A vocational high school established in the compounds of an industrial park, the first of its kind in Indonesia, is catering to Japanese corporate needs for manpower at a time graduates from other vocational schools are more likely to fail to land a job than those from regular high schools and colleges.

“I had no trouble in adapting to technologies in my workplace,” said Diki Apandi, 20, one of the 2016 graduates from SMK Mitra Industri MM2100 and now a motorcycle engineer at PT Astra Honda Motor. “I learned most of them in SMK Mitra.”

Astra Honda is located in MM2100 Industrial Town in Bekasi, West Java province, east of Jakarta. Japanese affiliates account for around 70 percent of the 189 tenants in the industrial park.

“I recognized a lot of benefits when I entered the industrial world,” Diki said. During the three-year program at the school, “I was required to be disciplined and responsible while having good behavior.”

Those requirements in the real world are “not too difficult for me.”

The vocational school, founded in 2011 by some Japanese and local company officials, aims to help students develop skills necessary to work at offices and factories and meet corporate requirements for labor in the industrial complex.

Lispiyatmini, one of the school’s founders and manager of the human resources department at PT Jotun Indonesia, a local arm of the Norway-based global powder coating material maker, points out that “I often find that vocational high school graduates have a bad attitude, no discipline, no responsibility, no challenge and so on” in addition to a lack of skills and abilities in basic mathematics.

Conventional vocational high schools in Southeast Asia’s largest economy only focus on the number of graduates, not how well they fit the needs of industrial circles, and the link between them is weak, Lispiyatmini, also principal of the school, said in a recent interview. She goes by a single name.

Biannual government statistics show that the unemployment rate among vocational school graduates stood at 11.4 percent last August, notably higher than the 5.2 percent mark for college graduates and the highest rate among those with any academic background.

SMK Mitra is putting more focus on character building in its curriculum, with an emphasis on attitude at 50 percent, skills at 30 percent and knowledge at 20 percent.

During the last academic year through June 2017, 17 students were kicked out for reasons such as fighting and theft.

“We do not hesitate to (expel) students” if they do not follow school rules, Lispiyatmini said.

On the other hand, the school offers courses in seven majors — motorcycle engineering, electrical installation, accounting, light vehicle engineering, industrial electronics, machinery and hospitality.

It does not kick students out for academic reasons, as the school “can still nurture those with poor grades,” according to Lispiyatmini.

“We needed to enhance educational levels among local youths to let them work locally as they hope to work in their hometown,” said Yoshihiro Kobi Utsman, one of the school’s founders and president of Bekasi Fajar Industrial Estates Tbk, which operates the industrial town.

Currently the school has over 1,300 students, all from Bekasi.

The cumulative number of graduates who have landed jobs totals 612 since the school opened. About 70 percent of them entered the business world while 26 percent advanced to a university. The remainder went to Japan to study or take part in apprenticeship programs.

“Some vocational high school curricula do not match industry needs as they are based on government standards, and technological development in the industrial sector is very fast,” said Munandar, head of public relations at SMK Mitra.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, concerned about the revitalization of vocational high schools, issued a regulation in 2016 that required a dozen ministers and more than 30 governors to work to improve vocational high schools, aiming to boost competitiveness in human resources in the world’s fourth most populous nation.

Meanwhile, 16 vocational high schools across the country have shown interest in SMK Mitra, seeking to become sister schools, according to Lispiyatmini.

In the wake of the presidential regulation, “the education minister is asking companies to develop vocational high schools around their bases,” she said.

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