Closing the Skills Gap in the Wastewater Treatment Industry

A student and her teacher interact in class as part of Viet Nam’s first TVET course that aims to train sewerage engineering technicians. Photo Credit: GIZ.

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Business sector engagement is key to the success of a German-supported TVET training offer for skilled workers for the wastewater sector in Viet Nam.


As the economy of Viet Nam develops, by-products of industrialization, such as wastewater, increase. Treating wastewater becomes a new industry in itself—one for which very few in Viet Nam are well prepared.  The government set a target of treating 60% of the country’s total wastewater and connecting 80% of urban households to a sewerage system, by 2020.

At present, around 10% of Viet Nam's wastewater gets treated, and about 60% of urban households are connected to sewerage systems. 

Estimates put the shortfall in skilled workers required to operate and maintain the new technical infrastructure in the wastewater sector at around 8,000 through to 2020.

To support the achievement of its targets the Government of Viet Nam partnered with the Government of Germany to pilot a technical and vocational education and training (TVET) program for individuals wanting to work in the wastewater sector.

In close cooperation with enterprises and the Vietnam Water Supply and Sewerage Association (VWSA), a TVET institute, supported by GIZ, Germany’s international development agency, trained skilled workers for the wastewater sector, capable of operating and maintaining drainage networks, as well as municipal and industrial treatment plants.

This case study is based on a presentation made by Lisa-Marie Kreibich, technical advisor of German Development Agency, GIZ Viet Nam at the 2016 International Skills Forum held at the Asian Development Bank in Manila in September.

Project Snapshot

  • 2014 : Start of project
  • Ongoing : Status of project

  • Up to €5 million ($5.45 million) : At current exchange rates

  • Commissioning agency :
    • German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
  • Operating agency :
    • General Directorate of Vocational Training / Ministry of Labour - Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA)
  • Executing agency :
    • Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH
  • Others :
    • Ho Chi Minh Vocational College of Technology: Participating college
  • Others :
    • Ho Chi Minh Urban Drainage, Binh Duong Water Supply-Sewerage and Environment, Vung Tau Urban Sewerage and Development, Can Tho Water Supply and Sewerage, Khanh Hoa Water Supply and Sewerage Company, and Tin Nghia: Participating companies
  • Others :
    • Vietnam Water Supply and Sewerage Association (VWSA): Participating sector association

Providing a comprehensive training program that equips trainees with the right skills, and making sure graduates meet the standards that take into account the needs of the business sector

Given the demands of the sector, there was a need to design a practice-oriented, employment-relevant vocational training program that provides graduates with the skills and working attitudes that satisfy the requirements of the enterprises, so that the graduates could get a stable job and income.

Attracting trainees to work in an occupation that involves dealing with wastewater and inspecting sewerage systems

It was understandably hard to attract trainees to enroll in the course, and there was also the challenge of educating potential trainees about the job, which was fairly new in Viet Nam at the time.

Ensuring the sustainability of the approach and bringing all parts of the industry together

GIZ’s support is based on one of the key success factors of the German vocational training system adapted to the realities and frame conditions in Viet Nam: the involvement of the business sector in all steps of designing and offering a vocational training program (setting of occupational standards, participation in curriculum/program design, assessment and certification as well as providing well defined training phases in the companies). One challenge was to ensure the engagement of the wastewater companies throughout the process.


Involve the business sector in the development of the occupational standard and the implementation of the training program as well as in assessment and certification.

To make sure the workers have the skills the industry needs, the occupational standard was developed in consultation with businesses and based on the needs of the companies and government requirements. By performing concrete tasks in a real working environment under the guidance of in-company trainers, the trainees obtain practical knowledge and skills. Intensive practice-oriented activities and further training for the teaching staff from the TVET institute and in-company trainers (experienced employees of companies) ensured the improvement of their theoretical knowledge, practical and pedagogical skills, as well as examination skills.

