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Friday 22 August 2014

We must change society's attitudes to the vocational education option

Philip Sheridan

Published 09/04/2014 | 02:30

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Philip Sheridan urges a change in attitude to vocational education. Photo: Getty Images.
Philip Sheridan urges a change in attitude to vocational education. Photo: Getty Images.

Our education system is diversifying, with more choice available to young people than ever before. This is coupled with little expectation that they will be employed in a 'job-for-life'.

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These changes mean that while there are more opportunities for young people, their options when choosing a course of education or training after school have become more complex.

Vocational education and training is one of many options available, yet the popularity of university suggests that young people are being encouraged to aspire to university alone.

This situation prompted City & Guilds Ireland to conduct a survey about attitudes to vocational education and training among young people. The findings raised serious concerns about the perceptions and understanding of this option.

Typically, young people see vocational education as less challenging and less prestigious than academic education. They view it as a route for the less able and as a low status option. Parents appear to agree. A survey conducted by the European Commission (2011) found that in Ireland, three-quarters of people thought vocational education had a positive image, but only one in 10 would recommend vocational education to someone finishing school.

Clearly, vocational education is viewed as a last resort rather than a career path which can lead to successful enterprise or a well-paid job. Yet the same is not true for all of Europe. In Germany, it is quite normal for young persons within the same family to opt for different paths, post second-level education. For example, one might go to university to study medicine, while another might opt to become a fitter or welder. Both careers are valued equally.

In Ireland, City & Guilds offers qualifications that are developed in partnership with industry experts and span a wide range of sectors, including: ICT, digital media, engineering, food manufacturing, services, tourism, health and social care, agriculture, forestry, and leadership and management. We focus on delivering the skills and training required to develop the kind of workforce that is needed for economic prosperity and that will enhance young peoples' employability.

It is vital to consider the young person's interests, aptitude and abilities – not all young people are suited to the academic route. Information on vocational routes should be available in school at an earlier age, ideally starting at 13 or earlier. This will help young people make decisions about their future before the end of the Junior Cycle.

We should be providing young people with real-life examples of individuals in a wide range of careers and trades. This will help them to better understand different kinds of work, including work that is not limited to their own family's experience.

Critically, what is required is a change in attitude among parents, educators and students in order to make vocational education an attractive choice for young people.

PHILIP SHERIDAN, COMMERCIAL MANAGER, CITY & GUILDS IRELAND

Irish Independent

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