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Notes on Contributors ix
Acknowledgments xvii
Introduction to the Handbook: Vocational Education and Training (VET)
Theory, Practice, and Policy for a Complex Field of Inquiry 1
David Guile and Lorna Unwin
Part I
VET as an Evolving Concept 17
VET, Expertise, and Work: Situating the Challenge
for the Twenty‐First Century 19
David Guile and Lorna Unwin
Vocational Education and the Individual 41
Stephen Billett
VET, HRD, and Workplace Learning: Where to From Here? 63
Paul Hager
Does Vocational Education Still Need the Concept of Occupation? 81
Alison Fuller
Knowledge, Competence, and Vocational Education 97
Leesa Wheelahan
Part II
The Political Economy of VET 113
Political Economy of Vocational Education and Training 115
Damian Oliver, Serena Yu, and John Buchanan
The Politics of Vocational Training: Theories, Typologies,
and Public Policies 137
Marius R. Busemeyer and Christine Trampusch
The Industrial Relations of Training and Development 165
Mark Stuart
Measuring Performance in Vocational Education and Training
and the Employer’s Decision to Invest in Workplace Training 187
Samuel Muehlemann
Excluded Within the Inclusive Institution: The Case of Low‐Skilled,
Low‐Wage Security Employees 207
Soon‐Joo Gog
Part III
Arrangements for VET 227
The Contested Evolution and Future of Vocational Education
in the United States 229
Brian Durham and Debra D. Bragg
The Future of Vocational Education in Canadian Secondary Schools 251
Alison Taylor
The Interrelation of General Education and VET: Understandings,
Functions, and Pedagogy 275
Vibe Aarkrog
The Sustainability of the Dual System Approach to VET 293
Thomas Deissinger
Duality and Learning Fields in Vocational Education and Training:
Pedagogy, Curriculum, and Assessment 311
Matthias Pilz and Bärbel Fürstenau
VET Teachers and Trainers 329
Kevin Orr
Part IV
VET as a Developing Practice 349
The Learning Potential of Boundary Crossing in the Vocational
Curriculum 351
Arthur Bakker and Sanne Akkerman
Designing Technology‐Enhanced Learning Environments in Vocational
Education and Training 373
Carmela Aprea and Alberto A. P. Cattaneo
VET as Lifelong Learning: Engagement With Distributed Knowledge
in Software Engineering 395
Monika Nerland and Crina I. Damşa
Innovative Work‐Based Learning for Responsive Vocational Education
and Training (VET): Lessons From Dutch Higher VET 415
Aimée Hoeve, Wietske Kuijer‐Siebelink, and Loek Nieuwenhuis
Capturing the Elusive: How Vocational Teachers Develop and Sustain
Their Expertise 433
Janet H. Broad and Ann Lahiff
Part V
Challenges for VET 455
The Challenges VET Faces Through Its Intersection With Social Class,
Gender, Ethnicity, and Race 457
Karen Evans
The Contribution of Vocational Education and Training
in Skilling India 479
Tara Nayana and Sanath Kumar
Vocational Education and Training in Economic Transformation
in China 495
Zhiqun Zhao and Yunbo Liu
Working with Historical, Cultural, and Economic Logics:
The Case of Vocational Training in Argentina 513
Claudia Jacinto
The Evolution of Learning Regions: Lessons From Economic Geography
for the Development of VET 531
Laura James
Notes on Contributors
Vibe Aarkrog is Associate Professor in VET Pedagogy at the Danish School of
Education, Aarhus University, in Aarhus, Denmark. Her research and ­publications
concern the interrelation between the school‐based and workplace‐based parts
of dual programs, transfer of training and learning, practice‐based t­eaching,
­simulation‐based learning, assessment of prior learning, and student dropout.
Sanne Akkerman is Professor of Educational Science at Utrecht University, the
Netherlands. Her research interests include boundary crossing, ­dialogicality,
identity, and interest development across contexts. In 2011, she published (with
Arthur Bakker) a review study on boundary objects and boundary crossing in
the Review of Educational Research, and guest‐edited a special issue on learning
at the boundary in the International Journal of Educational Research. More
recently, she expanded the boundary‐crossing framework to a multilevel conceptualization in an article with Ton Bruining in the Journal of the Learning Sciences.
Carmela Aprea is Professor of Business and Economics Education at the
University of Mannheim, Germany. Her research interests include c­ onnectivity
and boundary‐crossing approaches in VET, learning and curriculum research in
VET, technology‐enhanced learning in business and economics education, and
resilience of VET teachers. She is the first editor of the International Handbook
of Financial Literacy (Springer, 2016) and a member of the Organisation for
Economic Co‐operation and Development (OECD) International Network on
Financial Education Research Committee.
Arthur Bakker is Associate Professor at Utrecht University, the Netherlands,
where he focuses on mathematics, statistics, and science education as well as
vocational education. He worked with Sanne Akkerman on a project on boundary
crossing between school and work, which led to a review study in the Review of
Educational Research (2011). His research interests include boundary crossing,
interest development, embodied design, design research, and learning theories.
He is associate editor of Educational Studies in Mathematics. A book on design
research in education for early‐career researchers is forthcoming.
Stephen Billett is Professor of Adult and Vocational Education at Griffith
University, Brisbane, Australia, and Australian Research Council Future Fellow.
He has worked as a vocational educator, educational administrator, teacher
Notes on Contributors
e­ ducator, professional development practitioner, and policy developer in the
Australian vocational education system, and as a teacher and researcher at
Griffith University. He is a Fulbright scholar, National Teaching Fellow, recipient
of an honorary doctorate from Jyvaskala University in Finland, and elected
Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences of Australia.
Debra Bragg is director of Community College Research Initiatives at the
University of Washington in Seattle, and founding director of the Office of
Community College Research and Leadership at the University of Illinois at
Urbana‐Champaign in the United States. Her research focuses on youth and
adult transitions. She has led many research projects on career and technical
education and has received funding from the US Department of Labor and
numerous philanthropic foundations. In 2015, she was named a Fellow of the
American Educational Research Association. In November 2016, she received
the Distinguished Career Award from the Association for the Study of Higher
Janet H. Broad is a Lecturer in Education and Professional Development at the
UCL Institute of Education, London, UK. She is a teacher educator for the
Further Education (FE) sector. Her research interests include the professional
development of vocational teachers, both at the initial stages of their development and in their continuing professional development; the development of
expertise; and the understanding of vocational knowledge. Her 2016 paper on
vocational knowledge was awarded “Highly Commended” by the Journal of
Vocational Education and Training. She is currently researching engineering pedagogy in project‐based collaborative learning at UCL with Dr. Ann Lahiff.
John Buchanan is Chair of Discipline, Business Analytics, at the University of
Sydney Business School, Sydney, Australia. He has had a long‐standing research
interest in the evolution of the labor contract, working life transitions, and the
dynamics of workforce development. His current role involves using data science
to support the effective reform of vocational education in Australia. He is also
helping to link Business School research and education activity with the transformation of health and well‐being in Western Sydney. He has produced many
scholarly and policy research publications, the latest as editor (along with Chris
Warhurst, Ken Mayhew, and David Finegold) of the Oxford Handbook of Skills
and Training, published by Oxford University Press in 2017.
Marius R. Busemeyer is Professor of Political Science at the University of
Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany. His research focuses on comparative political
economy and welfare state research, education and social policy, public spending, theories of institutional change, and, more recently, public opinion on the
welfare state. His recent publications include Skills and Inequality (Cambridge
University Press – winner of the 2015 Stein Rokkan Prize for Comparative Social
Science Research), an edited volume (with Christine Trampusch) on The Political
Economy of Collective Skill Formation (Oxford University Press), as well as a large
number of journal articles in leadings outlets of the discipline.
Notes on Contributors
Alberto A. P. Cattaneo is Professor and Head of the Innovations in Vocational
Education research field at the Swiss Federal Institute for Vocational Education
and Training (SFIVET), Switzerland, where he also leads the Dual-T project. His
main research interests are in the integration of information and communication
technologies (ICT) in teaching‐and‐learning processes, reflective learning in
VET, instructional design, multimedia learning (especially the use of hypervideos), teacher education, and teacher professional competence development.
