Just what is the downstream impact of learning?

This years’ Bringing the Learning Home international skills conference run by British Council in the South Asian city of Hanoi, Vietnam brought together skills experts from across the global to share best practise and innovation in skills development. It was also a chance for conference delegates to experience the ASEAN Skills Competition that took place in Hanoi’s Convention Centre – an event which saw hundreds of young people competing in all manner of skills challenges to test their craft.

Proskills UK Group has been successful in securing a contract with the Vietnamese building materials employer, Viglacera Corporation, to develop a radical structural skills process that will drive up the effectiveness and efficiency of its staff through competence improvement. Having won such a large international contract, the Proskills UK Group were asked to showcase the contract and set out the project’s ambitions for the next 18 months at the Bringing the Learning Home conference. Presenting jointly with Proskills, Ms Yen Nguyen, Viglacera HR Director set about explaining what the company wanted to get from this work in terms of skills, training and HR, but also from a technical and operational perspective. More productive staff, yes of course; safer working practises – obviously; improved quality assurance – without a doubt; and all leading to increased output and more cash in the corporation’s pocket.

But what of the wider downstream impact? Vietnam is an ASEAN region country and a Socialist Peoples’ Republic. This national governance means that Viglacera is 51% owned by the State, with the other 49% in private hands. This relatively new business partnership with Government affords Viglacera the opportunity to drive the business forward in a way not previously seen in Vietnam. This results in conflicting paradigms – the need to increase commercial activity, to become more profitable, whilst maintaining the socialist principles of full employment and robust finance. There’s no mistaking the hierarchical nature of the employment structures in Vietnam where every employee is duty bound to perform well in their role, but how does our skills project really affect the workers, the wider economy and society at large?

First off, employees will see their working environment improve and become much safer. Not just because the company will make safety improvements, but because employees will be furnished with technical, operational and soft skills and knowledge that they will be able to apply through choice. Next employee enhanced operational skills will increase their capability to do more and produce more in a higher quality way that helps Viglacera stay ahead of its competitors. The theory is that if the company can earn more, waste less, employees will benefit from better pay, fringe benefits and working conditions. This is this first line of downstream impact. More pay and better skilled workers must also have an impact of their families. Anybody able to do more through being skilled has a better chance of facing the challenges of a changing economy and job market, creating a self-sustaining ambition and reality to remain employed. But does downstream impact stop there? Of course not. The local economy will benefit from the higher disposable income generated through skills; education standards will rise and become much more employer focussed; schools will be encouraged to impart knowledge that really prepares children for the world of work; opportunity will find an increasing number of women and hard to reach employee groups, mobilising a greater workforce for the greater good; international migration of skills suddenly becomes a borderless reality with the ASEAN Reference Framework allowing employees to move across state and country.

Then we come to such mundane but far reaching national Government policy changes. I know, I hear you yawn! The Proskills/Viglacera joint activity will inform the development and rollout of Vietnam’s National Qualification Framework in which vocational skills will be benchmarked against years of academic inadequacies, appearing for the first time as a norm rather than exception. On top of this there will be huge benefits for the provision network and all their supply chains…and so on!

So what? Employees who are not academically gifted, or those who just lack practical skills for employment, suddenly become the driving force of the economy. So rather than being just passengers in an economy they have no control over, through vocational skills ordinary hard working people become the future they didn’t know existed.

And the impact can be felt beyond the company that needs the skills; deeper than just the employee gaining new skills. The downstream impact reaches far and wide across families and society in general.

So is downstream impact the new upstream momentum? Potentially yes I suppose it is. But often skills providers, including corporations forget to mark the start point of the journey and then fail to truly understand the distance travelled. If you do not know how far you have travelled, how on earth do you know what the downstream impact is? Is Bringing the Learning Home more a case of Bringing the Impact Home? That’s a question I shall leave you to ponder.