Professor Stephen Billett

Professor Stephen Billett

Could Vocational Education and Training (VET) hold the answer to the global problem of youth unemployment?

“Quite possibly,’’ says VET specialist Professor Stephen Billett from Griffith University’s School of Education and Professional Studies.

“But first there are many challenges to overcome.

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“The image of VET is often quite low in many countries including those with advanced industrial economies as well as those with developing economies.

“Outcomes of low image include a reluctance of young people and their parents to consider VET as a viable educational option, viewing participation in it as a second option as best.”

Professor Billett has recently returned from Beirut where he facilitated a workshop for UNESCO on VET in middle eastern countries. He also moderated a virtual conference with 346 participants from 82 countries for UNESCO-UNEVOC: an organisation with a sole focus on vocational education..

“The conference provided opportunities for participants to share perspectives and information about the image of VET and to offer suggestions on how that image could be enhanced in their countries, and elsewhere to make VET more attractive to young people,” he said.

“Low image of VET can lead to reduced government, industry and enterprise sponsorship and support of VET, thereby adding to its unattractiveness for young people.

“Yet, paradoxically, in many countries there is a growing shortage of skilled workers to meet the requirements of enterprises and to serve community needs.

Professor Billett cited examples in the UK, Germany and South Korea where demand for technical skill outweighed supply.

“The UK is experiencing declining levels of participation in courses for advanced technical skills required for its economic activities, Germany is experiencing difficulties obtaining adequate numbers of quality candidates for apprenticeships and South Korea has long struggled to attract young people to the manufacturing sector.”

Closer to home, the 2017/18 Australian Labour Market Analysis of Skilled Occupations lists shortages in the following: motor mechanics, diesel mechanics, sheet-metal workers, welders, fitters, panel beaters, bricklayers, carpenters, painters, plasterers, plumbers, electricians, bakers and chefs.

“Globally, we have seen because of its negative image, when VET is offered in upper secondary school, it competes with pathways to university education.

“But not everyone is suited to university study and we need to encourage young people who may not be academically minded to alternative pathways.”

Professor Billett is currently leading a research project for the Queensland government on the standing of VET to ascertain how the standing of VET can be enhanced so it can be seen as a viable post-school pathway.