Vocational Work is Underutilized and Unappreciated

Vocational careers (carpentry, electrical, plumbing, sheet-metal work, pipe-fitting, etc.) will continue to be an important source of well-paid, engaging, and secure work. Obtaining training and certification from trade schools and community colleges is significantly less expensive than attending college/university. Moreover, compared to college/university graduates, trade school graduates typically land jobs faster and are more likely to be employed in their chosen field of study.

Yet obstacles remain. Many people are unaware of the opportunities provided by vocational work. There are also prevailing negative perceptions around the skilled trades (i.e., culturally looked down upon, parents are skeptical of their children’s futures, high schools tout the number of students that go on to university rather than trade school, etc.).

Lack of governmental support for vocational programs will likely be a challenge as well. (The U.S. federal government’s Tech-Prep program hasn’t been funded since 2011, and 25% of states reduced funding for similar programs in 2017.)

Lastly, there are concerns that students from minority/underrepresented backgrounds will be urged to adopt blue-collar jobs while other, more privileged students, will be sent to college.

@sinnodk, @Venkat, you may have thoughts on this topic. We want to know what - if any - solutions are already being tried, whether it is by governments or companies, to address this problem?

In Denmark we are trying to reverse the trend of pushing young people to go to College/Universities but instead the government are doing adverticement to pursuade them into going to Trade school. However, College and Universities are free in Denmark, and you actually get paid about 1000$/month to study, it is quite hard to reverse the trend.

Socially it is getting “cooler” to work with your hands. Especially more creative works like fine wood-works are increasingly popular and it is hard to find companies to train the young people.

Is it the same for trade schools?

I know in the Netherlands university students used to get more benefits (like free public transport) than those attending trade school, but the government has been working to rectify that – including by converting monthly stipends for students, like the ones you have in Denmark, into interest-free loans.

This is a really important topic. Not only is it underappreciated and underutilized, but it is also “under-advertised”.

In a recent research partnership with the OECD, we took a data-driven approach with PISA 2018 data to assess what youth’s “dream jobs” might be and how they map to labour market projections.

One of the core insights included a lack of awareness of vocational jobs at a young age - when many people significant education decisions and investments. What we call “good hidden jobs” aren’t visible to many youth who mostly aspire to be “doctor” or “lawyer”.

So one might wonder of how much of the lack of interest is a branding / communication problem vs. funding / access problem.

More in the report that was launched at Davos 2020 here:

We also outline some of our “moonshot” thinking around this issue here, if of interest:

@tjforsyth thank you for sharing the outline of your thinking around this issue. You mentioned wondering which might be more of a gap: branding/communication or funding/access. With regards to communication, do you sense that improved communication between education providers themselves, as well as between corporations and education providers, might help bridge the skills gap?

@tjforsyth Thank you so much for sharing this report! Truly interesting to see the PISA data and concentrations of job interest for young men and women based on country. I definitely see the lack of advertisement of these career paths as being a gap.

@Kathleen_Hamrick - definitely room for improvement on the communication front, but I always like to set that issue in the context of incentive structures both parties operate under currently and their histories. This gives us a better picture of where there might be more realistic leverage points not being utilized versus ones that are less aligned to existing incentives.

For example, universities were created first as an extension of religious institutions specializing in theology (17th ish century). Of course they’ve come a long way in their modernization as they adapted scientific methods but they were never really designed to produce “labour market ready” job candidates for employers. That was never their design or purpose.

If education systems including universities were held accountable by measuring graduate employment or salary outcomes 3-5 years out (and then publishing them), they would probably start modernizing curriculum and programming in a more agile fashion aligned to employers. Right now though, research, publications, etc. are probably more of an incentive for academic funding, status, etc.

Short answer is I think communication can be solved for quickly, but is held back by deep rooted incentives that will take longer to change.

I wonder if the negative perception of vocational careers / blue-collar trades will dissipate with the addition of new and innovative technological tools.

For instance, Spectar (https://www.spectar.io/), an LA-based software company, creates tools for construction workers using cutting edge augmented and mixed reality technologies. Construction workers are now donning VR headsets in their daily work to do things like cutting and fixing studs.

Does anyone foresee a future where vocational workers may be perceived not only as skilled trades-people but also as pioneers of implementation for cutting edge technologies?

Has any research been done on this topic?

@dunxd, @dr2tom, do you have any insight on this question?