Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the apprenticeship system and the home were the principal sources of vocational education. Since then society has been forced by the decline of handwork and the specialization of occupational functions to develop institutions of vocational education. Manual training, involving general instruction in the use of hand tools, developed initially in Scandinavia (c.1866) in response to the doctrines of Friedrich Froebel and Johann Pestalozzi. It became popular in the elementary schools of the United States after 1880. While the immediate object of this training was not vocational, it developed gradually into extended courses in industrial training. Courses in bookkeeping, stenography, and allied commercial work in both public and private institutions were other early forms of vocational education.
Among the early private trade schools were Cooper Union (1859) and Pratt Institute (1887). Hampton Institute (1868) and Tuskegee Institute (1881) were pioneers in industrial, agricultural, and home economics training for African Americans. The agricultural high school (1888) of the Univ. of Minnesota was the first regularly established public vocational secondary school and introduced extensive public instruction in agriculture. Since 1900 the number of public and private vocational schools has greatly increased.
Although the 1862 Morrill Act, which established land-grant colleges, represented the first effort by the federal government to ensure vocational education, nothing further was done until the Smith-Hughes Act (1917), which provided federal financing for industrial, home economics, and agricultural courses. This aid was extended in the George-Deen Act (1936) to include teacher education and training for certain other occupations. Vocational correspondence courses, which were formed in great numbers to meet the growing demand for training, often were poorly designed and without value. These were improved under the informal supervision of the National Home Study Council (1926) working with the Federal Trade Commission.
Advances in the techniques of vocational education were made by the armed services during World War II. The need for technicians was so great that civilian life could not supply them, and special training methods stressing graphic presentation and practical work were used to meet the demand. Further impetus to vocational training resulted from the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (popularly, the G. I. Bill of Rights), which allowed World War II veterans to receive tuition and subsistence during extended vocational training. Subsequent bills provided funds for the vocational education of veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars. The Manpower Development Training Act (1962), the Vocational Education Act (1963), the Vocational Education Amendments (1968), and the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Act (1984) have helped to upgrade the nation's workforce and ensure that vocational training is available for economically or physically challenged young people.
In recent years, corporations and labor organizations have established the majority of new vocational and cultural centers. In addition, many of the public high schools offering vocational training have undergone a variety of changes. Almost all have placed renewed emphasis on a student's meeting general academic standards as well as learning a trade. Many schools have shifted the emphasis of their programs from the traditional construction trades to computers and related technologies, and some schools have moved away from vocational training entirely.
Large communities frequently have separate public schools devoted to specific occupational fields, and some counties and states sponsor regional vocational training establishments. These public schools work closely with interested industries and trades in establishing curricula and in guidance programs. The cooperative training technique, in which students work part-time in the job for which they are preparing, is a common feature of these schools. Community colleges often provide vocational training courses. Many industries have instituted extensive vocational education programs for their employees, and virtually all trades require apprenticeship and/or on-the-job training.
Theorists in vocational training have emphasized that its aim is to improve the worker's general culture as well as to further his or her technical training. That policy is evident in the academic requirements of public vocational schools and in the work of public continuation and evening schools. Various academic courses are provided so that workers who have not completed the public school requirements may do so while engaged in regular jobs. In some localities attendance at continuation schools is compulsory for those who are of school age. While continuation and evening schools are often primarily vocational, they frequently include general courses that attract older workers.
See the publications of the National Center for Research in Vocational Education; also F. J. Keller, The Double-Purpose High School (1953, repr. 1970); R. N. Evans, Foundations of Vocational Education (1971); N. P. Eurich, Corporate Classrooms (1985); A. J. Pautler, ed., Vocational Education in the 1990s (1990).
Vocational education or Vocational Education and Training (VET), also called Career and Technical Education (CTE), prepares learners for jobs that are based in manual or practical activities, traditionally non-academic and totally related to a specific trade, occupation or vocation, hence the term, in which the learner participates. It is sometimes referred to as technical education, as the learner directly develops expertise in a particular group of techniques or technology.
