Vocational Training Skills vs. Four-Year Degrees

New study suggests a lack of vocational training skills for high school graduates affecting workforce

While the unemployment rate fell to its lowest rate in two years in February, an old debate has surfaced on the heels of a report from Harvard University’s Pathways to Prosperity project. At its core, the report says that there are not enough alternatives to the traditional four-year education by way of vocational training skills. It is creating issues for “middle-skill” employers.

The Great Divide: Vocational training skills vs. four-year degrees

Harvard professor Robert Schwartz discussed the results of his study on NPR’s “On Point with Tom Ashbrook” in early March to discuss the results of his study. The vocational training skills path is often seen as a secondary means of education to the four-year degree, Schwartz said. He is urging an overhaul of the notion that those who opt for a vocational, specialized training are “settling” compared to those pursuing a four-year degree. Backlash from this disproportionate emphasis of the two paths could impact the general workforce in the long run. He forecasts a greater demand for highly skilled, entry-level vocational workers to take over jobs as Baby Boomers aim for retirement and as Gen X start to move up to replace them.

“…The Pathways study cites many “middle-skill” occupations (think electricians, construction managers, hygienists) that require education after high school, but in the form of an associate’s degree or an occupational certificate. But employers are finding that young adults don’t have the skills they need for the 21st century work place, the report said …” Annie McCallum from an article in the Montgomery Adviser.

U.S. vs. Them: Vocational Training skills in Europe

Schwartz cites other countries that embrace the apprenticeship, where workers receive three-year on-the-job training skills. In countries like Germany and Switzerland, a large portion of the cost of education relating to vocational training skills is paid for by companies that see the long-term benefits of it produces. This is not to say that there aren’t drawbacks to these models, especially in Germany. German students are often placed into their potential career paths after fourth grade, far younger than their American counterparts.

Of course, there are many factors that go into the lack of vocational education training. High school budgets are being slashed, making elective courses like shop or auto relics of high school past rather than a serious, effective complement to existing curriculum in math, reading and science.

It is common sense that the more education a person pursues; it can only serve them better in the long run. It is tough to deny that there are not equal benefits for those pursuing a vocational education vs. a four-year degree. There are already plenty of continuing education and aggressive training standards already in place for the adult vocational worker, so why not begin that education process sooner to ensure that these people are utilized for their maximum skill?

To listen to the full report, click here.