Vocational training, which has evolved into career and technical training (CTE) in recent years, refers to special programmes to prepare high school or post-secondary school students for future careers and give them a choice between higher education or employment. Compared to other countries, vocational training and CTE in Singapore is relatively limited and often underestimated by the general public.
Below are some vocational training myths that might deter someone you know (i.e. your friends, your siblings, your parents) from pursuing what they love to do as a job.
1. Vocational training is for those with no other options
In countries such as Singapore where academic success is highly regarded, vocational education is often lumped as an option for those who can’t make it academically.
So why do countries like Norway, Finland and Germany still encourage vocational education in addition to generously funding their prestigious vocational training programmes?
These countries see technical, industry-specific training as beneficial in helping students determine their careers based on their interests rather than society’s expectations. Moreover, graduating from a vocational school will give students a leg up should they choose to pursue a degree later on. Whether this is true or not, Germany has been producing top engineers every year, while Finland has been praised as having one of the best education systems in the world. Some students enrolling in these training courses can choose to pursue medicine in a university if they chose to.
Choosing a career track earlier in life helps students become career-ready and accumulate industry experience earlier.
“…And speaking of options ,these kids [the ones who attend elite universities] have all been told that theirs are limitless. Once you commit to something, though, that ceases to be true […]. They can be anything in the world, so they try to delay for as long as possible the moment when they have to become just one thing in particular. Possibility, paradoxically, becomes limitation.” (William Deresiewicz)
It is not uncommon nowadays to find tertiary students from top institutions finding themselves lost between options and ending up taking a course in university that pleases their parents or one that they feel leads to stable, high-paying jobs. Encouraging them to discover their interests in their secondary or post-secondary school years will give them the drive to pursue their dream jobs instead of letting external influences lead them wherever they will.
2. Vocational training does not add value to society
Many skills required by companies nowadays are technical, industry-specific skills, such as electrical engineering or programming skills. Soft, portable management skills are often the icing on the cake. As such, discouraging vocational education is not only detrimental to our young talents but also to society as a whole.
Society, just like a jigsaw puzzle, needs people with different “shapes”, different capabilities and skills to evolve. A society where everyone aspires to be finance managers, lawyers, doctors, etc. with no mechanics, hair dressers, restaurant managers, film directors, chefs, designers, etc. does not sound like a functional one. Encouraging academia and white collar jobs while ignoring young people’s compelling interests in other fields can and will become destructive in the long run.
Not only useful jobs, vocational education can lead to more fulfilling work as trainees can choose to do what they love when they enter the workforce.
“Vocation is more a calling than a job.”(Andreas Widmer)
3. Vocational training cannot help trainees find “proper” jobs
Making money isn’t hard in itself […]. What’s hard is to earn it doing something worth devoting one’s life to.” (Carlos Ruiz Zafon)
The challenge in this is changing one’s mindset. We are a generation that have been taught that one needs a stable job to survive, as compared to the mindset of accepting a vocation that you are interested in to dedicate one’s heart and mind to. But what the people at Glints realise is that by dedicating time and effort into becoming good at your interest, earning a steady and desirable income from it is possible.
This does not mean that pursuing a university degree and white collar jobs will not lead to a fulfilling career. What I’m more interested in is to persuade those who are at the crossroads and who are feeling the pressure of getting a degree be compelled to pursue something else they love. My advice to you is to choose wisely because being great at something matters more than having a degree. I’m also hoping that those who have family members pursuing technical training instead of a degree will understand and welcome their choices. A collective change in mindset can only start with each individual’s willingness to open up their own.
After all, vocational education is meant to complement traditional academic education, such that students can choose between university and work after graduation.
4. Vocational training is a waste of talent and resources
Probably one of the most frequently used arguments against vocational training in Singapore. “If you can qualify for JC, why waste it and go to poly? Do you know that only 20% of secondary students make it to JCs every year?” Or: “You’re so smart! Why do you want to work now? Later it’ll be much harder to get a degree, don’t waste it!”
If receiving technical and vocational training is a waste of talent and resources, spending 2 years in JC and 4 years in university and not knowing where one’s true talent and ability lies must be a loss beyond imagination.
No matter how “cliche” it sounds, if you find yourself drawn towards a “calling” for you to be a chef, a script writer, a television director… it makes perfect sense to focus on becoming good at it, whether through a vocational academy, traditional high school/ junior college or through university. For once you’ve found this “calling”, it helps you keep your bearings in both work and life, be it to inspire, to create extraordinary visual experiences, to transform the current lifestyle of the people in your society, etc.
“It is one thing doing what you love for a living. It is another thing doing what you love with love”. (Rasheed Ogunlaru)
The cheesy stuff aside, in recent years the Singapore government has started to realize the importance of technical education, especially for in-demand skills. If you’ve decided to develop your skills in a vocational school, e.g. ITE, a lot of exciting opportunities have been created to encourage vocational and technical training for Singaporean students.
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