Since assuming office in 2021, the UPND Government has progressively raised allocations to the Constituency Development Fund. From a meagre K1.6 million, as at 2024, each constituency is due to receive K30.8 million. Going by the recent trajectory, it is expected that this allocation may well rise once more in the 2025 National Budget. CDF has 3 components; namely, Community Projects, Youth & Women Empowerment and Secondary School & Skills Bursaries. 60% of the fund goes to Community projects whilst the remaining 40% is split equally between empowerment and education programs. The implication of this is that there will be and has been an influx of students in the Technical Education, Vocational and Entrepreneurship training system.

The question that remains, however, is whether the TEVET system is able to absorb the demand that has been created for skills development. This author believes without addressing the bottlenecks in the skills development framework, the benefits from CDF increments, vis as vis Skills Development, may be compromised. Generally, the TEVET system is in dire need of reform. Even before the increased allocations, the sector grossly under-performed in terms of its ability to produce quality graduates. Many of its graduates were and continue to be rendered unemployable by private sector, contributing to high youth unemployment rates even amongst semi-skilled young people. These challenges have been brought on by several factors, amongst which are inadequate funding to the Authority responsible for TEVET in Zambia, limited trainer-industry collaboration and fragmentation in the oversight function.

Narrowing on one of the aforementioned challenges, in the 2024 National Budget, only K70 million was earmarked for TEVET institutions. This implies that out of an education budget of K27 billion, 0.25% of it was to be spent on Trade & Vocational skills institutions. This is insufficient to achieve much, let alone improve the outcomes of TEVET programs and quality of its graduates. Aside from the resources that come from Central Government, the Skills Development Fund, to which employers contribute, is intended to play an equally prominent role in financing skills provision. However, concerns have been raised on whether these funds, which amount to 0.5% of gross emoluments paid by employers, are spent on Skills Development by the Government. The concerns are borne out of the fact that the levies are first remitted to the treasury, whereupon the treasury makes an allocation to Skills Development. Private sector has long argued for the funds to housed solely by TEVETA or alternatively, the Ministry of Technology and Science.

In light of the above, whilst the motivation in increasing funds available for Skills through CDF is well understood, one wonders whether, for better results, this policy move should have been complemented by reforms to the education system, particularly the TEVET sector. General Education seems to have benefited from a raft of reforms and support, with the curriculum structure modified and tens of thousands of teachers being recruited. Little attention, however, has been given to TEVET. Despite this, the strain on an already weak system has substantially increased. Across the country, TEVET institutions are grappling to accommodate the many students who are being sponsored by CDF bursaries. Class sizes are growing, whilst the amount of infrastructure and equipment remains the name. When we consider the nature of Vocational Education, which must be heavily practical, with students being able to practise on equipment, one wonders whether the students on Government sponsorship are actually improving their skills or it is just an academic exercise of learners acquiring certificates.

This author therefore, recommends that the resource envelope for TEVET be increased to a level commensurate with the increase in Skills Development funding from the Constituency Development Fund. The resources for this are certainly available. What has been lacking is not necessarily resources but rather prioritization of TEVET by Government. 0.25% of the Education budget is a far cry from what is required. Policymakers must realize that unemployment will not be reduced by merely exposing learners to an education, but by ensuring that this education is of a high quality and standard. There already are a large number of TEVET graduates who cannot be employed. Without reforms to the sector, Government is simply adding to the many unemployed youths with certificates, certificates which are worth little in the eyes of private sector.

In ending, broadly Government is to be commended for what CDF is accomplishing. With experience, the teething issues that were experienced initially such as delayed payments seem to be lessening. With respect to the skills component, however, it is cardinal that the TEVET framework be strengthened. Without this, the gains from the policy will be limited. Government should have first started by addressing the gaps in TEVET and then progressively increased the number of students in the system. The call therefore, is that there be an overhaul of TEVET in Zambia, to ensure that as resources are unlocked through CDF, learners receive the training that will make them employable in the labour market.

The Author is an Economist and Member of the Economics Association of Zambia