Vocational education and training, transitions to employment

Problem statement

Good quality VET helps ensure a smooth transition to work and further career development by providing the technological skills and transversal competences required by the labour market [1] [2]. It offers an alternative to the academic track within secondary education, but also supplies higher education institutions with students particularly well prepared for technological studies [3]. Moreover, along with general education VET plays an important role in promoting social inclusion, equity and active citizenship, by addressing the education needs of children with disadvantaged social backgrounds who tend to be over-represented within vocational tracks of secondary education [4].

Implications for education

The fact that there is a disproportionate number of students from disadvantaged social backgrounds in VET in many EU countries makes this area of education particularly important, if not central, to promoting equal opportunities, facilitating upward social mobility and fostering social cohesion. Therefore, investment in VET, improving its quality and promoting greater participation yields not only strong economic gains, but also brings huge social value [5]. However, despite strong political attention at the EU level and important policy documents underlining the importance of VET, regular benchmarking and peer review processes as part of the Copenhagen process, in many EU countries investment in VET classes and laboratories, learning equipment and materials, teachers’ competences and qualifications is below the minimal levels needed to ensure quality. The levels of funding per student are at best at the same level as in general education, which does not factor in the cost of maintaining practical training infrastructure and the need to attract qualified teachers from the labour market, where they are often lured by the more financially attractive careers in the productive sector [6].

In addition to the financial aspects, the development of the VET sector is further constrained by a number of regulatory and organisational weaknesses. Firstly, the transition from VET to higher education is often constrained by incompatibility or lack of permeability between these levels of education. Some learning outcomes acquired in VET are not readily recognised, which often results in a loss of time, resources and opportunity. Secondly, the transition from VET to the labour market is constrained by underdeveloped apprenticeship and work placement schemes, as well as the lack of engagement of social partners in the governance and/or activities of VET providers. Thirdly, career guidance systems and services are often underdeveloped and fail to adequately present a VET pathway within secondary education, even when the quality of VET is good, as employers and higher education institutions need more VET graduates to pursue professional and learning careers that these institutions can offer [7]. Fourthly, the formation of qualifications, development and update of professional standards, constant revision of programmes and implementing modular approaches for more flexible learning pathways still face many challenges in many EU Member States. Finally, quality assurance systems do not help guarantee sufficient quality and fail to foster a quality culture of VET providers. A combination of the above weaknesses often determines that VET and post-secondary or higher education are seen or are in effect mutually exclusive. This limits the personal development opportunities for young people and then disproportionally so for the students from the disadvantaged social backgrounds, who are over-represented within VET systems in every EU country.


Having in mind the various challenges that VET systems face, research evidence provides some examples where further actions should be taken. It would be beneficial if efforts were made to strengthen the conditions for providing the right mix of skills for the labour market. In this way it would be useful to ensure that VET teachers and trainers are well prepared and have the necessary industry experience; collaboration with relevant stakeholders is continuous, comprehensive and smooth; and workplace learning is fully used during the learning process [8]. While VET stigma which prevails in several countries, could be diminished by reducing the stratification of education systems.

[1] Mansfield, B., Linking Vocational Education and Training Standards and Employment Requirements: An International Manual, PRIME Research and Development, 2011. PDF file

[2] European Commission, Rethinking Education: Investing in skills for better socio-economic outcomes, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, (COM/2012/0669), 2012. Web Link

[3] Jan Varchola, Main challenges and trends in VET in the EU: Links between VET and higher education, 2015. PDF file

[4] Anxo, D.; Bosch, G.; Rubery, J., The Welfare State and Life Transitions, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2010.

[5] Anxo, D.; Bosch, G.; Rubery, J., The Welfare State and Life Transitions, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2010. Also Nore, H.; Lahn, L., ‘Bridging the Gap between Work and Education in Vocational Education and Training’, IJRVET – International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training, 1(1), 2014, pp. 21-34. Web Link

[6] OECD, Reviews of vocational education and training. Learning for jobs: Pointers for policy development, 2011. PDF file

[7] Griffin, T., Disadvantaged learners and VET to higher education transitions, NCVER, Adelaide, 2014. PDF file

[8] Roiy, K., Smistrup, M., Transition between education and employment – The Danish Reform Case, 2013. PDF file