Learning for jobs: Quality pays off

by Dirk Van Damme and Rodrigo Castaneda Valle
Innovation and Measuring Progress Division, Directorate for Education and Skills

In 2010 the OECD published Learning for Jobs, a major review of vocational education and training (VET). The economic crisis has since continued to worsen the job prospects for young people in many OECD countries.  To counterbalance governments have increasingly been looking to strengthen vocational tracks in secondary education as a way to better prepare youth for the job market. The evidence base on VET remains weak, however Education at a Glance is providing improved data on VET systems and the latest issue of Education Indicators in Focus draws attention to some interesting findings.

The very basic policy question that governments ask is: Do more and better VET programmes help to improve employment prospects for young people? International evidence shows us that VET programmes are a costly investment. VET programmes are expected to be up-to-date with the latest technologies in the different industry sectors, and once you factor in the costs of instructors and facilities, it becomes a costly endeavour. On average, the annual expenditure per student in an upper secondary VET programme is 12% higher than in a general programme. In some countries such as Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the Czech and Slovak Republics – countries which have extensive VET provision, enrolling more than 60% of students – the difference in annual expenditure per student can exceed 20%.

It is tempting to relate the size and cost of VET programmes to employment prospects for young people. Indeed, countries like Germany and Switzerland have relatively healthy youth employment rates. Young people with a secondary VET qualification are doing much better in the labour market than their counterparts with only a general secondary qualification as their highest level of educational attainment.

But, as the graph demonstrates, a high proportion of secondary school students in VET programmes is no guarantee for high employment outcomes. It is interesting that it is the relative cost of VET programmes which differentiates countries on employment. Countries which invest more than the average succeed in offering better job prospects. Assuming that more monetary investment in VET programmes also means higher quality programmes, it becomes clear that it is not the size of VET provision that counts, but the quality. Of course, many other factors also impact youth employment, but the graph suggests that it doesn’t really help to have a large proportion of students in VET tracks – as is the case in the Czech and Slovak Republics. Rather, it is much better to have about 35% of students in vocational tracks and to fund them well, as can be seen in the case of Switzerland.

For more information
On this topic, visit:
Education Indicators in Focus: www.oecd.org/education/indicators
On the OECD’s education indicators, visit:
Education at a Glance 2013: OECD Indicators: www.oecd.org/edu/eag.htm
For more information on OECD work on Vocational Education and Training: www.oecd.org/education/vet
Chart source: OECD Education at a Glance 2013: Indicators A1, A5 and B1 (http://oecd.org/edu/eag.htm)

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