European adults don't like VET: 5 tough messages from Cedefop’s recent public opinion survey
EPALE Thematic Coordinator, Andrew McCoshan, argues that Cedefop's public opinion survey on vocational education and training (VET) should prompt a call to action in Europe.
It is often said that VET has a poor image. Indeed, EU and national policies have been focused on this challenge for some time. So we need to take note of Cedefop's recent public opinion survey as it represents the most reliable and up-to-date picture of public attitudes to VET, comprising the views of no less than 35,000 European adults. Sadly, it shows that we still have a long way to go in correcting negative perceptions of VET.
1. Compared to general education, VET has a poor image
The headline figures from the survey confirm our suspicions: three quarters of survey respondents believe general education has a more positive image than VET. Furthermore, 63% believe it is easier to get a VET qualification than a general education qualification. That does not mean VET has no value: 86% of respondents agreed that people in VET learn the skills needed by employers, 67% of people find a job quickly after gaining a VET qualification, and 60% think that VET leads to well-paid or highly regarded jobs.
2. VET is not always top of people's recommendations
Only 60% of people who have done VET and 26% of general education graduates are likely to recommend VET to others. In some countries, the share of all respondents recommending VET is very low: around just one in five in Denmark, Sweden and Ireland. And there are also misconceptions to contend with: 70% believe that VET is about manual work, despite the huge changes in the nature of work that have already taken place.
3. VET suffers from active discouragement
In 19 out of 28 EU Member States, at least 20% of respondents said they had been advised (mostly by a family member) not to do VET. In some countries, the percentage exceeds 40% (Croatia, Italy, Romania, Hungary). Only in the Netherlands is the figure less than 10%.
4. Lack of information continues to be a hindrance
Much effort has gone into promoting the need for good quality information and guidance for all in Europe. However, the survey suggests there is still much to do: 26% of adults who did VET, and 50% of people who did general education said they were not provided with information about VET when they were making decisions about what type of upper secondary education to pursue.
5. VET is unpopular with people with no or few qualifications
24% of people who had not completed upper secondary education had not even heard of VET and a further 21% had heard of it but did not really know what it was. With many countries trying to develop VET as an effective route for people who struggle in mainstream education, these figures are extremely concerning.
The conclusions are clear and tough
Cedefop needs to be congratulated for this survey. At the same time, the results should send a chill down the backs of all of us involved in VET policy in whatever capacity.
It is now quite clear that sizeable proportions of adults hold negative perceptions and/or misconceptions of VET and are likely to pass them on to young people. We can reasonably assume that this also makes them unlikely to want to take part in VET themselves.
This requires urgent action. The message is stark: either we have not yet done enough to advance VET in the minds of adults or what we have done has not been very effective.
We need extensive and concerted promotion of the value of upskilling and re-skilling for adults along with high-quality advice and guidance. Clearly, we also need more and better-quality continuing vocational education and training to make this promotion believable. It is not going to be easy but we need it urgently – perceptions are quickly acquired and had to change.
Andrew McCoshan has worked in education and training for over 30 years. For more than 15 years he has conducted studies and evaluations for the EU, and before that was a consultant in the UK. Andrew is currently an independent researcher and consultant, an ECVET Expert for the UK, and Senior Research Associate at the Educational Disadvantage Centre at Dublin City University in Ireland.