Crina Damşa is Associate Professor at the Department of Education, University
of Oslo, Oslo, Norway. Her research focuses on student learning, design of learning environments, and use of digital‐material resources in higher education
teaching and learning. Her work highlights learning through collaboration,
inquiry‐ and research‐based activities, and connections of course design with
pedagogical and disciplinary perspectives. Recent publications highlight ways of
introducing students to the practices and knowledge of various domains (software engineering, teaching, and law) and how design for learning can foster student engagement and agentic conduct.
Thomas Deissinger is Professor of Business and Economics Education at the
University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany. His research interests are in vocational training policy, comparative research, didactical issues such as modularization, and the history of VET. He has published papers on the VET systems in
the UK, Australia, and Canada. He is currently researching VET teacher education in Ukraine. In May 2016, he received an honorary doctorate from Kiev
National Economic University.
Brian Durham is Deputy Director for Academic Affairs at the Illinois Community
College Board in Springfield, Illinois, USA, which coordinates the 48 community
colleges in Illinois, United States. Among other areas, he oversees program
approval for the system, and he serves on the Illinois Workforce Innovation
Board (IWIB), the IWIB Youth committee, and the IWIB Apprenticeship committee. He holds a BA and an MA in Political Science with an EdD from the
University of Illinois Urbana‐Champaign, where he focused on Education Policy,
Organization, and Leadership with a Higher Education concentration. His
research interests include issues affecting community colleges, particularly as
they pertain to closing equity gaps.
Karen Evans is Emeritus Professor of Education at the UCL Institute of
Education, London, UK, and Honorary Professor in the Economic and Social
Research Council Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge
Economies and Societies (LLAKES), London, UK. She is also Honorary
Professor at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, and Fellow of the Academy
of Social Sciences. She has conducted major studies of learning and working
life in Britain and internationally. She coordinates an Asia‐Europe Research
Network for Lifelong Learning. Her recent publications include the book
How Non‐Permanent Workers Learn and Develop (Routledge), which she
­coauthored in 2018.
Notes on Contributors
Alison Fuller is Professor of Vocational Education and Work and Pro‐Director
for Research and Development at the UCL Institute of Education, London, UK.
She has been researching and publishing in the field of workplace learning, education (work transitions, apprenticeship, and vocational education), and training
for over 25 years. She is a project leader in the ESRC Centre for Learning and Life
Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES), London, UK, where
she is researching employee‐driven innovation in the healthcare sector, and also
undertaking comparative international research for Cedefop (European Centre
for the Development of Vocational Training) on adult apprentices.
Bärbel Fürstenau is Chair of Business and Economics Education at TU Dresden,
Dresden, Germany. Her research interests focus on learning and teaching processes in initial vocational and technical education (both at schools and at the
workplace), in further education, and in the field of personnel development.
Specifically, she is concerned with developing and evaluating complex learning
environments, such as case studies or management games. Furthermore, she
analyzes how learning strategies such as concept mapping can support individuals in the development of complex knowledge. A very recent area of her research
is financial literacy.
Soon-Joo Gog is the Chief Futurist and Chief Research Officer at the Skills
Future Singapore Agency, Singapore, and has held a number of posts in the
Singapore government. She leads research and development projects in the areas
of the future of work and future of learning. Her research interests include capitalism in the digital economy, new economy firms, skills ecosystems, and skills
policies. Some of her more recent projects include the use of artificial intelligence (AI)‐enabled data to predict the impact of technological adoption on the
organization of work and learning in workplaces, including in the gig economy.
She was awarded her doctorate by the UCL Institute of Education, London, UK.
David Guile is Professor of Education and Work at the UCL Institute of
Education, London, UK, where he is also Co‐Director of the Centre for
Engineering Education and a project leader in the ESRC Centre for Learning and
Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES). He is interested
in the changing relationship between work, technology, and education and the
implications for professional, vocational, and workplace learning. He is coeditor
with Professor David Livingstone, University of Toronto, of the Sense Publishers
series entitled Education and the Knowledge Economy. His book, The Learning
Challenge of the Knowledge Economy, was published by Sense in 2010.
Paul Hager is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Technology
Sydney, Australia. His major research focus has been the holistic seamless know‐
how that characterizes highly skilled performances of all kinds. This has generated research projects on topics such as informal workplace learning, professional
practice (“professional” in its broadest sense), the nature of skills and competence, and group practice. In 2013, Educational Philosophy and Theory published
a special issue celebrating Hager’s work. He is about to publish a book with David
Beckett, provisionally titled The Emergence of Complexity: New Perspectives on
Practice, Agency and Expertise.
Notes on Contributors
Aimée Hoeve is Senior Researcher at the Research Centre for Quality of Learning
at the HAN University of Applied Sciences in Arnhem and Nijmegen in the
Netherlands. Her research theme is designing learning environments and curricula at the school–work boundary in vocational and professional education,
with a specific focus on workplace learning.
Claudia Jacinto is a Principal Researcher at the National Council of Scientific
Research at the Centro de Estudios Sociales, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and is currently Coordinator of the Youth, Education and Employment Program (PREJET).
Her research interests are in youth transitions from school to employment, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and social justice, education
and employment linkages, and the evaluation of skills development policies and
programs. She has advised a number of international agencies, including IIEP‐
UNESCO (the International Institute for Educational Planning–United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the International Labor
Organization (ILO), Save the Children, Norrag (Network for International
Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training), and UNICEF (United
Nations Children’s Fund).
Laura James is Associate Professor of Tourism Development and Regional
Change at Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark. Her research interests include
organizational learning and innovation, destination governance, regional policy,
and tourism development. She has published in the fields of vocational education, regional studies, economic geography, human geography, and tourism and
is currently working on projects about the development of food tourism in
Scandinavia and about innovation in coastal tourism destinations in Northern
Wietske Kuijer‐Siebelink is a Lecturer at the Faculty of Health and Social
Studies and Senior Researcher at the Applied Research Centre for Public Affairs,
HAN University of Applied Sciences, in Arnhem and Nijmegen in the
Netherlands. She is currently working in the domain of interprofessional collaboration and education and the development of innovative work‐based learning in health and social studies in the Sparkcentres initiative. She graduated as a
human movement scientist in 2002 and was awarded her PhD in Medical
Sciences in 2005.
Sanath Kumar was a Research Fellow at the Indian Institute of Management,
Bangalore, India, from 1981 to 2013. His key areas of interest include elementary
education and literacy, and vocational education and skill development. He specializes in large‐scale research studies and has been involved in consultancy projects for the World Bank and, in India, for the National Literacy Mission, the
Ministry of Human Resources Development, and other state government
Ann Lahiff is a Lecturer in Education at the UCL Institute of Education, London,
UK, and a member of the Centre for Engineering Education (CEE) at UCL.
Working with vocational practitioners, Ann’s teaching and research have centered on the ways in which learning in and for the workplace can be understood
Notes on Contributors
and enhanced. She has focused specifically on the observation of vocational
practice and the development of expertise. Current projects include Developing
the Pedagogy of Project‐Based Collaborative Learning in Engineering Education
and (with Lorna Unwin and Matthias Pilz) a comparative project on Apprenticeship
in the Aircraft Industry in the UK and Germany.
Yunbo Liu is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal
University, Beijing, China. She received her PhD from the Chinese University of
Hong Kong in 2012. She teaches and conducts research in the economics of
vocational education and training and educational finance. She has been
involved in many education policy developments and reform initiatives, including the Balanced Development for Provincial‐Level Coordination and Higher
Vocational Education initiative. She has published more than 20 articles and
book chapters in these areas.
Samuel Muehlemann is a Professor of Human Resource Education and
Development at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU Munich),
Germany. Previously, he was the Deputy Head of the Centre for Research in
Economics of Education and a lecturer at the Department of Economics at the
University of Bern, Switzerland. In 2013–2014, he was a visiting scholar at the
Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California,
Berkeley, USA; and in 2009, he was a visiting academic at King’s College London,
UK. He is also a research fellow at IZA Bonn, Germany.
Tara Nayana was a Professor at the Centre for Public Policy, Indian Institute of
Management, Bangalore, India, from 1986 to 2017. Her key areas of interest
include elementary education and literacy, technical education, and vocational
education and skill development. She held a Fulbright Post‑Doctoral Fellowship
and was a Member of the Knowledge Commission of the Government of
Karnataka. She has been a consultant to the World Bank and, in India, to the
British High Commission and the National Literacy Mission, Ministry of Human
Resources Development.
