEN, the OFPPT and the engineering company Sener just announced a program to begin training technicians and operators to work on the vast new solar arrays being built in the country’s south.
The school for construction workers in Settat also hosts a unique program, a partnership with the heavy machinery manufacturer Volvo and with USAID and the United Nations’ agency for industrial development, UNIDO, Ministry of Education and the OCP group, the national phosphate company. The AGEVEC program trains mechanics to maintain and repair the heavy machinery used on construction sites. The program, in response to industry demand, has a higher degree of hands-on training than most; each student participates in two or three internships during his studies. One student, Abdellatif Abboubi, had just completed an internship with a major infrastructure-building company, in which, he noted proudly, he’d been able to report straight to a construction site and work “without any problems.”
25 students in the program are scholarship recipients from neighboring African countries. Huguette Valentine Yao Yao won a competitive application process in the Ivory Coast. She is one of several female students interested in joining a field that remains predominantly male.
“I’ve always loved to figure out why, why,” she says. This program has allowed her to deepen her knowledge, she said, to gain more experience with new engines. The internships, in particular, “opened our minds,” she said, allowing them to work on the latest models. Her fellow student Maria Jemmal dreams of working for the national phosphate company, an industrial giant here.
Snapping selfies with me and their teachers in front of the bright yellow machines they are experts on, these young people, who seem to see their futures clearly, are a happy rarity in the region.