November 2015—Classroom instruction doesn’t always prepare students for real world work challenges and conditions, but universities and vocational colleges in Asia’s Lower Mekong subregion are staying ahead of the curve. They are bringing industry and technology into the schools.
A labor assessment conducted in the spring of this year indicated that businesses in the region would like to hire more workers, but are looking specifically for those with skills in communication and technology. Seventy-three percent of surveyed businesses reported that university graduates working for their firm did not have suitable skills such as teamwork, time management and adaptability.
USAID, through its Connecting the Mekong through Education and Training program, works to bridge the gap between the private sector, universities and vocational centers to empower youth in the Lower Mekong, equip them with in-demand skills, and help them seize emerging opportunities in the private sector.
Narat Suchartsunthorn is a fourth-year computer engineering major at Mahidol University in Thailand. He aspires to become an entrepreneur creating programming applications. While he loves working with technology and has learned technical skills such as computer-aided design, he has never had any work experience.
That’s why he and 19 of his peers took part in a USAID challenge in April where they had to solve a genuine workplace problem: There was a miscommunication at a local dairy company, Dutch Mill, when a shipment of raw milk arrived on pallets that were the wrong size and the incident resulted in lost revenue.The milk arrived at Dutch Mill in large stainless steel containers transported in refrigerated trucks. The milk must be transferred quickly from the trucks to refrigerated storage areas at the processing plant to avoid spoilage. Before transport, the containers are placed on pallets so forklifts can lift the containers off the truck and into storage. However, in this case, the pallets were not the correct size, which meant the containers could not be moved quickly, and a truckload of milk spoiled.
Role-playing as employees, supervisors, sales representatives, suppliers and warehouse associates, the students tackled the challenge with teamwork. The project brought together private sector partners such as Google, Hewlett-Packard and Dutch Mill, and students used communication tools such as Google Hangouts to come up with a long-term solution to the problem.
The students determined that Dutch Mill’s purchasing department needed to focus on the entire process of getting the milk safely and efficiently to the company’s processing plant, not just buying the milk. They sent out reminders from the shipping department to the purchasing department to take the correct standardized pallets to the milk cooperatives before the trucks are loaded.
“I wish that more classes would teach like this,” said Suchartsunthorn. “[With] more interaction with students, more chances to show us how we will get to use this in real life.”
With the pending launch of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community, the region’s 626 million people and diverse economies will be further integrated into a single market as well as into the global economy.
“This kind of training will help our young generation cope with the changing workplace environment and the upcoming impact of the ASEAN Economic Community,” said professor Phattanard Phattanasri of Mahidol University.
“We must train the teachers to change their mindsets and techniques in order to keep up with the dynamic environment in the classrooms and the workplace. This teacher training content is very important and timely,” added professor Worawit Israngkul, dean of Mahidol University’s Faculty of Engineering.
“Online learning, discussing things together in class, and then trying out what I learned in a work simulation helped me understand the concepts much easier than hearing a lecture about it,” said Suchartsunthorn. “What I experienced at the workplace simulation was unique. It really showed me what having a job is really like and required me to use real problem solving skills.”
The Connecting the Mekong through Education and Training project helps teachers to better prepare youth for employment in the Lower Mekong countries of Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. USAID works with more than 100 selected technical colleges and universities to help students like Suchartsunthorn gain the skills needed to compete with other graduates in the region. The program runs from October 2014 to September 2019.
Last updated: November 30, 2015