A new idea for tackling Kazakhstan’s technical-training gap

27 апреля 2011, 20:13

President Nursultan Nazarbayev has come up with an intriguing idea for providing state-of-the-art technical training to young Kazakhs.

He told the Cabinet this week that he wants to see a network of world-class technical training colleges in Astana, Almaty, the oil and gas center of Aktobe and the economically important southern Kazakhstan city of Shymkent.

News reports offered few details about the idea, but my interpretation is that the technical colleges could teach skills to young Kazakhs who want to forego a university education and to recent university graduates.

Prime Minister Karim Massimov, the chief implementer of the president’s ideas, will ensure that the project flies, but the Education Ministry will be doing the leg work. It oversees all of Kazakhstan’s educational programs, from schools to vocational and technical colleges to universities.

The ministry is in the midst of implementing sweeping changes in the country’s school, vocational and university systems, so why not add technical schools to the mix?

Educators generally differentiate vocational schools and technical schools on the basis of the skills they teach.

Vocational schools teach such low-tech blue-collar skills as carpentry or hair cutting, or such basic office skills as secretarial work.

Technical schools teach higher-tech skills such as electronics.

The proper mix of all skills – vocational, technical and university – is required for a dynamic economy.

International companies doing business in Kazakhstan, or considering setting up shop in the country, often complain that its schools fail to teach young people cutting-edge technical skills.

Petroleum companies have been at the forefront of the grumbling. Many maintain that Kazakhstan’s universities teach their students such outmoded petroleum-engineering skills that they have to provide new hires with on-the-job training for months before they’re up to snuff.

Those complaints have chafed Kazakhstan officials.

The long-term answer is to replace professors who cut their teeth during the Soviet era with younger professors who know cutting-edge skills. But that will take time.

Another approach is Nazarbayev’s idea of teaching cutting-edge technical skills at special training schools.

He gave a hint a couple of weeks ago that a new approach might be in the offing.

He said at a special meeting of ministers and lawmakers that many petroleum-engineering graduates are taking an additional year’s training at company-sponsored schools in oil-rich Aktau and Atyrau.

The proposal he broached this week for a network of four technical colleges appears to be an expansion and enhancement of the Aktau-Atyrau effort.

Nazarbayev said he wants the government to establish a holding company named Kasipkor to run the colleges.

The Caspio.net news service didn’t mention petroleum-related skills in its report on the president’s idea. But it did say that the colleges’ curriculum is likely to include telecommunications because those skills become outmoded very quickly.

Caspio.net also quoted Deputy Education Minister Serik Irsaliyev as suggesting that the colleges could be public-private partnerships.

Kazakhstan is proud of a public-private partnership with Norway that has taught welding skills to petroleum workers at a facility in Aktau since 2009.

Welding has to be precise in the petroleum business to avoid explosions, spills that can damage the environment or other problems.

Petroleum companies have been so eager to send workers to the Aktau Training Centre’s welding courses that the centre has had to schedule two training shifts.

In addition to Norway’s RKK Foundation, the centre’s partners are the Nursultan Nazarbayev Educational Foundation, the KGNT Engineering Company and the Mangistau Province’s Governor’s Office.

A key reason for having public-private technical-training partnerships is so the private sector can help ensure that the training meets its needs.

Zhantleu Aziskhanov, president of the Almaty Association of Colleges, made the point a couple of years ago in discussing Kazakhstan’s efforts to improve vocational training.

“Our vocational training system needs coordination with employers,” he said. “For instance, in Great Britain all the vocational schools’ curriculums are coordinated with major employers. That’s how it should work. What’s the point of training specialists that do not meet employers’ requirements and will remain unemployable?”

New approaches like the company-run petroleum-engineering training schools in Aktau and Atyrau, the welding training public-private partnership in Aktau, and Nazarbayev’s idea of a network of technical-training colleges indicate that Kazakhstan is determined to abolish its technical-skills gap.

There has been such a flurry of activity on the technical-training front recently that maybe the gap will close sooner than expected. That would be fine with a lot of business folks, particularly international petroleum companies.

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