Missing link in government’s vocational, technical education policies

Missing link in government’s vocational, technical education policies
Source: Kwame Abrefah
Date: 26-04-2018 Time: 07:04:07:pm

Trades and Vocational Professions Act –

The Missing Link in the Government’s Vocational and Technical Education Policies

 This article urges the government to pass legislation to regulate trade occupations in Ghana to better protect consumers while also enhancing the status of trade professions by integrating them into the formal economy. All governments in modern societies regulate certain commercial activities to ensure public safety. For example, the relationships between health professionals, lawyers, teachers, engineers and pharmacists, etc., and the public are regulated through their respective professional associations to protect consumers and professionals alike. 

Professions are likely to be regulated by governments when: (1) consumers cannot assess the qualifications and competence of a professional prior to engaging their services; (2) the consequences of a mistake by an unethical or incompetent professional can be dangerous to the public; and (3) there is a power imbalance tilting in favour of the professionals over the consumers.  For example, because lawyers have specialized knowledge that gives them power over their clients, they are regulated by their professional body to act in the public interest.  Similarly, doctors, who literally hold peoples’ lives in their hands, are regulated in order to protect the public. 

In contrast, trade professionals such as electricians, gas fitters, welders, heavy-duty mechanics, auto-mechanics, etc., are unregulated even though the consequences of their actions have huge public safety implications.  In recent years, Ghana has witnessed many tragic deaths arising from gas explosions, house fires and lorry accidents, many of which have been attributed to mistakes made by incompetent trade professionals.  Clearly, the pecuniary losses and intangible damages arising from the actions of unethical and incompetent trade professionals are appreciable: lost work time and income, medical expenses, compensation costs, possible long-term health problems or disabilities, and even death. 

As with all tragic accidents and injuries, a substantial share of those that occur on the job can be associated with incompetence and therefore can be prevented by improved occupational standards and regulation of the trades.  To date, much of the government’s policy on trade professions has focused on vocational and technical education for the youth to create employment opportunities for them.  However, policies that will entice and retain the youth in the trades, boost public confidence in trade professionals, and integrate them into the formal economy have received little to no attention.

This author is therefore calling on the government to pass legislation to regulate trade professions in Ghana for 3 main reasons:  (1) to enhance the quality of the professional services and the professional status of tradespeople; (2) to attract and retain youth in the trades professions; and (3) to attract investors to build modern facilities such as garages and shops, etc., to rent to trades professionals, which would in turn significantly improve their work conditions. 

 Approaches to professional regulation range from narrow to comprehensive control over a profession. Which approach the government chooses to adopt should depend on the nature of the activities performed by the profession’s members, and the extent to which the public might be harmed if an incompetent tradesperson provides services.

Broadly speaking, there are three levels of regulation: (1) registration; (2) certification; and (3) licensure. Registration is the least involved form of regulation.  Here the requirement is simply for professionals to be listed on a sanctioned register.

At the next level of regulation is certification, which is essentially the stamp of approval given to an individual for having met certain pre-determined benchmarks. Certification is often associated with monopoly use of a specific title or professional designation:  i.e. “Automotive Service Technician,” “Electrician,” “Plumber,” “Gas-fitter,” etc.  This model protects the public by providing information about the qualifications of designated professionals so that the public can make informed choices about their selection of service providers. 

Licensure is one of the most restrictive forms of professional regulation. Specifically, licensure provides an occupational group with a monopoly control over who can practice a profession. Only those individuals who have met specific requirements to enter a profession are issued a “license” to practice the profession or to perform certain “controlled acts.” Entry requirements are generally quite detailed and often include attaining specified educational requirements and completion of some form of licensing examination:  for example, doctors, lawyers, etc.   

The government should consider setting up regulatory bodies for the trade professions in Ghana. There are many benefits to setting up these regulatory bodies for both the public and tradespeople, which include: (1) the development of Codes of Conduct and Standards of Practice to regulate members; (2) the maintenance of a public register which contains information about registered members; (3) the creation of a body to investigate complaints about members and discipline them as required; and (4) the imposition of mandatory obligations on members to carry professional liability insurance, business/corporate registration to comply with income tax requirements, and ongoing professional development.

 There are several prevailing stereotypes in Ghana that often undermine the status of trade and vocational occupations. These myths and stereotypes are based on the misperception that such occupations are second class and reserved only for school dropouts; that these careers are not creative or intellectually stimulating; and that vocational occupations are dirty and undesirable. Thus, professionalizing the trades and vocational occupations will go a long way towards combatting these stereotypes and greatly enhance the status of these professions in the country.

 Tradespeople will benefit significantly too as the public will be more likely to pay market prices for their services, which will increase their income levels. Also, as their incomes rise, and public confidence in them grows, institutional investors such as SNNIT are likely to build properties such as garages and shops for them to rent, which will in turn improve their working conditions. As regulated trades people’s cash flow increases, the banks are likely to offer them loans to expand their businesses.  

 In conclusion, the Trades and Vocational Professions Act will close the policy gap that currently exists and better integrate the trades into the mainstream economy. 

 Author:  Kwame Abrefah,

Lawyer, Canada 

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