Last week, Minister Delegate for National Education and Vocational Training Abdelaadim El Guerrouj visited Washington to expand Morocco's network of resources in support of its training goals, and to move ahead with specific projects that will enhance Morocco's capacity for technical vocational education and training (TVET).
Among his principal stops were the signing of an MOU with Northern Virginia Community College to further collaboration between the US and Morocco; and meetings with the Institute of International Education (IIE) to discuss educational exchange programs, with the State Department to review current US support for TVET in Morocco, and with National Geographic, where the parties discussed opportunities for common research efforts.
The emphasis on TVET is relatively new in Morocco. Although the Kingdom has been doing technical and vocational training for decades, it was not until 2012 that a special ministry to address these issues was established. And the ministry has initiated a multifaceted program to build pubic-private sector partnerships to create a skilled workforce.
With high unemployment among college and secondary school graduates, a high number of young people dropping out of school after sixth grade, and an informal economic sector that produces, by some estimates, at least 50 percent of the value of Morocco's GDP and represents 30 percent of the workforce, Morocco still has challenges remaining.
Minister Delegate El Guerrouj took time to discuss Morocco's strategy at a private roundtable hosted by Toni Verstandig, Chair of the Aspen Institute's Middle East Programs, which has a number of programs with Morocco under the North Africa Partners for Economic Opportunity (NAPEO) project of Partners for a New Beginning (PNB). Last year, Aspen arranged for a delegation of community college leaders to visit Morocco, which led to the MOU signing.
The purpose of the roundtable was twofold: to present Morocco's strategy and to give experts and practitioners the opportunity to provide feedback and recommendations to the Minister Delegate. While Morocco has achieved a great deal in terms of its physical infrastructure, it continues to lag in its human resources development, for several reasons.
First, the presence of large numbers of youth - some 44 percent of the population is under 24 years of age - means that education and TVET are a generational priority. Second, although more than 99 percent of youth have a primary education, there is a serious problem with young people dropping out.
Finally, there is always a need for more human, physical, and financial resources to carry out and build out TVET programs. Public-private sector partnerships have the potential to play an enabling role in this area.
US Support for Morocco's Workforce Development Strategy
El Guerrouj believes that there are three ways to bolster retention rates: First, identify skills needed - when students can see the link between education and employment, they have higher motivation.
Second, integrating skills training with universal principles, such as human rights and citizenship, adds value to the programs. Finally, work with the private sector through public-private partnerships focused on skills acquisition to highlight for stakeholders the specific needs of companies that are linked to jobs.
In discussing the MOU with Northern Virginia Community College, several questions emerged that demonstrate the challenges common to both Morocco and the US.
For example, what is the most useful American experience relevant to Morocco - is it setting up a community college or is it focusing on the mechanics of transferring teaching/learning methods through faculty exchanges, teacher training, and joint research? Is the US experience of public-private sector partnerships, which draw companies into curriculum design and instruction, a useful model?
One area of creative discourse during the visit was the buzz surrounding the Millennium Challenge Corporation's (MCC) Call for Ideas, which is looking for innovative approaches to public-private sector partnerships to close the education-employment gap.
Morocco has a limited industrial base and is interested in replicating its automotive and aerospace sectors' success in utilizing partnerships in curriculum design and delivery.
As part of the second compact with Morocco now under negotiation, the MCC is proposing a focus on linking businesses with TVET institutions to strengthen relations between public and private sectors to enable TVET institutions to train teachers, interact with SMEs, and collaborate with non-governmental actors.
The Morocco-US partnership has proven particularly successful in the thorny matter of skill certification - formal recognition that someone has the necessary practical experience and knowledge to perform specific tasks. A new 40,000-square -oot training facility is currently underway in Oujda, where Moroccan students follow the same curricula as American students and receive the same certifications.
The National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3) has proposed using its network of 300 US colleges to issue US-accredited certifications in new technology and engineering processes to Moroccan students.
Minister Delegate El Guerrouj also raised the issue of training costs. He is concerned that without partnerships, it will be difficult for the government to lower its costs while still enabling students and companies to break the employment-education gap.
There is also a cultural gap because university education has traditionally been preferred over TVET. Closer integration of general educational priorities within the vocational system (rather than treating vocational training as a step-child of education) will help overcome the social stigma often attached to TVET institutions.
Skills Education Matched to Business and Work Force Needs
Morocco is also addressing disparities between the needs of urban and rural labor. Minister El Guerrouj emphasized the importance of "mapping the needs of the region, both urban and rural." He believes that any effective education program must take into account the priorities of the community it serves.
Otherwise, it will be impossible to set up local programs, and policymakers will be setting themselves up for "under-reform." He believes that the only way to equalize access to education across the country is to establish a solid infrastructure in rural schools so that they can perform at the same level as their urban counterparts.
Looking at how this has worked elsewhere, it may involve offering meals to students, building dormitories, or offering transportation.
Globally, there have been many efforts over the past 6-7 years in rural areas to improve education opportunities, especially for girls. One of the main tenets of the Moroccan constitution is to provide the same education for all, no matter who they are or where they come from, and this is an important guideline for the TVET strategy.
For the unskilled adult population, Morocco educates approximately 40,000-60,000 people every year at non-formal learning centers for adult education, another program they hope to expand. The Minister Delegation noted the "Validation of Skills Acquired through Experience" program, which recognizes previously acquired skills and helps students build upon them in a socially and economically meaningful way.
This will also enable those working in the informal sector to gradually accumulate the resources to become more involved in the formal economy. In these and other ways, Morocco is including those who lack formal education yet have acquired skills and business know-how.
It is this nexus of jobs, skills, and human resources that Morocco has made a priority for the next decade. Having a young population can bring great dividends if youth acquire skills that are both relevant to the demands of the current labor market and applicable to areas where demand exists but has not yet been addressed.
Morocco understands that its young people, and under-trained adults, can make significant headway in building the diverse and responsive economy that Morocco must have to grow.
Katherine Kinnaird is a research assistant at MAC.