Generally, vocation and career are used interchangeably. Vocational education might be contrasted with education in a usually broader scientific field, which might concentrate on theory and abstract conceptual knowledge, characteristic of tertiary education. Vocational education can be at the secondary or post-secondary level and can interact with the apprenticeship system. Increasingly, vocational education can be recognised in terms of recognition of prior learning and partial academic credit towards tertiary education (e.g., at a university) as credit; however, it is rarely considered in its own form to fall under the traditional definition of a higher education.
Up until the end of the twentieth century, vocational education focused on specific trades such as for example, an automobile mechanic or welder, and was therefore associated with the activities of lower social classes. As a consequence, it attracted a level of stigma. Vocational education is related to the age-old apprenticeship system of learning.
However, as the labor market becomes more specialized and economies demand higher levels of skill, governments and businesses are increasingly investing in the future of vocational education through publicly funded training organizations and subsidized apprenticeship or traineeship initiatives for businesses. At the post-secondary level vocational education is typically provided by an institute of technology, or by a local community college.
Vocational education has diversified over the 20th century and now exists in industries such as retail, tourism, information technology, funeral services and cosmetics, as well as in the traditional crafts and cottage industries.
Since the states and territories are responsible for most public delivery and all regulation of providers, a central concept of the system is "national recognition" whereby the assessments and awards of any one registered training organisation must be recognised by all others and the decisions of any state or territory training authority must be recognised by the other states and territories. This allows national portability of qualifications and units of competency.
A crucial feature of the Training Package system (which accounts for about 60% of publicly-funded training and almost all apprenticeship training) is that the content of the vocational qualifications is theoretically defined by industry and not by government or training providers. A Training Package is "owned" by one of ten Industries Skills Councils which are responsible for developing and reviewing the qualifications.
The National Centre for Vocational Education Research or NCVER is a not-for-profit company owned by the federal, state and territory ministers responsible for training. It is responsible for collecting, managing, analysing, evaluating and communicating research and statistics about vocational education and training (VET).
The boundaries between Vocational education and tertiary education are becoming more blurred. A number of vocational training providers such as NMIT are now offering specialised Bachelor degrees in specific areas not being adequately provided by Universities. Such Applied Courses include in the ares of Equine studies, Winemaking and viticulture, acquaculture, Information Technology, Music, Illustration and many more.
The education in vocational school is free, and the students from low-income families are eligible for a state student grant. The curriculum is primarily vocational, and the academic part of the curriculum is adapted to the needs of a given course. The vocational schools are mostly maintained by municipalities.
With a completed secondary education one can enter higher vocational schools (ammattikorkeakoulu, or AMK) or universities. Because the vocational school curriculum is work-oriented, its graduates often have difficulty in passing the entrance exams of the universities.
For example, in Germany a law (the Berufsausbildungsgesetz) was passed in 1969 which regulated and unified the vocational training system and codified the shared responsibility of the state, the unions, associations and chambers of trade and industry. The system is very popular in modern Germany: in 2001, two thirds of young people aged under 22 began an apprenticeship, and 78% of them completed it, meaning that approximately 51% of all young people under 22 have completed an apprenticeship. One in three companies offered apprenticeships in 2003; in 2004 the government signed a pledge with industrial unions that all companies except very small ones must take on apprentices.
The vocational education systems in the other German speaking countries are very similar to the German system and a vocational qualification from one country is generally also recognized in the other states within this area.
Polytechnics, Private Training Establishments, Wananga and others also deliver vocational training, amongst other areas.
The system of vocational education in the UK initially developed independently of the state, with bodies such as the RSA and City & Guilds setting examinations for technical subjects. The Education Act 1944 made provision for a Tripartite System of grammar schools, secondary technical schools and secondary modern schools, but by 1975 only 0.5% of British senior pupils were in technical schools, compared to two-thirds of the equivalent German age group.
Successive recent British Governments have made attempts to promote and expand vocational education. In the 1970s, the Business & Technician Education Council was founded to confer further and higher education awards, particularly to polytechnics. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Conservative Government promoted the Youth Training Scheme, National Vocational Qualifications and General National Vocational Qualifications. However, youth training was marginalised as the proportion of young people staying on in full-time education increased.
In 1994, publicly-funded Modern Apprenticeships were introduced to provide "quality training on a work-based (educational) route". Numbers of apprentices have grown in recent years and the Department for Children, Schools and Families has stated its intention to make apprenticeships a "mainstream" part of England's education system.