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Jakarta Post

Indonesia focuses on polytechnics amid staggering skills gap

  • Ivany Atina Arbi

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, January 4, 2019   /   11:26 am
Indonesia focuses on polytechnics amid staggering skills gap Illustration of a car factory (Shutterstock/File)

Indonesia, with the help of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Canadian government, has poured funding into polytechnic institutions to increase the number of skilled workers in the country. 

According to the Research, Technology and Higher Education Ministry, the country requires at least 113 million skilled workers by 2030 to achieve economic growth in priority sectors, such as manufacturing, infrastructure and agribusiness — almost double the number it currently has.

Indonesia has around 55 million skilled workers, or less than half of its 128 million-strong workforce. 

The ministry, therefore, formed the Polytechnic Education Development Project (PDEP) to fulfil the demand for skilled workers. 

Polytechnics are known for their ability to produce skilled and ready-to-work individuals through skill-intensive and technology-based programs. They also provides students with experiential learning opportunities by collaborating with industries.

“Through the Polytechnic Education Development Program, we disburse money to selected institutions so that they could improve their programs,” PDEP deputy manager Harianto Tanumihardjo said during a visit to The Jakarta Post. 

The funding comprises a US$75 million loan from the ADB, $16.7 million from the government and C$5 million in ($3.77 million) aid from Canada.

Established in 2012, the PDEP has disbursed financial aid to 34 polytechnic institutions across the country. The funding has been used to, among other things, acquire 445 packages of equipment and materials for the selected institutions, train more than 1,500 teachers in skills required by industries and establish five master’s degree programs in applied science or technology in infrastructure, manufacturing and agribusiness.

Despite all these advantages, student numbers at polytechnic institutions remain low. 

According to ADB senior project officer Sutarum Wiryono, only 4 percent of the country’s total 255 million population study at polytechnics.

“The opposite is happening in developed countries like Japan and South Korea, where a large number of people go to polytechnics,” Sutarum said.

He further encouraged people to consider studying at polytechnics as they could produce highly coveted skilled-workers. 

The PDEP has encouraged industries to be more involved in strengthening the competitiveness of polytechnic graduates.

Sutarum also urged the government to promote vocational education, including polytechnics, and boost its reputation in the eyes of the public to make it seem as prestigious as academic majors.

“In Indonesia, vocational education is often the last resort [for students], whereas the working world needs not only degrees, but also workers with skills,” he said, adding that the government should revitalize existing polytechnics or even develop more to accommodate more students.

According to the Research, Technology and Higher Education Ministry, out of the 4,529 higher education institutions in Indonesia, only 262 are polytechnics. And from 5.4 million higher education students, 13 percent, or around 746,000 students, are taking polytechnic education.

The ministry’s director general of higher education, Patdono Suwignjo, once said it was hard for Indonesia to escape the middle-income trap and officially be considered a developed country because it had few skilled workers.

“Why do we have few skilled-workers? Because we also have very few polytechnic students.”

This article was originally published in The Jakarta Post's print edition on Jan. 4, 2019, with the title "Govt focuses on polytechnics amid staggering skills gap".