Online vocational training during COVID-19 prepares healthcare workers for future employment
Samya Al-Qudah, a recent graduate of the WUSC-supported Healthcare Support Worker program, tells us how proud she was when she helped her friend, who had been in critical condition, walk again. Samya is an example of the high return on investment in women’s education in Jordan.
“I am proud of myself,” Samya says. “There is no greater feeling than that of giving life to others and I sense [that I was able to do this for my friend] through this program. I started supporting [her] as a caregiver although her family doubted my abilities. With time, they have seen the improvement in her medical condition.”
In Jordan, women make up just 14% of the labour force. Out of 144 countries, Jordan ranks 138 in the 2020 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report for labour force participation—a shockingly low ranking for a country where women make up more than half of university graduates.
Though women are highly educated, traditional programs have not equipped students with the skills they need to enter the workforce. The healthcare sector in Jordan is the second most attractive sector for women (after education), since it is considered to be safe, reliable, and an appropriate work environment. The sector has also experienced significant growth in recent years and continues to provide a growing number of opportunities for employment.
WUSC has been partnering with the Vocational Training Corporation since 2017 to provide two training programs for women in the healthcare sector—Medical Office Assistant and Healthcare Support Worker—in three locations, namely, Irbid, East Amman and Salt so that more women can access these safe and rewarding career opportunities.
This initiative focuses on strengthening the capacity of institutions to deliver market-relevant programs and reduce gender-specific barriers to women entering the workforce, such as unsafe transportation and inaccessible childcare services. Our goal is to help women in Jordan demonstrate to their employers, families, and communities that when you hire women, everyone wins.
Women’s education and employment at-risk in the wake of COVID-19
As the COVID-19 crisis escalated in Jordan, the government took swift action to adopt strict prevention measures, including the national closure of schools and training centres. Though these measures have helped slow the spread of the virus, over 600 confirmed cases have been reported across the country. As is the case in many other countries, each additional case of the virus means additional risk of overburdening Jordan’s growing healthcare system.
Though recognizing the need for social distancing, the Vocational Training Corporation, a government corporation that provides vocational training and related services to communities across the country, knew that now was not the time to halt the studies of future healthcare workers. They quickly shifted their Healthcare Support Worker training program, which at the time of closure had 14 students enrolled—all of whom were women—to an online platform where all 14 students could continue and complete their education during the lockdown.
Why an online learning program?
In the wake of COVID-19, there was significant concern among our partners that the lockdown would create irreversible impacts on women’s livelihoods. We were also concerned that the progress we had made together in improving women’s access to employment opportunities would be reversed if learning came to a sudden halt and the returns on investment for women’s education went unrealized.
By moving the Healthcare Support Worker training program online, the Vocational Training Corporation has helped ensure that their students could continue their education and enter into employment upon graduation where they would respond to Jordan’s growing healthcare demands, particularly given the current health crisis.
Innovating and adapting to online learning
The Vocational Training Corporation acted fast to switch to online training for the Healthcare Support Worker program, just one week shy of the last cohort’s examination period. The quick thinking of the Corporation ensured that the cohort was still able to prepare and sit for their final exams, and complete the program, rather than wait for training to resume after an indefinite period of time.
Managers and other team members from the Corporation have also attended these online trainings, to provide feedback to trainers and improve program delivery. The Corporation has used both Zoom and Google Classroom, and will likely continue to use a combination of both, to take advantage of what each platform has to offer: Zoom allows for more interaction, while Google Classroom allows teachers to present materials more easily.
At the same time, WUSC and the Corporation have launched outreach and information sessions for potential students through Zoom, focusing on women’s economic empowerment and gender-based violence, in the COVID-19 context. We are also exploring digital internship opportunities; launching a social media campaign to promote women’s rights and new gender roles; and providing online refresher training courses for our partners.
Now, the Medical Office Assistant program has also moved online with 44 students enrolled.
A dedicated trainer engaging committed students
Despite the sudden shift to online learning and teaching, the overall transition was smooth, owing to the dedication of the trainer, Ayat Domi, and the commitment shown by her students.
In order to juggle multiple responsibilities at home, women communicated with each other, accommodated each other’s schedules and needs, depending on the age of their children for instance, and decided on a time to attend training.
Ayat also put in tremendous effort to ensure that all students had access to the platform and learning materials. “The experience was new for all of us when we moved to online learning and teaching. I tried to convey all the ideas to my students using different tools, such as pictures, powerpoint presentations, and videos. I wanted to try everything possible to make sure my students could understand the content,” Ayat says.
Initially, there were technical challenges too. Some women had old phones, or only one smartphone in the family, while others were not familiar with Zoom or Google Classroom. Ayat always came up with solutions. She encouraged them to ask their family members to schedule times for them to use the smartphone. For those who were unfamiliar with the platforms, she helped them create an email address and set everything up for them one-on-one.
Ayat maintained constant interaction with the students and made sure that when any student faced a technical problem, the group worked together to solve it. “Without the cooperation of the students, it wouldn’t have worked the way it did.”
One of the major benefits for these women participating in online training is the reduced cost and time of transportation that they normally incur. While it has indeed become more challenging to balance time at home, between chores, childcare duties, and training, women no longer have to worry about unsafe transportation or not being able to afford putting their children in quality daycare.
Proud and accomplished graduates changing attitudes toward women’s employment in Jordan
Students have been happy with the transition to online learning, crediting the trainer for her prompt feedback and continuous engagement. They have now completed their training and are already starting to put what they have learned into practice to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
Samya also talks about how the program changed her husband’s views, saying he had a misconception of the program. Once he saw how she managed to help her friend because of the skills she learned, he realized its importance. “[He] advocates for the program, since he now sees the value of [my training] in our lives. He was not very supportive in the beginning, but he has seen how I became productive.”
By supporting students like Samya to complete their studies during this challenging time, we have helped ensure that entire families see the benefit from the return on investment in their wives and daughters’ education. Samya is proud of her accomplishment and encourages other women to pursue this program, despite its shift to online learning.
We look forward to continuing our work with the Vocational Training Corporation in Jordan to strengthen and expand their online learning program for the incoming cohorts, enabling women to continue their learning during the rest of the lockdown and beyond.
The Women’s Economic Linkages and Employment Development (WE LEAD) Project (2017-2021), funded by Global Affairs Canada, is run in consortium with World University Service of Canada (WUSC) and the Canadian International Consulting Company (CLIC). This project is in partnership with the Government of Jordan, Jordanian organizations, and private sector institutions, seeks to increase the number of Jordanian women and female youth in the workforce through two training programs: Medical Office Assistance (MOA) and Healthcare Support Worker (HSW). Additionally, the project addresses both the gender-specific barriers and social norms that prevent women from entering the workforce.