Europe has long embraced the use of vocational education to prepare youth for entry into the workforce. None has moved into this as strongly and consistently as Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. With their dual education systems and the intensive apprenticeship programs, these countries have forged very close links between the education system and industry. While many other European countries have developed extensive vocational programs, they have stopped short of the full commitment to apprenticeship programs. Would all of Europe be better off by moving further in the direction of a tightened school-workplace linkage?
First, there is now considerable evidence that general academic skills – mathematics, reading comprehension, and scientific understanding – have a strong influence on economic growth.
Second, being prepared for immediate employment must be balanced by implications for employment as the job demands change.
The evidence currently available points to a tendency for the gains in initial employment that come with apprenticeship programs to be offset in varying degrees by lessened employability later in life. Such tendencies are amplified by more rapid economic growth. As a result, it is important that policy take a broad perspective about the expansion of vocational education and not concentrate completely on initial employment.