Monika Nerland is Professor at the Department of Education, University of
Oslo, Oslo, Norway. She conducts research on professional learning in education
and work, with a special focus on how ways of organizing knowledge and epistemic resources in expert communities provide distinct opportunities for learning and identity formation. She has conducted and led several research projects
that investigated these themes comparatively across professions, including
teaching, nursing, law, software engineering, and accountancy. She has coedited
five books and published extensively in scientific journals on themes related to
professional knowledge, expertise, and learning.
Loek Nieuwenhuis is Professor of Professional Pedagogy at HAN University of
Applied Sciences in Arnhem and Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and holds a chair
at Welten‐institute, a research center for learning, teaching, and technology at
the Dutch Open University, Heerlen, the Netherlands. His field of research
and publication is vocational and professional education and lifelong learning.
His main interests are workplace learning and learning for socioeconomic
Notes on Contributors
Damian Oliver is one of Australia’s leading labor market and VET researchers
and a researcher in the Center for Business and Social Innovation at the University
of Technology Sydney, Australia. He has a PhD in Industrial Relations from
Griffith University, Australia, and degrees in Economics and Organizational
Communication. He has delivered research projects and provided advice for
many organizations, including the Organisation for Economic Co‐operation and
Development (OECD), Eurofound, the Australian Departments of Employment
and Education, and TAFE NSW (Technical and Further Education, New South
Wales). His contribution to this Handbook is based mainly on research conducted while he was the leading Research Analyst and the Acting Director of the
Workplace Research Centre at the University of Sydney, Australia.
Kevin Orr is Professor of Work and Learning at the University of Huddersfield,
Huddersfield, UK. He worked for 16 years in further education colleges, and
that sector remains the focus of much of his research. He is currently leading a
3‐year project that is investigating subject‐specialist pedagogy in initial teacher
education for teachers of vocational science, engineering, and technology in
colleges. His most recent book, which he coedited with Maire Daley and Joel
Petrie, is The Principal: Power and Professionalism in FE, published by Trentham
Books in 2017.
Matthias Pilz is Professor of Economics and Business Education at the University
of Cologne and Director of the German Research Center for Comparative
Vocational Education and Training, Cologne, Germany. Since 2010, he has also
been Director of the Center for Modern Indian Studies at the University of
Cologne. Prior to becoming an academic, he worked as a teacher at a Business
College in Hannover, Germany, and was an advisor for European Union education projects in the district government of Hannover. His research interests are in
international comparative research in VET, transitions from education to
employment, and teaching and learning.
Mark Stuart is the Montague Burton Professor of Human Resource Management
and Employment Relations and Director of the Centre for Employment Relations
Innovation and Change (CERIC) at the University of Leeds, Leeds, UK. He has
published widely on skills, restructuring, trade union–led learning, and the
industrial relations of training. He is the past President of the British Universities
Industrial Relations Association (BUIRA) (2014–2016) and former Editor‐in‐
Chief of Work, Employment and Society.
Alison Taylor is a Professor in Educational Studies at the University of British
Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. Her research over the past decade has focused
primarily on experiential learning and youth transitions from school to work.
She recently completed a study of high school apprentices, documented in
her 2016 book, Vocational Education in Canada (Oxford University Press).
Her current research explores experiential learning in higher education and
­student work.
Christine Trampusch holds the Chair of International Comparative Political
Economy and Economic Sociology at the Cologne Center for Comparative
Politics (CCCP), University of Cologne, Germany. She is a political scientist, and
Notes on Contributors
her research covers studies on the social and political foundations of labor
­markets and financial markets in advanced capitalist democracies. Her findings
have been published in various international peer‐reviewed journals. Her edited
book, The Political Economy of Collective Skill Formation (with Marius
Busemeyer), was published by Oxford University Press.
Lorna Unwin is Professor Emerita (Vocational Education) at the UCL Institute
of Education, London, UK, and Honorary Professor in the Economic and Social
Research Council (LLAKES) Centre for Learning and Life Chances, London, UK.
She is also Honorary Professorial Research Fellow, School of Environment,
Education and Development, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK, and a
Trustee of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR). Her
research interests include how people develop occupational expertise (both
inside and outside the workplace), workplaces as learning environments, and the
cultural, economic, and political history of vocational education and training in
the United Kingdom.
Leesa Wheelahan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Leadership,
Higher and Adult Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education,
University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada, where she holds the William G. Davis
Chair in Community College Leadership. She is interested in pathways within
and between education and labor markets, tertiary education policy, vocational
education and training, relations between colleges and universities, social justice
and social inclusion, and the role of knowledge in curriculum in vocationally
oriented qualifications.
Serena Yu is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Health Economics
Research and Evaluation, University of Technology Sydney, Australia. Prior to
this, she was employed at the Workplace Research Centre at the University of
Sydney. Her research interests are public policy evaluation and applied microeconomics. Serena completed her PhD in 2015 at the University of Sydney, where
she was awarded the Walter Noel Gillies Prize for Best PhD Thesis in Economics.
Zhiqun Zhao is a Professor and the Head of the Institute of Vocational and
Adult Education of the Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal University, Beijing,
China. He received his doctorate from the University of Bremen, Germany. His
research fields are qualification research and curriculum design in vocational
education and training (VET), and implementation of professional competence
assessment in vocational institutions. His latest international publication is
Areas of Vocational Education Research, published by Springer. He has been
involved in many research and exchange initiatives, including the International
Network on Innovative Apprenticeships (INAP).
Compiling a Handbook of this size and scope necessarily takes time and depends
for its quality on the willingness of very busy scholars to accept the invitation to
participate. We would like to express our thanks to all the contributors to this
Handbook for their generosity and patience. We also want to thank our Project
Editor at Wiley, Janani Govindankutty, for her encouragement and advice.
Introduction to the Handbook: Vocational Education
and Training (VET) Theory, Practice,
and Policy for a Complex Field of Inquiry
David Guile1,2 and Lorna Unwin1,2
UCL Institute of Education
Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES)
From creating and repairing the first artifacts for personal and communal use
through to the Internet of Things, the capacity of human beings to transform the
world around them, for better or worse, continues to be shaped by their partici‑
pation in social practices and learning, collectively and individually. Developing
the expertise required to participate in work‐related activities engages people in
diverse forms of learning in a wide range of spaces throughout their lives. These
spaces include workplaces, workshops, classrooms, community and domestic
spaces (including forms of transport), and the natural environment, and increas‑
ingly through interaction with digital technologies, including the Internet. For
some people, the expertise they deploy for what they term work (whether paid or
unpaid) may be very different from the expertise they deploy in their leisure time,
whereas for others there may be a close connection.
Regardless of what drives an individual or a group of people to develop exper‑
tise, they will at some point participate in vocational education and training
(VET). This participation will range across a wide spectrum: from programs
providing an initial introduction for school pupils, to what is sometimes naively
referred to as “the world of work,” through to bespoke training organized by or
for employers and self‐taught activity. In this way, VET embraces programs
using work as their pretext, although treating it as a largely generic or abstract
construct; programs that have a specific occupational focus and may lead to a
license to practice; apprenticeships that combine education and training both in
and away from the workplace; and work‐based learning of various types and
duration triggered by changes and innovation in work processes. As a result, the
relationship between VET and actual work practice varies considerably. VET is
a complex and challenging field of inquiry precisely because it cannot be easily
By starting our introduction to this book with a deliberately unbounded
­perspective on VET, we want to signal the importance of viewing this field of
The Wiley Handbook of Vocational Education and Training, First Edition.
Edited by David Guile and Lorna Unwin.
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2019 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
David Guile and Lorna Unwin
inquiry through a lens that is wide enough to capture both the “systems” approach
and the theories, practices, and ideas that lie outside it. Indeed, the very acronym
VET is problematic because it immediately suggests this Handbook is confined
to analyses of different national systems for organizing formalized, regulated,
and often government‐funded VET programs. Even more limiting, the acronym
is often exclusively applied to education and training for young people as they
make the transition from school to the labor market. In this way, VET becomes
situated in a policy silo separated from, and sometimes deemed inferior to,
so‐called academic education. Understanding the differences between the ways
that countries have conceptualized VET over time and created the institutions,
curricula, and pedagogies they regard as appropriate sheds valuable critical light
on how VET is evolving (see, inter alia, Michelsen & Stenström, 2018). It can also
identify effective practices and processes that can be shared across countries and
occupational fields. In addition, as an instrument of government policy or an
institution within a national system of education, VET becomes answerable to
important questions about social justice (e.g., unequal patterns of access and
outcomes according to gender, ethnicity, and social class). Heikkinen (2001)
offers two compelling arguments for the continued importance of national case
studies in VET research. First, they “may challenge the dominant a‐historical
discourse in vocational education, which only advocates permanent change, its
inevitability and progressivity”; and, second, historical, state‐based perspectives
can paradoxically contribute a “progressive conservatism” in relation to defend‑
ing, respecting, and caring for longstanding practices (Heikkinen, 2001, p. 228).
