Aims and Origins of New Vocationalism
What is vocational education? That depends on the period in history and whom you ask. There is probably no greater bone of contention or confusion among educators. Vocational education or educating students to fulfil their vocation or calling in life is such a broad definition. Traditionally it has been seen as an education for those not taking up tertiary studies, for those who instead undertake hands on training before entering the world of work. If this then is the definition, entry to some of the most highly regarded professions, is through vocational education. Take for example the doctor, teacher or the architect. In each of these cases the undergraduate student must undertake some form of on the job training and examination in order to receive their registration. This then changes the focus of vocational education. No longer can we look from the traditional view that it is for tradespeople, or blue-collar workers. We must then take a more encompassing view that it is necessary element of education for all students, to give them the grounding to deal with the challenges of the work force, regardless of the esteem the work they will ultimately do is held in.
Vocational Education is certainly not a new phenomenon. It has existed in some form or another in Australia schools since formal education began (Skilbeck et al, 1994). Vocational education has always been at the whim of the financial and political climate. In a boom, there is a surge in popularity in order to meet the skills shortages, in an economic crisis it is seen as the best "way out" (Keating, 1998). Since the industrial revolution there have been calls from industry for education to better reflect and mirror those skills which are required in the world of work (Davies, 1996 in Pollard et al, 1988). The education system has always had a vocational component, it may have been disguised by a variety of titles, but it has always existed (Skilbeck et al, 1994). "New vocationalism" was born of 3 major factors: changes in political focus and government policy, lack of confidence in the educational system and an increasing retention rate of students in years 11 and 12 due to the rising youth unemployment (Pollard et al, 1988). Industry has also increasingly demanded better-equipped job seekers. It has for many decades criticised the educational institutions apparent disregard for the needs of a well skilled, motivated and disciplined work force (Davies, 1986). This s to say that the sorts of basic levels of communication, problem solving and conflict resolution skills needed to "fit in" in the work place were not adequately addressed or developed by the academic focus of schools.
The new vocationalism then, has four main characteristics according to Dale (1985b in Pollard et al, 1988). The first is that it has a specific target age group, 14 to 18, and of those the lower two thirds of the academic ability range. Secondly it is clear in its focus on training students for jobs. Adjustments in attitudes are a major part of this. New vocationalism thirdly recognises the ingrained bias of education and training toward academic pursuits. Fourthly and finally it recognises that there is an element of society at large who...