Schooling in the Workplace: How Six of the World's Best Vocational Education Systems Prepare Young People for Jobs and Life
reviewed by Judith Parker - October 26, 2012
Title: Schooling in the Workplace: How Six of the World's Best Vocational Education Systems Prepare Young People for Jobs and Life
Author(s): Nancy Hoffman
ISBN: 1612501125, Pages: 212, Year: 2011
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The premise of this book is one that is near and dear to the heart of this reviewer but should be at the forefront of the thoughts of every educator, student, employer and employee. With the nightly news continuing to focus on employment issues and educational systems, it is clearly time to stop finger-pointing and admit to the fact that we are all in this together; this being the economic, educational, social and political climate of the planet.
Hoffman states that her motivating idea for this book was to put before American educators and policy makers some examples of systems of education that get better results than the United States does for the large group of young people who do not opt for a university education (p. 167). In reality, this book does much more. It provides the foundation for thoughtful discourse among potentially every segment of society, in the U.S. and around the world. Her ideas are applicable to every person who intends to become or remain gainfully employed, with or without a university education. In a knowledge society and a global economy, it is important to share best practices and consider their application in a variety of settings.
Hoffmans use of global statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is both insightful and alarming from a U.S. perspective. Obviously, the United States has much to learn but also much to contribute. She is, however, careful to caution the reader about similarities and differences among the countries populations in size and demographics. Her attention to detail makes this an especially informative book. She admits that the book was carefully written for the U.S. reader. However, the information she cites would clearly be valuable to anyone involved in education or in business in any country on the planet.
This book is about eliminating the boundaries between school and work and the borders between countries and admitting that we need to work together and learn from each other. As Americans, it is easy to get caught up in the educational model that has been the norm in this country and has served us reasonably well to this point. But Hoffman encourages us to not remain in the silos of K-12, higher education, and the private sector but demonstrates the necessity of collaboration between the systems that should prepare people for careers and the demands of the careers that they will enter. She goes a step further in calling for an end to the artificial distinction between academic and vocational when describing education.
But in this book, Hoffman does not just give us a call to action but supplies us with real life data and demonstrations of systems that are successful in other carefully selected studies from Australia, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland. She describes countries that are doing much better by their young people supporting them to achieve academically at higher levels, keeping them in school, and most importantly, structuring the transition from school to work so that almost everyone has training for an initial career and enters the workforce smoothly (p. 4).
The issues in this book are similar to the ones addressed by this reviewer, Parker (2010), in considering the areas of adult learning and career and technical education CTE). Both the author and the reviews writing focused on the shared history of the areas usually considered to be in disparate silos but which in reality have similar problems. Hoffmans book reminded the reviewer that her chapter noted that CTE is always about the future because it focuses on preparing lifelong learners who can connect todays knowledge with tomorrows needs (p. 231). Parker predicted a future with even more connections, more blurring of boundaries; a future that values personal philosophies but shared experiences and goals (Parker, p. 231). These mesh nicely with Hoffmans ideas. Hoffman is careful to distinguish between traditional CTE and her term, vocational education and training (VET). Strong employer involvement is a hallmark of VET. But a strong VET system includes a qualifications system, engaged employers, and workplace learning (p. 169). It clearly involves the breadth of numerous stakeholders and the longevity of lifelong learning. But even then, one size does not fit all and she describes three models of VET education distinguishable by their differing priorities of economy, politics, or society.
She notes that VET, as an education system that in partnership with employers holds itself accountable not only for career preparation but for moving young people into productive roles in the labor force, has a different orientation than one in which completion of a degree or credential is the end point of the education systems responsibility (p.6). This completion orientation is consistent with that of the U.S. She admits that the U.S. has pockets of excellence (p. 170) but lacks an overall system.
While the book might initially seem like a prescriptive approach to solve the problems of unemployment, Hoffmans ideas are grounded in strong philosophical issues surrounding the concept of preparing for and progressing in a calling or vocation. This places the learning of specific skills within the context of a broader educational framework. She states that liberal education is a clear strength of higher education in the U.S. However, rather than the dichotomy of academic liberal education vs. vocational training that prevails on the U.S. educational landscape, Hoffman advocates for country models of education that integrate liberal education into learning for work. These would appear to serve those involved in traditional liberal arts education, those pursuing a profession, and those preparing for research intense careers in academia or national laboratories.
Hoffmans inclusion of a quote from Henry Levin about seeing taken-for-granted practices with new eyes reminded the reviewer of the writings of adult educator, Stephen Brookfield, and his ideas about taken-for-granted assumptions in theories of critical thinking and critical reflection in adult learning. This book includes rich details that should be the source for such critical reflection, discourse, and action.
Parker, J. (2010) Adult Learning and CTE: A Shared History Influenced by Technology. In Wang, V. (Ed.). Definitive Readings in the History, Philosophy, Practice and Theories of Career and Technical Education (pp. 215-234). Harrisburg, PA: IGI-Global. Hangzhou, China: Zhejiang University Press.