Education, News

Vocational Training: America Needs to Lose The Stigma

If you live in North America, chances are you are hoping to attend college. It is, as President Barack Obama campaigned in 2008, something everyone hopes for themselves and/or their children to achieve. Yet, there is major problem in this approach – It ignores the fact that not everyone wants to or is suited to a four-year college program. It places a stigma on what the economic engines of the United States actually need – vocational training education or vocational education and training (VET).

VET and the Root of its Stigma

The striving for higher education has been part of the American norm since the late 1920s. It came into its own, however, after the end of World War II when once formidable and forbidden colleges opened up to allow the entry of veterans into their programs. This gave an impetus to the notion that higher education was available for all. Yet, it also resulted in the concept that this was the only acceptable route for youth to follow.

In effect, it created a two tiered system. Those who had ability and intellect went to colleges. Those who lacked either, attend vocational schools. This approach clearly indicated that the desired route to success was only taken by the brightest. The rest were the leftovers, the less-than-bright individuals. As the split continued to evolve, the divide became one of theory versus one of practice.

vocational training - youth on truck

Times They Are a Changing

Times have changed. While college still continues to draw the brightest theoreticians, it also graduates many into a world where they are essentially unemployable. They lack the practical skills to obtain gainful employment. As Tamar Jacoby, President and CEO, ImmigrationWorks USA note in a 2013 Civic Report (83), that one common complaint among current employers is the distinct “lack of the appropriate skills” among those who seek employment. This, according to industry and government officials is a problem that is to going to go away. It is going to increase.

Unless the attitude towards vocational schools changes in America, many youths and adults are going to continue to attend College. They will then graduate into the unemployment lines. They will miss out on the opportunity to work because they are not capable of performing the jobs that are available.

Vocational Training Schools Today

The latest term for vocational training schools and the work they perform is “career and technical education” (CTE). Several states are putting into place vocational schools that provide students with what they need to make their mark in life. By 2013, Thomas Sweeney noted that Texas and North Carolina were establishing systems that worked. New York had already made the move to a comprehensive approach to vocational schooling in 2008 – the first to do so.

The German model first considered the optimal approach for Americans in the early 20th century, is being adopted in a few states. Volkswagen has put into practice their VW Academy in their plant in Chattanooga Tennessee. The program comprises hands-on apprenticeship work in conjunction with schooling. Upon graduation, students receive a job. They also have an associate’s degree from Chattanooga State Community College. In addition, they are granted a DIHK certification from the German American Chamber of Commerce. The latter allows them the right to work in German auto plants if they so desire.

The Future

With the need for people with practical skills growing, it is important that the culture of education changes. It must cast aside the perception of vocational schools as being the last resort of the dumbest and inept in society.  Society at all levels needs to embrace it as a viable and very necessary part of a holistic education system.


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Mary Brown

Mary Brown

Mary Brown has enjoyed writing about education and finance related topics, such as scholarships, student loans, college, vocational degree choices, and adult education since the early 2000's. She also writes about school budgets, accreditation and fundraising.