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VET as both a field and a sector of education

Vocational education and training comprise a broad field of education. This field includes as a sub-element, a specific sector of post-schooling education also commonly referred to as vocational education that usually has a particular set of country-specific institutions and alignments. Despite the field of VET being far broader and more encompassing, it is often this sector that has come to characterise vocational education when it is discussed in the public, government, and educational discourses. Yet, it comprises a broad field of education that includes all those programmes and provisions that have intents associated with developing capacities for specific occupations or working lives. For instance, the educational provisions for medicine, law, commerce, and physiotherapy offered through universities, and prevocational programmes in high schools are both components of the broader field of vocational education, and those offered by the VET Sector. Hence, there are more commonalities across this field than are usually expressed in the public and scientific literature, which tends to see these provisions as being two distinct and separate sectors, rather than there being a distinct field of vocational education endeavour. In essence, they have the same educational project. The overall commonalities across these range of offerings from universities, vocational colleges, and schools is sometimes seen more easily from an external perspective than from within the field of education.

That is, regardless of the institutional context, these provisions are associated with developing and sustaining the capacities required for the working life. Their educational purposes are primarily concerned with identifying the knowledge that is required for effective performance in an occupation, and then, organising experiences to capture that knowledge through finding ways of enacting those experiences so that the learners can come to be effective in the occupational practices. This is the case, regardless of whether one is learning about medicine, law, hairdressing, tourism, cooking, safe work practices, etc. Moreover, all these intended learning outcomes are captured within a coherent set of educational goals associated with developing procedural and conceptual attributes required for those practices. Hence, despites diversity and seeming distinctions amongst institutions offering vocational education and training, there is so much that is common to the provision of VET that makes it coherent as a field of education. This commonality extends to the kinds of educational intentions to be realised (for example, the development of occupational specific knowledge), and the need to engage with external partners such as the private sector (for example, providing experiences across educational and practice settings). 

Furthermore, VET students engage in a diverse range of courses whose scope is broader than that offered through other education sectors. These courses range from those with very specific purposes (e.g., skill development for licensed roles such as the occupational and workplace safety, lifting, welding and machinery certification), multi-year courses leading to high level qualifications associated with paraprofessional occupations in VET sector through to degree programmes in the universities leading to prestigious occupations such as law, medicine, or physiotherapy. In VET, there is also a range of adult learning and development provisions, as well as recreational pursuits, which in some systems comprise an element of vocational education and training under the guise of the adult or continuing education that can also include general education provisions aligned to assist adult learners to secure entry into the university. In these ways, the educational programmes that comprise vocational education and training lead to certification at a range of levels of educational achievement by a very diverse cohort of students.

Authors of the Report

The project Competences for the Future – Matching the Needs of the Labour Market benefits from a € 106 000 grant from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA Grants. The aim of the project is to update the education offer through the exchange of opinions and good practices between organizations with experience in the field of vocational education of youth and adults.