Hive minds, dual pathways, one-track mind, single mindedness – which mindset is best for economic growth and vocational training? And which country is on the right path?
Many of the world’s leading economies are in the process of making radical changes to their education system. Why? To ensure they maintain their global position and future economic security.
Yes, it’s true, many countries are also looking at funding, to try and reduce the cost of education. However, an analysis of what is motivating the changes to systems and approaches (rather than funding) shows that it is a desire to keep ahead of technological changes, or, expressed in more negative terms, a fear of disruption from innovation, that is driving the desire for change.
How TVET compares worldwide
A UNESCO review of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) last year summarises the situation: “TVET systems are valued for their links with the fast-changing demands of the labour market and world of work. A set of new skills is emerging including digital, entrepreneurial, green and innovation skills.”
It is in preparing for this new possible future that TVET is under review in many parts of the world. Our whitepaper ‘How England’s plans for technical and vocational qualifications compare worldwide‘ looks into how planned changes to England’s TVET levels compare to vocational education leaders Singapore, Germany, Australia and Finland.
Singapore for example, held up as a paragon of economic success and prosperity, achieved through a commitment to education and training for its population, has a new very clear focus on vocational training.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung has set the bar exceptionally high: “In time to come, we hope that 100 per cent of Singaporeans will have skills or qualifications that are on a par with having a degree, or even Master’s, in terms of job prospects.” 
“Although university degrees are the “currency” to land good jobs at the moment, deep skills are what will count for career progression.”
For further clarification he reiterated:
“Because technological changes are “turning industries upside down”, graduates need to understand the latest technologies and be able to work with them.”
Germany’s vocational training route is admired the world over, perhaps especially for the embedded relationship between employers and unions. This close relationship gives a stability and confidence to both employers and employers that vocational training, and especially the work placement element, will bring be a return on investment, if not to them immediately, then to the sector as a whole, later.
Such is the respect in which vocational training is held by the German population, that recent calls for increased funding for university education (to the possible detriment of the vocational sector) has created a new phrase: ‘Akademisierungswahn.’ This can be loosely translated as ‘academic delusion.’
Despite its long commitment to the dual route of vocational / academic study, a split which begins at secondary school level (as it does in other European countries such as Finland and the Netherlands, or South American countries such as Argentina) Germany is suffering from a shortage of skilled staff.
In a recent poll by the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), the shortage of skilled workers was noted by 56 per cent of companies as the biggest risk facing their businesses, a figure which had tripled in just five years.
Meeting the skills shortage
The same also applies to the UK and Australia, both suffering from skills shortages. In Australia the situation appears to be especially acute. The opposition party in Australia has recently called for a “once in a generation” review of the nation’s tertiary education provision, although as noted in an article in the Times Higher Education, many commentators from both universities and business feel the focus ought, instead, to be on vocational training:
“We want a strong and vibrant TAFE [Technical and Further Education] and vocational education system that works collaboratively with our world-class university sector. There is a great deal of work to be done to repair the damage to vocational education and training, with declining funding and student numbers at a time when skills shortages beset the Australian economy.”
In the UK the routes to vocational or academic education are less clear cut, with students able to ‘mix and match’ qualifications of both types, for example combining an A level with a BTEC while still within the upper secondary school system.
This ‘gap’ between academic and vocational qualification is one the new T Levels are intended to close.
However this is a not an empty space at present! The UK has one of the most vibrant TVET markets in the world, delivered by a wide range of business and trade organisations.
As noted by Stephen Wright, the former Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB):
“There are now more awarding bodies in the UK than at any other time in its history and this range and choice of awarding bodies delivers the dynamism, innovation and flexibility which is so valued on a worldwide basis.”
The UK model means businesses and trade organisations are able to respond nimbly to changing market needs and conditions. They have the ability to flex and innovate which is so important to match or exceed the speed of change and innovation in our global world.
There are many different models of TVET across the world, each with different strengths. However, what all of them must offer if they are to succeed is a robust delivery and communication system.
As the pace of change and innovation continues, businesses need training systems which are easy to work with, incorporating the latest technological developments to allow remote testing and networking, responsive partnerships and collaborative learning. Online assessment has to be a core component of every single system.
In every part of the world the ‘T for technical’ will underpin the development of best practice TVET. It will allow employees, exam boards and employers to communicate with speed and simplicity. Regardless of industry or nation, we are all now part of an interconnected world. In this respect perhaps it will be the hive mind producing collective intelligence that best serves our needs in the future.
 ‘Skills on the move: global trends, local resonances’ 4 – 6 July 2017, International conference in Tangshan People’s Republic of China https://en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/unesco-tvet-international-congress-2017-agenda-en.pdf
 Matthews, D., (2017), ‘Europeans back funding vocational training over higher education’, Times Higher Education, https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/europeans-back-funding-vocational-training-over-higher-education