Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Vocational Education - Stigmatised Sector Finds That Image Is Everything

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Vocational Education - Stigmatised Sector Finds That Image Is Everything

Article excerpt

Employers demand skills but students shy away, report says.

Young people across Europe believe a "stigma" is attached to vocational education, despite accepting that it can be more useful for finding work than an academic route.

A major report on youth employment on the Continent says that this bias is dissuading young people from taking the best routes to the jobs they want, particularly as employers are increasingly demanding vocational skills to fill the growing proportion of higher-skilled jobs in the market. The result, according to the report, is a severe "skills mismatch".

The findings are revealed in a survey of 5,300 young people, 2,600 employers and 700 post-secondary education providers across eight European Union member states by management consultancy McKinsey.

In five of the countries surveyed for Education to Employment: getting Europe's youth into work, students taking an academic course said they believed society valued that kind of education more than vocational study. But even those students thought the latter was probably more useful in finding work.

In four of the countries, more than half the young people who took the academic route said they would have preferred to have taken a vocational course but had experienced social pressure to do otherwise.

"This matters," the report states. "Vocational training enables students to learn specific, job-oriented competencies and is part of the solution to narrowing the skills gap that so many employers complain about."

Simon Bartley, president of WorldSkills International, which hosts the WorldSkills competition for vocational students every two years, said that parents and teachers often "foisted" on young people the idea that university degrees were better than vocational courses for achieving success in life.

"Yet when I talk to young people it's clear they value skills and vocational education," he said. "I think there are many more young people who would like to do a vocational course than actually go ahead, and (they) do that because their parents or teachers don't think it's good enough for them."

But social bias is not the only barrier to students taking up vocational courses, according to the McKinsey report. In most countries, it says, the pathway to vocational education is less clearly marked and often much more poorly funded than the academic one. Confusion is also common, with too many vocational qualifications on offer and not enough information about which are useful for employment. …

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