Job Training versus Career Development: What Is
Voc Ed's Role? ERIC Digest.
by Lankard, Bettina A.
Should vocational education concentrate on preparing students for specific
jobs or should it be more focused on broader career development, including
lifelong learning, employability, and cognitive skills? This Digest explores
these questions and examines how vocational education programs can best
prepare students to meet the demands of the current and future workplace.
JOB TRAINING AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION
When asked to describe the role of vocational education in the schooling
of the nation's youth, most educators (and citizens) would say it is to
prepare students for work in a given trade or vocational area. For many
years, this preparation has focused on job skill training, the philosophy
being that training individuals in the "hands-on" tasks required for work
is of primary importance in ensuring their employability and job market
success. This singular attention to job-specific skills continues to characterize
many vocational education programs. The controversy among educators is
whether or not students are actually acquiring the appropriate job-specific
skills and whether or not those skills are sufficient for the comprehensive
education of youth.
In an effort to document the learning gains for students in secondary
and adult full-time vocational programs, states are developing skill standards
for given occupations upon which their vocational curricula are based.
These standards form the basis for assessing students' entry-level occupational
skills plus the employability skills that are generic to all occupations.
The documentation of these skills then provides vocational program completers
with credentials (or a career passport) to present to potential employers,
thus enhancing their ability to gain employment. The advocates of generic
work skills (educators and employers alike) maintain that workers who have
them will be able to move successfully from one job to another as demanded
by the changing competitive market. However, the question about the effectiveness
of these approaches as the 21st century approaches is strongly debated.
The nature of today's workplace is different from that of the past.
It is characterized by global competition, cultural diversity, new technologies,
and new management processes that require workers to have critical thinking,
problem-solving and communication skills as well as advanced levels of
job skills. Some educators believe that this new and emerging workplace
eliminates the viability of vocational education programs that concentrate
solely on the acquisition of job skills. They contend that vocational education
should concentrate more broadly on all aspects of their students' career
development--that it should expand its focus by initiating programs that
prepare students with the "basic academic skills, the teachability and
flexibility, the commitment to lifelong learning that permits them to rapidly
change in ways required by new organizations of work or content changes
in the processes and performances of work" (Herr 1995, p. 5).
Kincheloe (1995) criticizes vocational education's focus on specific
job skills. Contending that "most observers agree that vocational education
is indeed a failure," he notes that "very few vocational students find
work immediately after high school that is related to their vocational
education" (p. 31). "Some studies report that high school vocational graduates
are no more likely to find jobs than are high school dropouts" (ibid.)
Another criticism of vocational education's focus on job-specific training
is that it tends to filter the working class and poor students into its
programs, thus neglecting the broader career development perspective that
this vulnerable population needs to compete in the global workplace. Additionally,
as "mainstream society refuses to value the knowledge of job preparation,
the status of work-related knowledge is low" (ibid., p. 32).
AN ALTERNATIVE TO JOB-SPECIFIC TRAINING
One way of expanding the focus of vocational education is through the
integration of academic and vocational education. The increasing importance
of the integration of academic and vocational education in preparing youth
and adults for the workplace of 2000 is described by Herr (1995):
As large numbers of low-skilled or semiskilled jobs are exported to
other nations or eliminated by the rapid application of advanced technology,
automated machine systems, and robotics in the workplace, there is a redistribution
of learning requirements in the United States and in other nations that
receive manufacturing and service jobs formerly done in the United States.
This redistribution of learning requirements begins with an emphasis on
the importance of basic academic skills as the foundation for being able
to learn and to perform the tasks expected in the emerging occupations
as well as in many of the traditional occupations. (p. 20)
Through integrated academic and vocational programs, students have the
opportunity to learn the basic academic skills in relationship to the broad
job skills required in the workplace. And, since the average worker changes
occupations four to six times in a lifetime, a broad range of academic
and vocational skills that include higher-order thinking skills is imperative
to workplace success (Rosenstock 1991). Parnell (1996) proposes "combining
an information-rich subject-matter content with an experience-rich context
of application" (p. 19). In this way, each discipline reinforces and builds
upon the other (Cahill 1993).
Some states, like Ohio, have redesigned their vocational education curricula
to address state skill standards for given occupational areas, providing
students with strong experience in and understanding of all aspects of
the industry in which they are preparing to enter. Ohio's Occupational
Competency Analysis Profiles (OCAPs) expand the list of occupational and
employability skills (or competencies) to include the academic competencies
and ACT Work Keys assessment skill levels needed to enter a given occupation
or occupational area. These OCAPs afford vocational and applied academic
teachers the opportunity to formulate their curricula using the validated
list of all competencies required in the field (Vocational Instructional
Materials Laboratory 1995).