There is a balance to be struck so that VET is not solely regarded as an instru‑
ment of government policy and/or an institutional component of a country’s
broader education system. Equal weight needs to be given to the conception of
VET as a relational concept, which forms part of a dynamic interplay with the
evolving organization and process of work, including the emergence of new
occupations. The dominance of the systems‐based approach has meant that in
much of the international research literature on education, VET has been
­separated from and positioned below “higher education” and “professional edu‑
cation,” despite their association with the development of expertise. This seg‑
mentation is perpetuated in policy documents issued by national governments
and supranational agencies such as the Organisation for Economic Co‐operation
and Development (OECD), World Bank, and European Commission.
In recent years, a number of studies have acknowledged the related nature of a
range of challenges, including the ethical and practical implications of climate
change for continued industrialization and economic growth, the impact of
­digital technologies on employment, the work and health concerns of aging
­populations, the challenges facing young people entering and making progress in
the labor market, and continuing inequality across the global economy (see, inter
alia, King, 2017; Olsen, 2009; Piketty, 2013; Standing, 2011). Placing equal
emphasis on both continuing and initial forms of VET is being advocated as a
necessary strategy to ensure people can adapt and refresh their expertise at dif‑
ferent points in their lives in order to respond to changes in the labor market
(see, inter alia, Bohlinger, Haake, Jorgensen, Toiviainen, & Wall, 2015; Field,
Burke, & Cooper, 2013; Pilz, 2017). The predictions of the hourglass thesis that
Introduction to the Handbook
the growth in employment in advanced economies would increasingly occur at
the top and bottom ends of the labor market have materialized to some extent
in relation to Goos and Manning’s (2007) polarization of employment into
“lovely” and “lousy” jobs, with a corresponding squeeze in what are classed as
“intermediate” jobs. Yet there is also evidence that this thesis is problematic in
relation to its classification of jobs according to (a) definitions of skill based on
educational entry requirements, rather than on the actual range of skills required
and used in the workplace; and (b) wage distributions. Lerman (2017) asks, “Are
the skills required for a master carpenter in some sense lower than those required
of elementary school teachers with BA degrees?” (p. 182; emphasis in original).
In addition, he explains that the wage measure does not capture the wide
­distribution and overlapping of wages within occupations. On these grounds,
the predicted decline in what are classified as intermediate‐level jobs and the
­homogeneity of the terms lovely jobs and lousy jobs become less reliable guides to
the changing nature of work.
In some occupational fields, including high‐status areas such as medicine and
engineering, as well as in some service sectors, a more fluid division of labor is
emerging. This has been stimulated partly by increasing project‐based and team‐
based forms of working and also by the realization in work‐intensive environ‑
ments that demarcations based on traditional hierarchies of who is “qualified” to
perform certain tasks can and need to be challenged. This has resulted in some
countries renaming VET, for example by (re)using the term technical education,
and in the opening up of access for VET students to universities through the
strengthening of VET qualifications and the creation of so‐called higher apprenticeships. There has also been a continuing debate about the concept and role of
so‐called key competences in VET, and in education and training more broadly
(alternative terms include generic, core, and transferable skills). Researchers have
expressed mixed views as to whether they represent “an ineffective surrogate for
general education and culture in vocational programmes” (Green, 1998, p. 23) or
work in progress (Canning, 2007).
The European Commission (2018) has declared that lifelong learning should
impart eight key competences, which “can be applied in many different contexts
and in a variety of combinations” deemed necessary for a “successful life” (p. 14).
These competences cover literacy; languages; mathematics, science, technology,
and engineering; digital competence; personal, social, and learning competence;
civic competence; entrepreneurship competence; and cultural awareness and
expression. The latter four categories of competence in this list are sometimes
referred to as “soft” skills. Warhurst, Tilly, and Gatta (2017) argue their emer‑
gence reflects a longstanding shift toward a “social construction of skill” led by
the rise of service sector employment.
The OECD has enshrined the notion that work‐related cognitive and noncog‑
nitive competencies can be decontextualized and formally tested at an interna‑
tional level in its Programme for the International Assessment of Adult
Competencies (PIAAC). PIAAC assesses the proficiency of 16–65‐year‐olds in
literacy, numeracy, and problem solving, which the OECD (2016) argues are the
“key information‐processing skills” that adults need to participate fully in all
aspects of life in the twenty‐first century (p. 22). Scholars who have critiqued
David Guile and Lorna Unwin
PIAAC and other international large‐scale assessments such as PISA
(Programme for International Student Assessment) raise a number of concerns
about the ­universalizing tendency of the OECD’s interpretation of the concepts
of ­competence and, more broadly, education (see, inter alia, Addey, Sellar,
Steiner‐Khamsi, Lingard, & Verger, 2017; Avis, 2012; Hamilton, 2012; Lingard &
Sellar, 2013; Takayama, 2013). Another problem is that the PIACC approach
­perpetuates the idea that learners automatically apply the skills they have
developed in education in work contexts. This assumption overlooks processes
through which skill is formed and developed contextually and, moreover, that
when the organization of work changes, so do considerations about skill. Despite
these concerns, the findings from the OECD’s assessment surveys and the subse‑
quent performance ranking of countries are exerting considerable influence on
national governments. There has also been an attempt to develop an interna‑
tional assessment survey for VET (Achtenhagen & Winther, 2014).
Developments such as the renaming of VET, the inclusion in VET curricula of
key competencies, or attempts to align VET with higher education are often
transitory for a range of conceptual, political, and context‐specific reasons. They
are usually well intentioned, but often fail to engage in a sustainable way with the
underlying challenge—how to support the development of expertise in ways that
are both sustainable and flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances.
Although there are significant continuities in the way work is organized and the
way certain skills are developed, the division of labor is in a continual state of
development in response to the forms of technological, economic, and cultural
change associated with the rapid development of cognitive technologies and the
digital linking of communication, resources, and logistics. As a result, the pro‑
cess of developing expertise in this new work context will create new patterns of
and approaches to learning.
There is a substantial international research literature covering the diverse and
contested field of VET. This literature has emerged from different disciplinary
fields and occupational contexts, and reflects a wide variety of conceptual and
methodological approaches. As a result, it is scattered across journals and books,
which attract their own readerships. Much of the literature reflects a westernized
perspective, and so what counts as and is discussed in relation to vocational
expertise, vocational learning, and occupational contexts is necessarily circum‑
scribed (Catts, Falk, & Wallace, 2011; Heikkinen & Lassnigg, 2015). However, it
is striking that one of the most influential theoretical developments in the field
of VET—situated learning within communities of practice—emerged from
anthropological studies of craft apprenticeships in West Africa (Lave & Wenger,
1991). This contribution critiqued the dominant cognitivist conception of
­learning in which individuals were seen as passive receivers of (codified) knowl‑
edge from designated experts (teachers and trainers). Lave and Wenger (1991),
however, introduced the idea that learning was a social process. They placed the
apprentice as a learner at the center of a relational process that was shaped by
participation in occupational practice and contributed to the reshaping of
­occupational contexts. In doing so, they opened the eyes of VET researchers
(and researchers in fields, such as economic geography, human resource
Introduction to the Handbook
­ evelopment [HRD], and organizational learning) to other theories of learning
or practice‐based theories that imply a social theory of learning. We return to
this observation later. Situated learning theory has itself been critiqued, particu‑
larly for underplaying the in‐built conservatism of and power relations within
communities, for the role of experts in challenging existing practice, and for val‑
orizing participation at the expense of questioning what is being learned (see, for
detailed reviews, Fuller, Hodkinson, Hodkinson, & Unwin, 2005; Guile, 2010;
Hughes, Jewson, & Unwin, 2007).
