Attractiveness of studying and working in vocational education and training - the role of collaborative school leadership


Several countries in Europe face challenges with the attractiveness of vocational education and training (VET) for teachers, students and parents. To address this issue in relation to staff shortages and collaborative school leadership, a webinar organized on 12 February 2024 under the webinar week of the Education Network Leadership Network Europe, a new consortium on school leadership with EFEE, ETUCE, EPA, OBESSU and ESHA as the lead partners.

High quality and inclusive VET should provide the possibility to all students to obtain a profession and a quality job afterwards, and to have the choice to enroll in university in case they would like to continue their studies, as the good example of the Austrian dual system allows. The ingredients of good collaborative educational leadership in the VET sector are, according to the speakers and the participants, democratic governance, shared decision making, social dialogue, communication,  and trust. To make the VET sector more attractive for students, parents and teachers and to improve the status of teachers in the sector, effective cooperation among the education stakeholders and more research based practice and policy-making are essential.

Featuring speakers from CEDEFOP, teachers’ union in Portugal (FNE), student unions (OBESSU), parents’ organizations (EPA), and Lithuanian education employers (LPMA), the webinar, entitled “Attractiveness of studying and working in vocational education and training - the role of collaborative school leadership” underlined the main challenges of teachers in the VET, namely high workload, low societal appreciation (only 17.7% of teachers across EU countries report that their profession is valued), low salary (10.5% lower than the average tertiary educated workers), long working hours and limited access to continuous professional development also in companies to upskill.

The  Education and Training Monitor 2023 highlighted a significant shortage of qualified teachers in VET while a pilot survey carried out by CEDEFOP shows several obstacles for VET teachers in  accessing  continuous professional development which are associated with a decline in student performance.

Austria stands as a positive example, where the teacher shortage is less severe due to the equally high status of VET in comparison to general secondary education, especially in economically advantaged regions, and good collaboration between companies and VET institutions. However, VET is not the first choice of the students and parents in Lithuania, where every year only a fifth of the primary school graduates enroll in VET programmes.

Many VET teachers leave the schools for better paid jobs in companies. The webinar discussed that VET institutions should ensure attractive salary and working conditions for the VET teachers to keep them in the profession, and they should attract experienced industry professionals interested in teaching by supporting them in meeting minimum pedagogical qualification requirements to be VET teachers. However, at the moment many of these professionals from other sectors accessing teaching through “alternative pathways” are not incentivised to stay because of low salary, extensive workload, and stress.

Another main challenge is that students’ access to VET is limited in many socially-economic disadvantaged regions in the EU due to lack of job opportunities following graduation, lack of apprenticeship places in VET, and lack of collaboration between schools and companies. The webinar discussed about the importance of guidance and counseling in primary schools to parents and students before choosing further studies also in relation to employment and study possibilities following VET graduation. Students’ unions struggle with the limited involvement of students in decision-making processes within the VET and apprenticeship sectors compared to general secondary education, as well as the impact of  lack of VET teachers on the students’ education, future life and work. Education trade unions struggle to be involved in impactful social dialogue with ministries on improving the status of the VET teachers. Students in apprenticeship should be recognized as workers with corresponding rights, including the right to unionize, with reference to the Council Recommendation on European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships. As a conclusion, in order to improve quality of VET and apprenticeship, collaborative decision making is needed with the involvement of students, parents, teachers, and school heads.