Interdisciplinary curricula are another form of academic/vocational
integration that has gained interest across the country. In interdisciplinary
curricula, active linkages can be designed between multiple fields of knowledge,
enabling students to make connections between subjects, thus making the
curriculum more relevant to them. Integrated curricula can lead students
to explore a number of different subject areas and allow them to "see the
strength of each discipline's perspective in a connected way" (Jacobs 1989,
p. 5). In stating "we cannot train people in specializations and expect
them to cope with the multifaceted nature of their work," Jacobs presents
another support for the integration of academic and vocational education
(ibid., p. 6).
CONNECTED AND CONSTRUCTIVIST LEARNING
"When political leaders have discussed job training and the relationship
between schooling and work, they rarely ask what type of citizens do we
want to produce or what kind of society do we want to build" (Kincheloe
1995, p. 24). These questions suggest that a comprehensive educational
program must show the correlation between learning to work and learning
to think. "Unless connections are made between subject content and the
context of application, little long-lasting learning occurs for the majority
of students" (Parnell 1996, p. 19). Connecting content of knowledge with
the context of application enables students to expand the "ability of the
thinking brain to solve problems, and to assimilate that knowledge in a
way that can be useful in new situations" (ibid., p. 20).
Parnell contends that the greatest sin committed in many schools today
is the failure to help students "use the magnificent power of the brain
to make the connections between knowing and doing, academic and vocational
education, knowledge and application of knowledge, one subject-matter discipline
and another, and subject-matter content and the context of use" (p. 18).
"Rather than helping students develop an ability to memorize facts in a
textbook, teachers should teach students metacognitive and self-evaluative
skills so they can assess what they need to learn in order to solve a problem
or complete a project" (ASCD 1995b, p. 5).
The constructivist approach to teaching and learning requires that teachers
"provide a learning environment where students search for meaning, appreciate
uncertainty, and inquire responsibly" (Brooks and Brooks 1993, p. v). "We
must begin to make a difference in how students learn by encouraging student-to-student
interaction, initiating lessons that foster cooperative learning, and providing
opportunities for students to be exposed to interdisciplinary curriculum...we
must abandon the mimetic approach to learning and implement practices that
encourage students to think and rethink, demonstrate, and exhibit" (ibid.,
p. v). Under constructivism, teachers follow practices that lead students
to engage in higher-order thinking and provide opportunities for students
to process information through various avenues of expression--written,
oral, building, drawing, etc.
CAREER DEVELOPMENT AND VOCATIONAL EDUCATION
The concepts of career development offer an expanded focus for vocational
education, one that extends beyond the limits of job training. Proponents
of career development contend that vocational education should supplement
its programs with transitional components such as academic skills, productive
work habits, work values, and career decision-making skills (Hoyt 1993).
It should initiate connected and constructivist ways for students to think
and learn as important aspects of career development and appreciate the
contribution they make to students' development of career interests, choice,
planning, and performance.
Successful career development in vocational education requires educators
who are willing to take risks, to forego the need for "control," and to
allow students to pursue their own learning--to ask their own questions
and seek their own answers. They must invite students "to search for understanding,
appreciate uncertainty, and inquire responsibly" (Brooks and Brooks 1993,
p. 6), while accepting the uncertainty themselves as students pursue areas
that are new to them as well. Teachers in newly designed vocational programs
should "provide opportunities for students to make connections with their
own life experiences" (ASCD 1995a, p. 1). Rather than helping students
to memorize facts, "teachers should teach students metacognitive and self-evaluative
skills so they can assess what they need to learn in order to solve a problem
or complete a project. Students who learn these skills will be able to
direct their own learning--to recognize what skills they need and to go
off and learn their skills on their own" (ASCD 1995b, p. 4). Then, they
will be able to involve themselves in lifelong learning that continually
prepares them for employment and career development.
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. "Understanding
the Brain." EDUCATION UPDATE 37, no. 7 (September 1995a): 1, 4.
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. "Student-Directed
Learning: Balancing Student Choice and Curriculum Goals." EDUCATION UPDATE
37, no. 9 (December 1995b): 1, 4-8.
Brooks, J., and Brooks, M. IN SEARCH OF UNDERSTANDING: THE CASE FOR
CONSTRUCTIVIST CLASSROOMS. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision
and Curriculum Development, 1993. (ED 366 428)
Cahill, J. "Integrating Curriculum for Tech Prep." TECH DIRECTIONS 55,
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Herr, E. COUNSELING EMPLOYMENT BOUND YOUTH. Greensboro, NC: ERIC Clearinghouse
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Hoyt, K. B. "Career Education and Transition from Schooling to Employment."
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Jacobs, H., ed. INTERDISCIPLINARY CURRICULUM: DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION.
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Rosenstock, L. "The Walls Come Down: The Overdue Reunification of Vocational
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ANALYSIS PROFILE. Columbus: Center on Education and Training for Employment,
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