This questioning of the nature of learning in the field of VET reflects the desire
to conceptualize and gather empirical data identifying the dynamic nature of
the ways in which expertise is developed, utilized, and reformed. Moreover, it
demonstrates a fundamental dissatisfaction with attempts to align VET too
closely with learning theories that continue to underpin the way (formal) general
education is still organized in much of the world, or to reduce the complexity of
learning associated with VET to rhetorical notions, such as “learning from
­experience” or “learning by doing” (Unwin et al., 2008).
There are multiple demands on VET. These include meeting the skills needs of
employers and nation states, addressing concerns about providing a safety net
for young people at risk of unemployment, and offering a vehicle for remedial
education for young people and adults. Winch (2000) argues that “a prime aim of
vocational education is personal development and fulfillment through work for
all citizens if they so wish it” (p. 36; see also Gonon, 2009; Tyson, 2016). The
more VET is required to fulfill and sustain the role of general education beyond
formal schooling, the further it drifts away from the very source that ensures it
can remain vital in people’s lives and sustain the socioeconomic and cultural
well‐being of society. VET and work form a symbiotic relationship. This means
that VET can certainly provide the means for individuals to critique the nature of
work at the same time as the means for individuals to shape work.
In recent years, there has been an increasing interest and growth in
­multidisciplinary research, and this has encouraged scholars to cross intellectual
boundaries in an attempt to develop more integrated analyses of the complex
and dynamic field of VET. This research feeds into a number of different debates
about the role of VET in the education systems of nation states and in relation to
rapid changes (and often neglected continuities) in workplace technologies and
work organization. These debates are multifaceted. Sometimes, they have a spec‑
ulative dimension with contributors arguing for fresh thinking about the concept
of VET or subsidiary concepts that underpin VET (i.e., occupation). Sometimes,
they have an avowedly critical stance vis‐à‐vis developments that contributors
believe have a negative impact on VET, especially when those developments have
been associated with what are regarded as flawed government initiatives to make
VET ever more relevant to employers and learners.
In contrast, there has been a longstanding debate about the political economy
of VET. Traditionally, this debate (in fields such as political economy, labor
­process, and industrial sociology) focused on the variety of historical, economic,
social, and political forces that have shaped the dominant human capital
­conception of VET in different countries. This debate has, however, branched
David Guile and Lorna Unwin
out in new ways in recent years as contributors have drawn inspiration from
developments in political economy, for example varieties of capitalism and
skills ecosystems, or from extant literatures that offer alternatives to human capital theory (HCT), such as in the capabilities approach, to rethink how to support
the economic needs of individuals, employers, and nation states. Both debates
have different degrees of influence on the modifications or changes that have
occurred in the different national arrangements for VET, for example revisions
to “systems” in response to technological change and increased amounts of
­general education in relation to concerns about citizenship.
The aim of this Handbook, therefore, is to provide a critical guide to the differ‑
ent ways in which VET has been and continues to be (re)conceptualized and (re)
configured over time. To that end, we commissioned scholars working from
­different theoretical perspectives to write essays exploring a set of key themes
that are central to debates about how the concept and practice of VET have
developed over time and continue to develop in different ways both across and
within countries.
­Structure of the Book
We have structured the book around five broad themes:
VET as an evolving concept
The political economy of VET
Arrangements for VET
Developing practices in VET
Challenges for VET.
Using these themes provided us with a framework for assembling a Handbook
with the necessary intellectual and empirical scope to consider the following
1) Which theories and concepts can help us to understand the meaning of VET
as a vehicle for the development of expertise, and how is that meaning e­ volving
over time?
2) How have those theories and concepts contributed to the different ways in
which VET is manifested around the world?
3) What is the relationship between VET and the political economy imperatives
that drive policymaking in different countries, and what are the consequences
for individuals, employers, and society at large?
4) How does VET develop expertise in an age of considerable change in work
processes, work organization, and occupational identities; and how might it
maintain a close relationship with work in general?
5) How might we characterize the different models of learning used in VET, and to
what extent do they reflect VET’s troubled relationship with general education?
6) What characterizes VET pedagogy, curriculum design, and approaches to
7) What are the continuing challenges for VET?
Introduction to the Handbook
These themes and questions necessarily overlap. Given our earlier plea for the
need to take a more eclectic perspective when researching and discussing VET,
it could be argued that we are contradicting ourselves by using a segmented
approach. Our defense would be that the complexity of the VET landscape, both
conceptually and internationally, means some clustering of the chapters is
required. However, we are fully aware that other configurations may have been
equally valid.
VET as an Evolving Concept
The five chapters in Part I explore some of the underlying theories and concepts
that help to explain how VET continues to evolve in different ways both within
and across national boundaries. As editors, we begin this process (Chapter 2)
with a chapter that argues for a prospective expertise‐based approach to VET in
contrast to the existing skills‐based retrospective approach, which has come to
dominate VET research and policymaking. The chapter draws on sociocultural
theories of learning and insights from communication studies. Through a dis‑
cussion of the impact of IT platforms, artificial intelligence, and the increasing
economic importance of “intangible assets” on work processes and conceptions
of expertise, we show how a close relationship to future work practice is vital to
ensure VET can sustain its important role in the development of expertise.
Drawing on the work of the American philosopher John Dewey (1916), Stephen
Billett uses the distinction between the “social” and “personal” to discuss how the
origins and purposes of VET emerged and changed across countries. His essay
(Chapter 3) argues that although VET is always shaped by institutional factors,
the individual learner has to be placed at the center of our deliberations in order
to understand the efficacy and continuity of VET through the individual’s engage‑
ment with the “intended,” “enacted,” and “experienced” curriculum. He also fol‑
lows Dewey and argues that individuals first choose an “occupation,” which then
becomes their “vocation,” but adds that it is an individual’s “personal bases” that
act to sustain and transform their capacities across working life.
Accepting that the concept of occupation is central to theoretical understand‑
ings of VET, the next two chapters focus on the way VET reflects the occupa‑
tional structures in societies. Paul Hager (Chapter 4) explores how, as a result of
industrialization and the growth of specialist occupations as well as more nar‑
rowly conceived job roles, VET began to cater to occupational levels both above
the traditional apprenticeship level and below it. Classroom‐based VET
expanded, but the growth of HRD also meant that VET could contribute to the
growth of short‐cycle training within workplaces. Hager argues that these shifts
over time have raised profound questions about how occupational expertise is
developed and supported. In doing so, he provides a critique of the concept of
competence‐based training and increasing privatization of VET. His concern is
to reconnect VET with more holistic understandings of competence that better
reflect highly skilled occupational performance. Alison Fuller (Chapter 5) also
sets her discussion in the context of occupational change. She argues that in the
context of the shift to mass higher education in many countries, publicly funded
VET (including apprenticeship) needs to generate hybrid benefits to ensure it
David Guile and Lorna Unwin
can be an effective vehicle for the achievement of occupational expertise and
educational progression.
These chapters raise questions, therefore, about the conceptualization of the
processes and outcomes of VET and how and whether they can be nurtured and
sustained. As Hager discusses, over the past 30 or so years, a competence‐based
approach has been introduced in some national VET systems and is being advo‑
cated by policymakers internationally, although the interpretation of the term
competence is highly contested (see, inter alia, Brockmann, Clarke, & Winch,
2011; Mulder, 2017) in the research literature. Leesa Wheelahan (Chapter 6)
continues Hager’s theme with a critical analysis of the concept of competence,
based on the sociology of Basil Bernstein. Wheelahan argues that VET learners
must be given access to the predetermined disciplinary knowledge they need to
participate in debates and controversies in society and in their occupational
field of practice. In doing so, she moves the discussion of the purpose of a (for‑
mal) VET curriculum away from its relationship with occupational formation
and toward the type of knowledge she argues should be included in such a cur‑
riculum. This debate is further pursued in Part III of this Handbook, where
authors explore the role of general education in VET programs for young peo‑
ple. Vocational knowledge is, however, a multifaceted, dynamic, and life‐wide
concept. It is explored further in Chapters 18 and 20, and by Broad and Lahiff in
Chapter 22.
