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July Conference: the merits of vocational education

The Workers Party is holding a Day Conference on 1st July to discuss how to rebuild British industry. The Conference is for Members Only and invited guests. In the run up to Conference we are publishing a number of pieces submitted for the purposes of stimulating discussion around the theme of reviving British industry, the challenges of AI and automation and the role of vocational education.

This piece has been submitted by Tony R, an engineer from our London branch. We encourage members, readers and friends to comment below.

What are the relative merits for the working class and Britain of vocational, work based education over the current push for university education?

Merits, Working Class

Merit 1: School-to-work transition

Vocational, work-based education can orientate young people in a direction toward a career path that compliments their interests. It can provide focused and applicable education for a chosen field and minimise overly generic study. In my opinion, young people are much more likely to engage if they are working and studying toward something that they have an interest in, and they can use practically in their lives.

Merit 2: Youth outcomes

Vocational, work-based education, in my opinion, provides a much more realistic view of industry for the student. It can give a young person a realistic feel for the sector, from which they might find parts they enjoy, but also parts they might not enjoy. Discovering an appropriate path, from an informed position, can encourage a sense of enjoyment, enthusiasm and satisfaction to young people to know that the skills they are working toward compliment their talents and have practical uses in society.

Evidence and Research

Brunello & Rocco (2017) “The emphasis on vocational education has been justified because it provides a smoother transition from school to work than an academic education”. [1]

Ryan (2000) “Policy successes and failures can both be seen. Amongst the successes, vocational education, apprenticeships, and labour market programmes all appear to increase employment prospects for participants” [2]

Winch & Hyland (2007) “All this must be a major cause for concern for educators and policy-makers since apprenticeship has some widely recognized advantages as a form of strongly vocational education. First, it equips young people directly for employment in the sector within which they work. Second, it provides an environment for growing up in, which many young people find attractive. Third, in its modern form, it can, through links with colleges, provide the underpinning knowledge necessary for work in a high-skill economic environment”. [3]

Merits, Britain  

Merit 1: Labour market and industry

The provision of tailored education in the form of vocational study, in contrast to large-scale university education, can begin to minimise the gap between industry needs and available skills. Skills gaps and shortages are cited not only in day-to-day conversations, but also by industry training boards.

Evidence and Research

Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) (2021) “Skills and training issues remain problematic: over the last 12 months, 74% of Employers have faced skills and training issues, and 85% of Providers considered there to be skills and training issues for the industry as a whole”. [4]

Merit 2: Education providers

In my opinion, the push for university education, coupled with the reduction of funding for these education institutions, has led to unhelpful competition between education providers. It could be argued that, through no fault of their own, the education they provide, falls on their priorities.

Institutions are a fundamental part of education, and if they can flourish, the potential for their respective specialisms is enormous.   

Evidence and Research

Ryan (2000) “Labour market programmes come and go. Institutions develop, adapt and, for the most part, endure”. [2]

Guy Standing (2019) Government ministers, civil servants and university administrators unashamedly refer to the “education industry” … … “Universities are selling themselves as commodities, as attractive items of consumption by customers or clients – the potential students”.” [5]

Merit 3: People

The definition of the word “vocation” is “a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation”. Having a sense of suitability for a profession not only improves employment prospects but can also bring about more joy in everyday lives. 

Evidence and Research  

Brunello & Rocco (2017) “While our estimates show that for lower education employment profiles do not vary by education type (vocational or academic), for higher education vocational qualifications offer better employment prospects at the beginning of an individual’s career than higher academic qualifications. Over the life cycle, this initial advantage is rapidly eroded but never turns into a disadvantage”. [6]

Guy Standing (2019) “Education is, or should be, much more than about gaining credentials and an entry-level job ticket”. [7]


[1] Brunello & Rocco (2017), The Labour Market Effects of Academic and Vocational Education over the Life Cycle: Evidence Based on a British Cohort, pg. 137.

[2] Ryan (2000), The School-to-Work Transition: A Cross-National Perspective, section 8.  

[3] Winch & Hyland (2007), A Guide to Vocational Education and Training, pg. 66.

[4] Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) Customer and Stakeholder research report (2021), pg. 4.

[5] Guy Standing (2019), Plunder of the Commons, pg. 302-303.

[6] Brunello & Rocco (2017), The Labour Market Effects of Academic and Vocational Education over the Life Cycle: Evidence Based on a British Cohort, pg. 139.

[7] Guy Standing, Plunder of the Commons, pg. 300.

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