Offer job placements to ensure employment-relevant training.

By involving companies and the sector association in the development of the occupational standard and training program, in the implementation of the practical training phase as well as in testing and assessment process, it is ensured that the training program reflects exactly the demands of the industry and thus, equips the trainees with the skills needed by their future employers.

During the practical training phase in the companies, the trainees are able to see and understand first-hand the jobs that await them on successful completion of the course, while the companies trust the results of the assessments and accept the certificates because they are directly involved in the process.

Work with relevant government agencies and stakeholders from the business sector right from the outset.

To ensure the commitment—the improvement of capacities and the availability of resources of all stakeholders—regular exchange among all relevant stakeholders at all levels was organized and procedures to take joint decisions were formalized. The proactive leading role of the Vietnam Water Supply and Sewerage Association in coordinating and working together with the member sewage companies increased the willingness of enterprises to engage in all steps of the process.

Students learning practical skills in the field, which is key to the success of the TVET course for Viet Nam’s wastewater sector. Photo credit: GIZ.

Numbers and facts

  • 22 The number of students enrolled in the pilot training course
  • 3 years The length of the training program
  • 40 weeks The length of time students are required to do practical training in the companies
  • Level 5/Technician Level (Vietnamese NQF) The equivalent certification graduates receive

The pilot training program serves as a model for other TVET programs given its achievements:

It was rolled out with support from both the government and the business sector and reflects the skills needs of the enterprises in this, for Viet Nam new, field of sewage engineering.

Feedback from participating companies is that they are satisfied with the improvement of the practical skills as well as motivation of the trainees even from the first year of training, with other companies wanting to join the program.

Due to the acceptance of the occupational standard and the training delivery mode, GIZ aims to support the nationwide upscaling of the experience. A nationwide implementation will significantly contribute to the increase of a qualified workforce in the wastewater sector and thus lead to an increase in treated wastewater and in connected households to the sewage system, which will result in a higher quality and quantity of groundwater and significant reduction in the pollution of lakes, rivers and oceans.


Multistakeholder cooperation is vital

The training program would not have been as successful without the close cooperation of the government, the TVET institute, and the business sector (enterprises and sector association) in setting the framework and targets from the outset.

On the job training is a crucial success factor to improve the practice-orientation and employment-relevance of training.

Giving students structured, well-defined practical training phases in companies enhances their practical knowledge and skills as well as their motivation and working attitudes along with exposing them to real-life work and thus, enhancing their employability and job prospects after graduation.

Proactive sector associations can be indispensable in getting companies on board.

A sector association that represents the majority of enterprises of a given sector and is active and supportive of the program, is vital to bring member companies onboard. In this instance, the sector association was very active in raising awareness and coordinating with sewage companies to get them to support the project as well as to spread the success of the model.

Students listen to their instructor on wastewater management. Viet Nam is estimated to need 8,000 skilled workers in the sector through to 2020. Photo credit: GIZ.

Lisa-Marie Kreibich
Lisa-Marie Kreibich, Social Sector Specialist, South Asia Regional Department, Asian Development Bank

Lisa-Marie Kreibich works as a Social Sector Specialist on the design and implementation of TVET projects in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Before joining ADB, she spent 5 years with GIZ Vietnam as advisor to the Ministry of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs. She gained experience at the International Labour Organization and in the private sector. She holds a degree in International Business Management from the European School of Business, Germany and Reims Management School, France and a master’s degree in Public Policy from the Hertie School of Governance, Germany.

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Karina Veal
International Expert in Vocational and Higher Education

Karina Veal served as a senior education specialist for the Asian Development Bank (ADB), where she provided strategic advice and technical expertise to governments across Asia. She also advocated new approaches for ADB's $2.7 billion TVET portfolio. Prior to joining ADB in 2012, she provided consulting services in skills for development, advising UN and bilateral agencies; and held public policy roles in the Australian TVET system. 

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