The Political Economy of VET
As we noted earlier in this chapter, varying forms of and approaches to VET have
evolved over time across the world. This variety reflects historical, economic,
social, and political forces. Given VET’s close relationship with the economic
needs of individuals, employers, and nation states, it is not surprising that it has
become a subject of inquiry in the fields of political economy, labor process, and
industrial sociology. In Part II, four chapters draw on a range of theoretical and
conceptual tools to examine different aspects related to the political economy of
VET. A fifth chapter provides a case study from Singapore of the impact on a
specific group of low‐grade workers of that country’s attempt to introduce a
national skills policy. Damian Oliver, Serena Yu, and John Buchanan (Chapter 7)
begin Part II with a critical review of various political economy approaches,
including HCT, in order to better understand the role of and challenges for VET
in changing socioeconomic circumstances. They offer an alternative framework
for understanding employer behavior and human development in relation to
VET, drawing on (neo)institutional theories, in particular the skills ecosystem
approach and the capabilities approach. Busemeyer and Trampusch (Chapter 8)
then provide a critical review of the major concepts and findings from the com‑
parative political economy literature, including the Varieties of Capitalism
approach; the politics of VET; and the development of different types of skill
formation systems. They discuss the increasing and significant challenge of labor
migration for policymaking. Their chapter reminds us of the central, but often
overlooked, role of the political decision‐making processes in vocational training
(VT) policies, including party politics and policy legacies.
Introduction to the Handbook
Mark Stuart (Chapter 9) continues the discussion about employer behavior
and policymakers’ increasing attempts to improve productivity with a discussion
focused on the connections between training and development and industrial
relations. His chapter examines the conceptual underpinnings of the industrial
relations of training, and argues that the struggle to achieve “mutual gains” for
the social partners involved is becoming more and more challenging for all coun‑
tries. The impact of the international financial crisis of 2008, including high
youth unemployment rates, continues to be felt within many countries. Many
governments are seeking ways to encourage more employers to support work‐
based VET. As a consequence, greater attention is being paid to the measure‑
ment of VET performance in the economic literature. Samuel Muehlemann
(Chapter 10) reviews, from a business perspective, the theoretical approaches to
and types of datasets required for measuring the costs and benefits of investing
in training and how they relate to employers’ decisions to engage in VET‐related
activities. He argues that a more dynamic perspective is required to capture the
long‐term effects of continuing VET as opposed to the current tendency to
measure short‐term performance in employees’ current job roles. Soon‐Joo Gog
(Chapter 11) concludes this part with a critique of Singapore’s concept of the
“developmental state.” This highlights the considerable challenges all govern‑
ments face in making continuing VET accessible for adults through the life‑
course. She illustrates her argument with a case study of workers in the Singapore
private security services industry. This challenges the supply‐side focus of
Singapore’s national skills strategy and rhetoric of inclusiveness, which fail to
tackle structural problems in the labor market and workplace.
Arrangements for VET
As we noted earlier in this chapter, VET is often associated with particular
national systems of education and training, yet there are arrangements for VET
that cut across those systems and, hence, give VET a universality that is often
overlooked in the research literature. In Part III, six chapters approach this theme
from a range of theoretical and methodological perspectives. Within all these
chapters and across the Handbook more generally, readers will find references to
specific arrangements regarding the design of VET curricula, approaches to ped‑
agogy and assessment, and the involvement of stakeholders in the architecture of
national systems. Brian Durham and Debra Bragg (Chapter 12) begin Part III
with an essay that places the evolution of VET in the United States in historical
context to explain the shift to what is now known as career and technical educa‑
tion. They discuss the legislative struggles to establish VET within the public‐
funded education system and the continued demands from citizens for access to
a form of learning that is now outperforming general education in relation to
employment prospects and wage premia. Alison Taylor (Chapter 13) also deploys
a historical framework to trace the development of vocational education in
Canadian secondary schools from the late 1800s to the present. She discusses
how concerns about meeting the needs of an industrializing economy gave rise
to technical and vocational education programs at the start of the twentieth
­century that were recognized to be class‐specific and class‐defining. In contrast,
David Guile and Lorna Unwin
the turn of the twenty‐first century, with its shift from a manufacturing‐based to
a service‐based economy and associated focus on the needs of a so‐called
­knowledge economy, has led to a renewed focus on the potential of a unified cur‑
riculum to break down the division between academic and vocational learning.
VET’s relationship to general education continues to be the subject of debate in
research, policy, and practice in many countries. Vibe Aarkrog (Chapter 14) dis‑
cusses how this debate necessarily involves developing an understanding about
the functions of general education (including, for example, to provide a platform
for further progression in education and work and for citizenship) as well as the
pedagogical principles that might support a better interrelation between VET
and general education. She illustrates her essay with a review of the various
reforms to VET in Denmark, and the implications for teacher training when the
proportion of general education in VET is increased, as many teachers are
required to develop practice‐based pedagogies. The dual‐system approach used
in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria has long been internationally regarded as
a highly effective model of VET, yet it too has been coming under pressure: (a) in
terms of the reduction in the number of employers willing to recruit apprentices;
and (b) in the light of demands for the further expansion of higher education.
Thomas Deissinger (Chapter 15) examines how the dual system, with its combi‑
nation of part‐time vocational and general education and workplace learning, is
responding to the challenge of a drift toward academization, even though
the model is still valued as providing a highly effective transition pathway to the
labor market for school leavers.
Remaining in the context of the dual system, Matthias Pilz and Bärbel Fürstenau
(Chapter 16) explore the concepts of duality and “learning fields” in relation to
VET pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment. In doing so, they highlight the key
challenges that are of relevance to not only Germany but also other countries.
These include the relationship between theory and practice, the shift away from
a subject‐led approach, the implications for curriculum development and teach‑
ing and learning processes of using different locations, and the use of technology
in VET assessment. As this chapter shows, the demands on VET teachers and
trainers are considerable, yet surprisingly, they have been overlooked in the
research literature. Kevin Orr (Chapter 17) reviews the literature that does focus
on teachers and trainers and is able to show that, although national VET systems
vary greatly, common themes emerge, including the experiences of change in
those systems and continued weak social status. He argues that the position and
role of VET teachers and trainers are best understood regarding how they
relate to society and the economy and how those relationships determine their
­professional autonomy.
VET as a Developing Practice
We noted in this chapter that Lave and Wenger’s (1991) argument that learning is
a social process had exercised a direct and indirect influence on VET researchers:
in the case of the former, leading researchers to draw explicitly on their theory or
alternative social theories of learning, for example cultural‐historical activity the‑
ory (CHAT), to investigate different aspects of VET‐related learning; and, in the
Introduction to the Handbook
case of the latter, alerting them to the value of practice‐based theories or con‑
cepts, for example actor–network theory and epistemic objects, as resources for
exploring learning in VET. The five chapters addressing different innovations in
VET in Part IV exemplify that continuing influence in different ways.
Arthur Bakker and Sanne Akkerman (Chapter 18) argue that what is distinc‑
tive about vocational curricula, and by extension vocational knowledge, is that it
comprises a course of learning across different school‑ and work‐based prac‑
tices. Elaborating and extending work originally undertaken in CHAT (Tuomi‐
Gröhn & Engeström, 2003), they conceptualize the practice of moving between
school‐based and workplace‐based forms of VET learning as a boundary‐­
crossing process. Bakker and Akkerman argue that the sociocultural differences
inherent in these settings lead to discontinuity in action and interaction, which
are portrayed in the literature and in policy documents as problematic. They
challenge that view by showing how the use of boundary analyses might lead to
a more fruitful means for addressing the much‐discussed theory–practice gap in
VET and, thus, assist learners to begin to develop their vocational or practice‐
based knowledge. Carmela Aprea and Alberto Cattaneo (Chapter 19) continue
the theme of boundary crossing with an analysis of how digital technologies can
be used to effectively support learning and teaching processes in VET, including
in the context of simulations, which play a significant role in VET programs in a
range of occupational fields. They discuss the potential and affordances of tech‑
nologies as a means to connect different learning locations and provide a set of
examples of prototypical uses of several technologies as boundary‐crossing tools.
In doing so, Aprea and Cattaneo remind us that learning technologies are
­doubly embedded (a) in their context‐of‐use, and (b) in the assumptions that
VET ­practitioners make about learning. As such, both influence the way technol‑
ogy is deployed to support the process and outcome of boundary crossing.
