The Vocational Skills Development Program (VSDP) is implemented in Myanmar by Swisscontact, promoting employment and income opportunities through market-oriented vocational training and improved labour market access.
One of the Program’s focus areas is to provide access to skills development for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds in rural and semi-rural areas. It offers training in a range of occupations demanded in the market, including tailor, salesclerk, house wirer, beautician, mason, plumber and rural mechanic. It works in partnership with government ministries and training institutes for the implementation of short technical and life skills courses.
Recently, VSDP had reached out to its training graduates in one of its target areas in Myanmar and learned about their journeys: from enrolling in the skills training to changing their personal and professional lives after the training.
In the tranquil outskirts of Hpa-An, a town in Kayin State, Myanmar, Saw Tin Tun is hard at work fixing a motorbike engine. Living in a sub-urban village, with a family of 7, he is now working as a mechanic at a local motor repair shop. With limited income opportunities and career choices, he used to earn his living by farming, before becoming a trainee mechanic. Unfortunately, because of the unstructured nature of training at the workplace and not receiving enough support to improve his skills, he stopped attending.
Saw Tin Tun: “I have very little formal education background, as I left school at 8 years old. I used to work in a farm and had almost no prior experience with machinery. Initially, I worked as a trainee for a local mechanic. But I could only learn about machinery by observing other mechanics at their workplace. So, I could not improve my skills on a regular basis, and after some time, I stopped visiting the workshop since I was not learning much.”
When he read flyers distributed in his community about the rural mechanic training offered by the VSDP, he grasped the opportunity and ended up working as a mechanic, this time in a full-time position which he is committed to.
Saw Tin Tun: “I took part in the rural mechanic training offered by VSDP, because I was interested in the occupation and did not need to have a strong educational background to attend. During the training I was able to handle machines myself and learn practical skills. I learned how to fix motorbikes and agricultural machines, as well as solar machines and invertors. Being a training graduate boosted my technical skills and reliability, which is helping me get more customers. After attending the VSDP training, my lack of formal education is no longer holding me back from pursuing a career as a mechanic.”
Saw Tin Tun happily mentioned that he is now applying technical and life skills, learned during the VSDP training, to support farmers in his rural community. He also shared how he aspires to eventually start his own business:
“The villagers in my area used to have to go to the nearest city to get their farming machines fixed. Now, I am able to help them since I can quickly go on call and fix the machines. The life skills I gained through the VSDP training also helped me retain customers with good service and communication. I am now learning to be a more skillful mechanic and aim to open my own small repair shop in the future”
Once a migrant worker in Thailand, Tin Zar Oo, a mother of two is now a co-owner of a beauty salon in Hpa-An, a town in southeast Myanmar. She worked across different cities in Thailand in different occupations. She decided to come back to her hometown in Myanmar to provide a better environment for her children to grow up in:
“A lot of people in the villages in Hpa-An work as migrant workers in Thailand since we don’t have many alternatives apart from farming, and you cannot earn enough to make ends meet by doing manual labour. I moved to Thailand after graduating from high school and became a migrant worker. My jobs varied from sales clerk to cook and although the income was not much, it was enough to cover my expenses. I came back to Myanmar after I became pregnant with my second child. I wanted my kids to grow up in a stable environment and be close to my family.”
After coming back to Myanmar, Tin Zar initially worked at her cousin’s beauty salon and taught herself makeup and hairstyling through online tutorials. She wanted to become a beautician, but it was tougher than she assumed, and she found she didn’t have the skills to handle even the basic tasks of a beautician. So, when she learned about VSDP from her friends and training graduates, she eagerly enrolled in the beautician training. She reflected on her time interacting with classmates and how VSDP’s after-training support helped her achieve her career goals:
“I did some self-learning through online tutorials but when I actually picked up a pair of scissors, I was lost. I realized that I would not get very far without having practical skills. When I learned about the VSDP from my friends, I was very keen to take the training opportunity and start to develop my career. The selection process was very competitive but luckily, I got in.
VSDP not only let me have a hands-on learning experience and foundational knowledge for a beautician, but also opportunities to network with my classmates on a personal level. I am still in touch with all of them. We participated in a women’s football match between beautician and tailor trainees where I was a goalkeeper and supported my team to win.
With the starters’ toolkit I received from VSDP, I kept practicing every day after the training until I felt I was competent enough. Now I co-manage a beauty salon with my cousin. To be in my hometown with my family and running my own business truly feels like a blessing. I am starting to receive good reviews from my customers and am getting more customers through word-of-mouth. I intend to expand my shop in next few years and offer bridal accessories, so my shop will be a one-stop service for special occasions.”
Saw Tin Tun’s and Tin Zar’s stories are among the many examples of VSDP graduates who become employed or self-employed as the result of the training. VSDP focuses on promoting skills development in Myanmar with its technical and soft skills training, facilitating post-training employment in partnership with local private sector stakeholders, and managing partnerships with local governments and community based organisations to spread information about the training.
The project is funded by Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and implemented by Swisscontact in 6 states and regions in Myanmar.