ion systems cannot educate and train people in the expectation that their work activities will remain stable or that they will remain in the one job throughout their working life. The half-life of knowledge and skills is increasingly short in any job requiring skills-be they a farmer, shipbuilder, health worker, environmental engineer, plumber, manager or accountant. Lifelong learning has become an imperative strategy for meeting the challenges faced by contemporary societies. As the former British Secretary of State for Education and Employment put it:
For all of us the task is to get that message across: that learning is for life; that we can renew our skills; that (learning) gives us greater security in employment; but it also equips our nations to be able to take on the scourge of unemployment; to be able to equip ourselves for competitiveness.
Training is by no means the only answer to a society's imperatives for economic prosperity but VET has become a major plank in governments' search for solutions. A recent World Bank study finds that governments often have unrealistically high expectations of their VET systems, which have led to substantial public sector involvement in VET but a disappointing record of achievement:
Governments have perceived an increased demand for training if the labor supply shows rapid growth, if employment grows quickly, or if unemployment increases significantly They have called upon VET systems to help unemployed young people and older workers get jobs, to reduce the burden on higher education, to attract foreign investment, to ensure rapid growth of earnings and employment, to reduce the inequality of earnings between the rich and poor, and so on.
(Gill et al. 2000:1)
Governments have responded by expanding the...
A recurring theme in this dissertation is that VET occupies an increasingly central place in social and economic policy world-wide. It matters to individuals, employers and governments of every political persuasion, in societies both rich and poor. This is not surprising. Education per se is widely seen as a necessary precondition for economic growth within the knowledge-driven economies of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Although Wolf has recently questioned the link between it and economic growth (Wolf 2002:24), there is a clear connection between education and private benefit as measured by the rate of return. As she concludes, for individuals '“Get educated, get richer” seems like sound advice' (Wolf 2002:21). Moreover, in some countries (notably the United States and the United Kingdom), wage differentials between the educated and the undereducated are widening. Rational teenagers and their parents know that without a qualification, an individual is increasingly unlikely to be considered for a job, whatever the qualifications actually (as opposed to formally) required to do it (Wolf 2002:177).
Our first conclusion, then, is that education matters to individuals. As long as individuals (and their parents) understand that educational qualifications matter when it comes to securing any, let alone well-paid, employment, there will be a continuing demand for education. It is not, therefore, surprising that public rhetoric also stresses the value of education to individuals and society.