Part IV then turns to two models of VET, which are derived from work practice
and have a clear future‐oriented perspective. Monika Nerland and Crina Damşa
(Chapter 20) conceptualize VET as a lifelong process that encompasses educa‑
tional and work‐related activities. They employ the concepts of epistemic objects
and practices as analytical lenses to show how students and professional practi‑
tioners in the field of software engineering in Norway access knowledge
resources, explore and construct knowledge, and pursue learning opportunities
as part of problem‐solving and boundary‐crossing activities. They argue that
models for professional development should be reconsidered in recognizing the
role that self‐initiated learning plays for newcomers and professionals alike,
especially since professional networks increasingly offer a rich array of resources
to support the development of practice‐based knowledge. Aimée Hoeve, Wietske
Kuijer‐Siebelink, and Loek Nieuwenhuis (Chapter 21) are concerned with the
challenge of increasing the responsiveness of VET, which they define as its ability
to interpret socioeconomic and technological developments in the context of
curriculum design and pedagogy. They draw on case study research in the
Netherlands in the context of work‐based learning in higher professional educa‑
tion (HPE), where the challenge is to enable HPE to build regional networks and
participate in regional innovation. Thus, they implicitly echo, although with a
different lexicon, Oliver, Yu, and Buchanan’s (Chapter 7) argument about the
David Guile and Lorna Unwin
importance of developing regional skills ecosystems, and they anticipate some of
the ideas contained by Laura James (Chapter 27) and discussed in the “Challenges
for VET” section of this chapter.
We end Part IV by returning to vocational teachers. In their chapter, Janet
Hamilton Broad and Ann Lahiff (Chapter 22) explore how vocational teachers’
expertise is used, developed, and sustained (over time) in practice. They argue
that this is a complex, diffuse, and largely hidden process, residing either within
the individual as personal expertise and/or within networks as shared vocational
knowledge. They employ two different but complementary research methodolo‑
gies (CHAT and actor–network theory) as analytical lenses to explore and make
visible the phenomenon of vocational practice in action.
Challenges for VET
Part V of the Handbook provides four perspectives on the ways in which VET
currently interacts with socioeconomic, cultural, and political continuities and
change, and one perspective that adopts a prospective view of VET as an enabler
of regional regeneration. As we noted earlier in this chapter, VET is often seen as
the solution to both social and economic problems and judged accordingly.
Karen Evans (Chapter 23) discusses how the social processes associated with
gender, ethnicity, and social class are manifested in VET and how they are medi‑
ated by the structural, cultural, institutional, and labor market formations in
which they are embedded. She argues that understanding how VET constitutes
part of the problem as well as the potential solution should lead to a more realis‑
tic appraisal of the scope for VET to make a difference.
Part V then continues with three chapters focusing on the role of VET in India,
China, and Argentina. All three countries face acute challenges in relation to
ensuring their large populations are equipped with the expertise necessary to
achieve the social and economic goals they have set. Tara Nayana and Sanath
Kumar (Chapter 24) examine these challenges in the context of India, where the
aim is to create a vibrant interface between VET and the needs of industry in
order to achieve a competitive advantage at the international level. Zhiqun Zhao
and Yunbo Liu (Chapter 25) write from the context of China, which has entered
a new stage of economic transformation and, as a result, has attached renewed
importance to VET. The number of vocational education institutions and stu‑
dents is rising rapidly, creating major challenges in relation to the administration
of VET, the allocation of funds, and teaching and learning. Claudia Jacinto
(Chapter 26) analyzes developments in what is termed vocational training (VT)
in Argentina. She argues that VT does not comprise a harmonious, integrated
system, but a complex set of public and private actions responding to different
demands and segments of the labor market.
Part V finishes with an exploration of theories and concepts from the field of
economic geography and their implications for VET. Laura James (Chapter 27)
sets her discussion in the context of an emerging debate about the importance of
linking policies for innovation and regional economic development to policies
for VET. Her chapter therefore offers a complementary perspective to that of
Hoeve, Kuijer‐Siebelink, and Nieuwenhuis (Chapter 21). James focuses on the
Introduction to the Handbook
key concept of learning regions. Using a practice‐based perspective, she shows
how VET research might forge a fruitful relationship with disciplinary fields with
common, but often unacknowledged, cognate interests. This could further
encourage the necessary connections that need to be made between diverse the‑
ories, policies, and practices in ways to enable geographical regions to actively
shape their futures.
­Toward a Prospective VET Research Agenda
This Handbook cannot and does not claim to be comprehensive in its scope, but
rather to present a collection of authoritative essays on VET by leading and
emerging international scholars. The detailed nature of the essays means that
readers are provided with a wealth of references to other significant research
and policy literature that it has not been possible to include in this volume. The
essays reveal the richness of VET as a contested and evolving field of intellectual
inquiry and its continued importance across the world. They also reflect differ‑
ing ways to conceptualize, analyze, and evaluate the purposes, practices, and
outcomes of VET. The five parts offer a mix of theoretical, policy, and practice‐
based insights into VET as an evolving concept; the political economy of VET;
arrangements for and innovations in VET; as well as some of the challenges
facing VET. We nevertheless acknowledge that it has not been possible given
the scope of this volume to provide an internationally comprehensive collection.
Key omissions include perspectives from African and Middle Eastern countries.
This is partly in the case of the former because, as McGrath (2012) notes,
“Whilst there have continued to be both policy and academic developments in
VET in OECD countries; in the South there has been a paucity of VET research
and little in the way of theoretical exploration” (p. 623). The Handbook is writ‑
ten in English, and most of the research cited in the chapters has been published
in English. This necessarily begs the question as to how much valuable research
remains untapped.
We hope, however, that many of the arguments and proposals found in this
Handbook will cross international boundaries and resonate with researchers,
students, VET practitioners, employers, and policymakers. A key argument is
that VET is multifaceted, multidimensional, and context‐specific. Successful
­features found in one context are not necessarily replicable nor should be
­conceived of as being replicable or scalable in another context. Another is that
VET supports entry into and sustains people’s capacity for working in a diver‑
sity of “combinational” or “layered” economies, in other words, economies char‑
acterized by both continuity and change. These economies cover traditional and
niche‐craft work, mass and diversified production and services, and co‐ and
social production. In all, recent technological developments exist alongside ear‑
lier developments, and people cross boundaries in ways that are not captured by
many of the classification systems used to describe and measure work practice.
A further message is that policymakers need to be very cautious about
­positioning and then judging VET as the solution to social and/or economic
problems. Doing so downplays the considerable contribution VET makes in
David Guile and Lorna Unwin
many countries and further renders invisible the understanding that the devel‑
opment of expertise is developed through a relational and dynamic interplay of
a range of factors.
One of the goals of the Handbook has been to open up the field of VET research
in three key ways. First, the Handbook explores the evolving and diverse charac‑
ter of VET within and across a range of contexts in an attempt to overcome the
siloization we commented on earlier. Second, it encourages VET researchers to
revisit and take a fresh look at the relationship between VET and work in the
light of advances in digitization, new forms of work process, and the disruption
of occupational boundaries. Third, it draws on the insights of scholars working
in a range of disciplinary fields whose research tends to be published outside the
mainstream VET journals. We hope that the collective insights provided
throughout this Handbook will assist researchers, policymakers, and practition‑
ers to develop what we referred to earlier in this chapter as a “prospective”
approach to VET (which we discuss in detail in Chapter 2). This is in line with
Heikkinen’s (2001, p. 228) caution against the tendency in VET to either continu‑
ally reaffirm the validity of an ahistorical discourse, which advocates permanent
change, or describe and defend state‐based perspectives. This shift in focus will
hopefully lead to a new balance being struck where VET is understood, first, as a
relational concept that forms part of a dynamic interplay with the evolving
organization and process of work, including the emergence of new occupations;
and, second, as an instrument of government policy and/or an institutional com‑
ponent of a country’s broader education system to support the above vision. The
first step toward realizing this vision, as we argue in Chapter 2, may involve
replacing the concept of “skill” with the concept of “expertise” in VET research,
practice, and policy.
Achtenhagen, F., & Winther, E. (2014). Workplace‐based competence measurement:
Developing innovative assessment systems for tomorrow’s VET programmes.
Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 66(3), 281–295.
Addey, C., Sellar, S., Steiner‐Khamsi, G., Lingard, B., & Verger, A. (2017). The rise of
international large‐scale assessments and rationales for participation. Compare:
A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 47(3), 434–452.
