Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Last updated: Feb 2023
TL;DR: Vocational training equips trainees with technical skills needed in the workforce through practical, on-the-job training. Many still hold a negative perception towards vocational training, labelling it as a second-class education. Allow me to debunk these myths so you can decide for yourself if you will include this pathway as an option for your teenager. In Germany, more than one third of their high school graduates opt for the vocational training path instead of the conventional university path. Vocational training grads are deemed superior in areas like productivity and attitude in comparison to fresh university grads who are just entering the workforce.
Vocational training has been around for the longest of time. You have probably heard of one of the following terms- Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), apprenticeship training, occupational training, German Dual Vocational Training (DVT), and more. The idea behind all these terms is the same: equipping trainees with technical skills needed in the workforce through practical, on-the-job training. While it has proven to prepare our youths well for their job, many still hold a negative perception towards vocational training, labelling it as a second-class education and crossing this option out from their list
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), most of your perception towards vocational education may be wrong. Don’t believe so? Allow me to debunk these myths so you can decide for yourself if you will include this pathway as one of the options for your teenager.
Not true! Our education system is heavily inclined towards academic intelligence, leaving students with below-average grades feeling incapable. Here is the irony. We are willing to pay more for our children to attend extra-curricular activities and enrichment classes or even send them to private or international schools for the supposedly better and more balanced education model. However, in the end, we still look to their academic grades alone to determine if they are a performing student. How about their critical and creative thinking skills, or their public speaking and leadership traits? These strengths often go unnoticed as universities focus on meeting their minimum grade requirements for admission.
Vocational training is an alternative to traditional universities. While universities take up a theoretical approach, vocational schools promote learning by doing. These different teaching methods work well for different students based on their learning preferences, not one being superior to the other.
If our children learn better by hands-on teaching and enjoy the application of theories learned, vocational training provides a platform for them to excel. Instead of labelling them as ‘poor students who can’t study’, it is a wise choice to let them learn through the way they absorb better rather than to force them to go through unnecessary stress of the conventional teaching and assessment method. Having said that, vocational training is a win for all students who embrace practical learning, regardless of their academic grades.
When comes to vocational training, the most common professions that come to our minds are car technician and mechanics. If you are thinking the same too, you are only looking at a tiny tip of the iceberg.
Vocational training includes a wide range of majors such as manufacturing, architecture and construction, health science, education and training, business and administration, information technology, engineering, transportation and logistics, and many more. The variety of courses open many opportunities for our teenagers to choose from rather than being restricted in their options.
In Germany, more than one third of their high school graduates opt for the vocational training path instead of the conventional university path, and about 50% of workers are trained from the vocational training programme. You may be surprised, the DVT program has churned out many professional engineers, certified nurses, software developers, digital marketers and more. The profession and job titles for a vocational training grad really isn’t that much of a difference compared to that of a uni grad.
Allow me to burst your bubble here. A study on the German Dual Vocational Training model explained that the German vocational training system has successfully transitioned students into the workforce and significantly reduced the youth unemployment rate in the country. This explains why many other countries are adopting this education system as an alternative to the traditional university route. In Australia, 78% of their vocational training grads are employed immediately after their training, giving it a higher figure than the employment rate of uni grads. We can safely assume that the career-readiness and industry relevance of the vocational training is not just a slogan to shout out but a real deal in this competitive society.
A study done by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the U.S. found that employers nowadays are looking at students’ experiences over the reputation of their university. Additionally, vocational grads are deemed as more superior in areas like productivity and attitude in comparison to fresh uni grads who are just entering the workforce. Overall, the employment pattern has shifted from uni grads with a full 4-year traditional programme to the hands-on vocational training grads who are equipped with the technical and soft skills needed in the real world.
Getting into a good company is a good start. How about salary? Let’s do a quick comparison of a student pursuing a 3-year degree course with another student who chooses the DVT programme.
For the first 3 years, while the student in university enjoys free education in Germany, he has not started earning a salary yet (working part time for some pocket money is allowed). For the student joining the DVT program, not only does he not pay for his education, he also receives a monthly allowance of €800 – €1,200, depending on the course and the company. At the end of the 3 years, the uni grad starts his career at a company as a fresh graduate, earning average €3,600 per month, whereas the DVT grad earns around €2,600 to €3,200 per month. Within the first 4 years, the DVT grad gets to save up more as he started earning 3 years earlier than the uni grad. This is a great option for students who need financial support for their living expenses as they get to store up some savings while studying and gaining working experience.
Now, you may think, but uni grads still earn more in the long run. You’re right, but worry not. Vocational grads can choose to further their studies to a bachelor’s degree too. The best part is some vocational training companies will support their graduates by retaining them as part-timers during their bachelor’s degree. This will not only help sustain them financially but also keep them updated with the latest technology and trends in the industry so they can smoothly transition back into the workforce upon graduation.
Just the contrary, vocational training is just the beginning and can ultimately lead to a bachelor’s degree. Indeed, it may be a better steppingstone for transitioning into a bachelor’s degree compared to teenagers who enter university directly after high school. Let me explain.
When we complete high school at age 16 or 17, we barely know what we want to do for a career for the next 30 years of our lives. Many of us try to figure out what we might like from our parents, friends, relatives, teachers, media, or even TV shows. Yet, these sources of information can never really give us an accurate understanding of what the profession truly is, how the working situation is like, how does a day in the life of this profession look like, what the real challenges are, etc.. As a result, many uni grads enter the workforce feeling disappointed with the gap between their expectation and reality, eventually switching their career to another industry unrelated to their academic background. This is supported by the NCES study that states that vocational training grads are more likely to work in the relevant field as their training compared to uni grads, thanks to the early exposure and practical learning in the same field.
On-the-job training allows our children to have real life experience working in a specific field and understanding the big picture of the profession. In other words, on-the-job training is not a walk in the park. It is not an internship whereby in some cases, interns are only being exposed to the surface of work, or worse still, only taught how to make photocopies and filing. In contrast, vocational trainees are treated as a full-time staff whom the company wants to groom for long term growth and contribution. This gives vocational school trainees an in-depth exposure of the profession and career which will help them make informed choices about their further education.
It’s time for us to delete our misconceptions and negative perceptions towards vocational training and see it as an equal alternative to other pathways, like a diploma or a degree. Each path has its benefits and challenges and not one is easier or better than the other. Ultimately, the important thing is to find the one that will allow our children to genuinely enjoy the learning process and gain the most out of their journey. Who knows, our child may thank us in the future for letting them pursue this road less travelled.