Purpose – This paper provides an overview on the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) program components/mechanisms and their overall effect on learning outcomes in a developing country context. Design/methodology/approach – Using secondary data, this descriptive case study integrates the realistic evaluation framework of Pawson and Tilley (1997) with Total Quality Management (TQM) frameworks. Findings – Ethiopia ' s TVET system adopts/adapts international best practices. Following the implementation of the 2008 TVET strategy, the proportion of formal TVET graduates who were recognized as competent by the assessment and certification system increased from 17.42 percent in 2009/2010 to 40.23 percent in 2011/2012. Nevertheless, there is regional variation. Research limitations/implications – Outcome-based TVET reforms that are based on TQM frameworks could improve learning outcome achievements in developing countries by enhancing awareness, coordination, integration, flexibility, participation, empowerment, accountability and a quality culture. Nevertheless, this research is limited by lack of longitudinal data on competency test results. There is also a need for further investigation into the practice of TQM and the sources of differences in internal effectiveness across TVET institutions. Practical implications – Our description of the Ethiopian reform experience, which is based on international best experience, could better inform policy makers and practitioners in TVET elsewhere in Africa. Originality/value – A realistic evaluation of TVET programs, the articulation of the mechanisms, especially based on TQM, that affect TVET effectiveness would add some insight into the literature. The evidence we have provided from the Ethiopian case is also fresh.

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