Apprenticeship — Myanmar Style


By Lokethar

Recently, while browsing the internet I came across a paper on a study of apprenticeship in Myanmar by a development partner. As was expected, and concluded in several previous studies by local “researchers” as well, there is no “formal apprenticeship” in Myanmar as is practised in all the developed and even many developing countries around the world . However an “informal style”, or if you will, a “Myanmar style” of apprenticeship is being practised practically in all micro, small and medium industries in Myanmar. This has been confirmed by studies conducted by local researchers.
The “informal apprentices” are provided board and lodging by the employer but not given wages. Their ages are from around thirteen upwards. They are called “aloke thins” meaning “learner of the work”. The “aloke thins” are attached to the more experienced workers and learn the “jobs” through helping the experienced worker at the workplace. In fact it is “learning by observing and doing” with occasional “instruction” from the experienced worker on how to do it. After acquiring some skills over a period of time the “aloke thin” is paid some monthly “mont pho” (pocket money), if the “employer” is a “kind” enough person, but usually no fixed wages. The period of serving as an “aloke thin” varies from 2 to 5 or 6 years depending on the occupation. In point of fact many of the “aloke thins” are exploited as cheap labour. As more than 90% of the “enterprises” in Myanmar are micro, small and medium sized, one can guess the number of all the “aloke thins” they “employ”.
In the new employment and skills development Law “formal apprenticeship” is included. However the extensive practice of “informal apprenticeship” was taken into account as well. The meaning of the term “ahloke thin” in the ESD Law covers “informal” as well as “formal Apprentices”. In fact the particular section in the Law prescribed the “age of the ahloke thin” to be at least 16 years. The aim of the Law includes linking informal apprenticeship to formal training in institutions. The “informal apprentices” would acquire skills through experience on-the job as well as through increasing levels of training to earn certificates of recognition of their skills while in employment.
As for training of the “ahloke thins”, provisions in the Law allow employers to resort to making “training contracts” with the “aloke thins” for employment training prior to the actual “employment contract”. Besides continuing training and certification of the skilled workers is embedded in the “employment and skills development Law” itself. Occupational competency based Training and Assessment System of the National Skills Standards Authority (NSSA) in the Law is designed for training progressively at four levels namely Semi-skilled, Skilled, Advanced Skilled and Supervisory levels. The competency standards are designed to impart “underpinning knowledge” and “underpinning skills” required for adequate performance at each of the level concerned. The lowest level of learning is level 1, for entry level employment. The “ahloke thin” can be trained on the job or where feasible, in a public or private training centre through short courses in line with the Occupational Competency Standards of the NSSA. The minimum education attainment for level 1 skills training required could be the “primary level “which by the way, is the minimum “formal” education level for undergoing formal or non-formal TVET training as recognized in the National Education Law. Each level of training would be followed by a required working period before a higher level of training can be undertaken. This will gradually build up the knowledge and skills of the worker to even proceed eventually to a basic level diploma course and beyond. Hence the upward mobility of the skilled worker would be “open” if trained through the 4 level system.
The aforementioned “Four Level” training system is to be financed by the “Skills Development Fund” which is embodied in the ESD Law. The SDF is to be built up primarily through the “contribution” of the employers (a minimum of 0.5% of the skilled workers payroll) as prescribed in the law. The employers who train the workers or send them for training to training centres or schools run by training providers, may recover the cost of the training from the SDF. This is a system practised in many countries around the world.” The public and private sector skills training centres/schools could conduct short courses starting from level 1, based on the occupational competency standards for entry into the specific occupations. OCSs for level 1 and 2 workers have already been drawn up for some (30) common occupations. The employers, by hiring trained workers at the level 1, would benefit from better and safer performance and lesser learning period “on-the-job” when compared with untrained general labour to be helpers to the skilled workers, particularly in occupations in the construction and many common manufacturing and service industries.
Hence it is suggested that at present the “aloke thin” or the Myanmar style apprentice training system practised in the small and medium enterprises all over Myanmar, be linked to formal institutional training through the “four level” training system of the NSSA. It would enable young persons, including “non-schoolers” of low educational attainment, to learn job skills, earn qualifications and at the same time address the social need to protect such young persons from being “exploited” as cheap labour by their employers. For the larger private and public Industries employing a large number of workers, a more “formal” apprenticeship, could be considered if such industries are ready for it. With Charity to all and Malice to None.

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