In what way is vocational education more practical than higher education?

It is widely acknowledged that the training provided by the vocational education sector is more practical then that of higher education. But what is the basis of this popularly accepted statement?

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Without doubt, a comparison is needed. Due to the fact that the areas covered by the vocational education sector are so different than those of higher education, we can only compare the areas that are covered by both vocational education and higher education. For example, we can compare areas like IT or Business, but can cannot compare areas like security or cleaning operations simply because they are not covered in the higher education.

In the business and finance area, the difference between higher education and vocational training is so obvious that some companies prefer candidates to have credentials from both the higher education sector and the vocational education sector. For instance, in the financial planning industry, a diploma is the credential used to prove compliance with industry standards, not a degree. In Australia, the compliance standards is named RG146, which is set by ASIC. Completing a degree does not necessarily mean that the student is compliant with this standard. In order to be compliant, the student needs to complete a Diploma of Financial Planning. When companies look for new employees in the financial planning sector, many state that they prefer candidates to have a degree, as well as RG146 compliant. Essentially that means the ideal candidate will have a degree and a diploma.

Why is that? Isn’t higher education at a much higher level than vocational training? Yes and no. Taking financial planning for instance, a degree equips a student with the theoretical foundations regarding how the financial world functions. Those theories may help you understand some phenomena in real life but they are not very practical. A degree helps you understand that the fluctuation in price is caused by movement in supply and demand, which is affected by factors like change of season, average income in an area, etc. A finance degree also helps you understand that when conducting financial planning, maximizing return while minimizing risk is the ideal goal. However, a degree does not tell you how to deal with customers, how to prepare a report, how to prepare an initial financial planning based on a specific client’s situation, etc. Those are the areas covered by a diploma. That is to say, a degree helps you understand the underlying factors that affect a specific industry (e.g. finance, economics, IT) and a vocational training credential tells you how to complete certain tasks (e.g. write a report, use a specific tool, deal with customers, etc.). Now it is very overt why people say that vocational training is more practical than higher education.

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Another example is based on IT. When it comes to IT, a degree does not just equip students with necessary programming skills, it puts a lot of emphasis on algorithm design as algorithm is the general guidance to how to tackle a problem. A vocational training credential in IT teaches students to use certain computing tools and languages but do not necessarily teach students how to tackle a problem from scratch. Simply speaking, an IT degree teaches students to draft a high-level plan when facing a problem whereas a vocational training credential in IT teaches students to use specific tools to achieve the goals set in the high-level plan. This different is perfectly epitomized in big companies where dozens, even hundreds of people work on the same project at the same time and each individual is in charge of a small proportion. In that kind of environment, a person needs to be able to develop a very high-level plan that can be used to guide employees to accomplish the task.

After analyzing the examples in finance and IT, it is now quite clear why vocational training is said to be more practical than higher education. There is no point in saying which is better. In this day and age, a person needs to continuously improve himself/herself in order to remain competitive in the contemporary job market.

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