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Understanding Vocational Education

Updated on October 25, 2009

Vocational education is training for employment in semiskilled, skilled, or technical occupations. In the broadest sense of the term a professional school of a university is vocational in that it equips students for an occupation, such as law or teaching. The term is generally used in a more restricted sense, however, and does not include training for a profession or for a career that requires a Bachelor of Arts degree or a higher degree. In the United States and other countries where secondary education is compulsory or usual, the manual arts taught in elementary grades are also excluded from the category of vocational education because they do not usually lead immediately to paid work. In economically underdeveloped countries of Latin America, Asia, and Africa, elementary school training in agriculture and various trades may be the last schooling a child gets before going to work, and it therefore may be properly termed vocational education.

With greater industrialization, employers and man­agers place increasing stress on technical skills. Even in a prosperous society, when a person lacks required skills, he often finds himself unemployed and poor, particularly as more low-skill jobs are automated.

The public schools of most countries offer a wide variety of vocational training, ranging from agriculture to dressmaking. In addition, vocational training is offered by special schools and institutes above the high school level, by community and junior colleges, and by government bureaus and agencies, industrial companies, labor groups, and voluntary clubs and associations.

Many different kinds of persons are benefited by vocational education. They include young persons about to enter the labor force, students who failed to complete high school or college, veteran workers who need retraining or upgrading because their jobs have changed, and workers who must learn new skills because their old jobs have been automated, or converted to performance by machines. Older adults, most of them women whose children have grown up, are helped by vocational education to enter the labor force for the first time or to return to it.

Types of Vocational Education

Vocational Agriculture. Vocational agriculture teaches efficient farm methods and management. Many students later become farmers, but others use their agricultural skills in such jobs as buying and selling farm necessities and products, food processing, soil and water conservation, and crop spraying. For those who pursue their Studies to the professional level, there are jobs as teachers and researchers and also in government service at home and abroad.

Distributive Education. Distributive education provides training in merchandising and marketing for those who choose a career in business. It includes training in management, supervisory, and employee skills, such as financing a business, training workers, and selling merchandise.

Home Economics Education. Home economics education teaches improved methods of homemaking, including household and money management, child care, care of the sick and aged, food planning and preparation, production of clothing and home furnishings, home laundering, and family recreation. The training equips students for running their own home and for jobs in hospitals, eating places, hotels, and the home-furnishings and clothing industries. Advanced work qualifies students as dietitians, institutional managers, and teachers of home economics.

Health Occupation. Health occupations programs teach students to be practical nurses, nurses, and health workers, including medical-records technicians, X-ray technician aides, mental-health workers, and dental hygienists. Training is usually carried out in cooperation with hospitals and other health agencies.

Technical Education. Technical education prepares persons for skilled and highly skilled occupations that require understanding of scientific and technological principles as they apply to materials, design, production, distribution, and service. Courses progress from the junior high school level to postsecondary institutes and finally to engineering colleges. Jobs include industrial and laboratory technicians, draftsmen, and assistants to engineers, architects, and designers. Job opportunities are good, because for every engineer about eight technicians are required.

A new approach to technical education is the so-called cluster-of-occupations training. Because new technologies are constantly emerging, the student needs training in a broad field so that he can adapt easily to the rapidly changing requirements of his work. Training in a cluster of occupations enables him to move into new areas as they open.

Trade and Industrial Education. Trade and industrial education, sometimes called practical arts education, prepares students for a wide range of production and service jobs. On its higher levels, trade and industrial education often overlaps technical education because of the demand for workers with scientific and tech­nological knowledge. Students learn the arts, materials, tools, and operations of industry and the skills of man­aging workers and machines for utmost efficiency of production. Trade courses cover an extensive range of crafts, including automotive, radio, and television mechanics, plumbing, carpentry, pattern making, electrical installation, beauty culture, fashion and textile design, dressmaking, and millinery.

Office and Business Education. Office and business education provides students with the skills required for office careers through such courses as data entry and short­hand, bookkeeping, accounting, business English, and office procedures. It also teaches students how to manage their own business affairs.

Arts Education. Arts education gives vocational training in applied arts fields, such as painting, sculpture, designing, music, ballet, and theater arts. On completing the secondary or postsecondary course, a student can earn a living in one of these fields. Often, however, he continues to pursue his studies on the college level.

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