Avis, J. (2012). Introduction: Globalised reconstructions of vocational education
and training. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 10(1), 1–11.
Bohlinger, S., Haake, U., Jorgensen, C. H., Toiviainen, H., & Wall, A. (Eds.) (2015).
Working and learning in times of uncertainty. Rotterdam, the Netherlands:
Sense Publishers.
Brockmann, M., Clarke, L., & Winch, C. (Eds.) (2011). Knowledge, skills and
competence in the European labour market. London, UK: Routledge.
Canning, R. (2007). Reconceptualising core skills. Journal of Vocational Education
and Training, 20(1), 17–26.
Catts, R., Falk, I., & Wallace, R. (2011). Vocational learning: Innovative theory and
practice. Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Springer.
Introduction to the Handbook
Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. New York, NY: Free Press.
European Commission (2018). Council recommendation on key competences for
lifelong learning. Brussels: Council of the European Union.
Field, J., Burke, R. J., & Cooper, C. L. (Eds.) (2013). The SAGE handbook of ageing,
work and society. London, UK: Sage.
Fuller, A., Hodkinson, H., Hodkinson, P., & Unwin, L. (2005). Learning as peripheral
participation in communities of practice: A reassessment of key concepts in
workplace learning. British Educational Research Journal, 31(1), 49–68.
Gonon, P. (2009). The quest for modern vocational education. Bern, Switzerland:
Peter Lang.
Goos, M., & Manning, A. (2007). Lousy jobs and lovely jobs: The rising polarization
of work in Britain. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 89(1), 118–133.
Green, A. (1998). Core skills, key skills and general culture: In search of the
common foundation in vocational education. Evaluation and Research in
Education, 12(1), 23–43.
Guile, D. (2010). The learning challenge of the knowledge economy. Rotterdam, the
Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
Hamilton, M. (2012). Literacy and the politics of representation. London, UK:
Heikkinen, A. (2001). The transforming peripheries of vocational education:
Reflections from the case of Finland. Journal of Education and Work,
14(2), 227–250.
Heikkinen, A., & Lassnigg, L. (Eds.) (2015). Myths and brands in vocational
education. Newcastle‐upon‐Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Hughes, J., Jewson, N., & Unwin, L. (Eds.) (2007). Communities of practice: Critical
perspectives. London, UK: Routledge.
King, S. D. (2017). Grave new world. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press.
Lerman, R. I. (2017). Skills development in middle‐level occupations. In C.
Warhurst, K. Mayhew, D. Finegold, & J. Buchanan (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of
skills and training (pp. 180–200). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Lingard, B., & Sellar, S. (2013). Globalisation and sociology of education policy: The
case of PISA. In R. Brooks, M. McCormack, & K. Bhopal (Eds.), Contemporary
debates in the sociology of education (pp. 19–38). London: Palgrave Macmillan.
McGrath, S. (2012). Vocational education and training for development: A policy in
need of a theory? International Journal of Educational Development, 32, 623–631.
Michelsen, S., & Stenström, M. (Eds.) (2018). Vocational education in the Nordic
countries: The historical evolution. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Mulder, M. (2017). Competence‐base vocational and professional education.
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David Guile and Lorna Unwin
Piketty, T. (2013). Capital in the twenty‐first century. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
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research. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 68(3), 359–377.
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(2008). Worlds within worlds: The relationship between context and pedagogy in
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Part I
VET as an Evolving Concept
VET, Expertise, and Work: Situating the Challenge
for the Twenty‐First Century
David Guile1,2 and Lorna Unwin1,2
UCL Institute of Education
Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES)
Vocational education and training (VET) has become internationally synony‑
mous with the initial formation of intermediate‐level skills aligned to national
economic priorities. Paradoxically, this has disconnected VET from its central
role in the development of expertise in terms of people’s lives, their workplace
activity, and society more generally. The development of models of learning to
facilitate the development of expertise, whether in the context of paid or unpaid
work or in relation to leisure pursuits, predates the introduction of nation
states (Coy, 1989). There have, of course, been innumerable benefits from the
introduction of national systems of education; however, VET has paid a price
for becoming overly institutionalized within national education and training
The human capital consensus, shared by policymakers across the world since
the 1960s, is that qualifications (whether academic or vocational) are proxy
measures for the expertise (expressed as skills) employers are looking for when
they recruit new workers (see Oliver et al., Chapter 7). The curriculum of VET
programs has come to be expressed in the language of measurable skills and
competences designed to lead to standardized accreditation. This has led both
researchers and policymakers to focus much of their attention on topics such as
the comparative study of national “stocks” of skills, participation and achieve‑
ment rates in VET programs, the alignment of qualification frameworks, and the
development of hybrid models to bridge the academic‐vocational divide. Hence,
the emphasis has been on the supply of skills, with much less attention being paid
to the critical issue of skills utilization, which is the ways in which employers are
willing and/or able to create the conditions in which people can deploy their
expertise (see, inter alia, Felstead, Fuller, Jewson, & Unwin, 2009; Livingstone,
2018; OECD, 2017). Considerable attention is also paid to social justice issues in
The Wiley Handbook of Vocational Education and Training, First Edition.
Edited by David Guile and Lorna Unwin.
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2019 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
David Guile and Lorna Unwin
relation to access to occupations and the promotion of VET as a “pathway” for
young people who underachieve in compulsory schooling or are regarded as
vulnerable as they make the transition from school to the labor market
(see Evans, Chapter 23).
Thus, VET has become primarily conceptualized, studied, and evaluated
through an educational lens. As a consequence, work has become the servant of
VET rather than its inspiration. Work and workplaces are still seen to be valuable
for providing opportunities for VET students to practice or for teachers and
trainers to update their own expertise, but these opportunities are framed within
the requirements of VET programs and/or professional regulations. This inver‑
sion can also be seen in research studies based in disciplines such as labor eco‑
nomics, sociology of work, and political economy. Although the perspective is
intended to be on changing patterns in workplaces and industrial sectors, we find
the research agenda is often framed within a human capital paradigm in which
skills are decontextualized, counted, and critiqued in relation to individual well‐
being (as in the deskilling thesis) or national economic performance. This gener‑
ates a path dependency approach to both the study and policy understanding of
the relationship between skills, occupations, and industries.
We are not disputing that the issues outlined here are worthy of research and
policy attention. Our concern is that their dominance has meant that research
and policymaking have become overly retrospective as opposed to prospective
with regard to the relationship between VET, expertise, and work. What is
­missing is an engagement with debates occurring elsewhere about the following
phenomena, which have major implications for VET whether in developed or
developing countries:
First, the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) to create the “Internet
of Things” (IoT) (Rifkin, 2014) and substitute information technology (IT)
platforms for previous organizational models (Srnicek, 2017)
Second, the concept of “mission‐led” innovation based on “co‐constructed”
partnerships between the state and the private sector (Mazzucato, 2018)
Third, and arising out of the developments discussed here, the emergence of
new forms of work, occupational fields, and expertise based on cross‐specialist
collaboration (including with consumers) and the increasing interpolation of
such collaboration and digital technologies.
These three phenomena encompass both age‐old occupational fields and
emerging ones. The desire to design, produce, and market goods and services is
driven by individuals who have ideas and want to utilize their expertise, by con‑
sumer demand, and by the needs of societies more generally. At the same time as
we are witnessing the growth of AI‐based products and services, there is also a
rising demand for those that are handmade, bespoke, and authentic, the makers
of which are also benefitting from using the new digital technologies to market
and sell their products. This is in line with our initial point that models of learn‑
ing, which facilitate the development of expertise, predate formalized systems of
education and training and emerge from the interaction of people and technolo‑
gies within work contexts.
VET, Expertise, and Work: Situating the Challenge
Cross‐cutting these phenomena is a socioeconomic conundrum about
how we might conceive expertise in an age when the value of intangible assets
(e.g., ideas, knowledge, brands, and networks) is outstripping that of tangible
assets (e.g., irrigation, electricity, roads, and machinery). The former still rely on
the latter, of course, but investment in “intangibles” has become part of the
­lifeblood of all workplaces. In their analysis of this new world of “capitalism
without capital,” Haskel and Westlake (2018) argue that continuous (as opposed
to only initial) vocational training has a particularly important role because it
aligns the development of expertise with changes in work practices and, hence,
avoids the trap of trying to second‐guess what types of expertise might be
needed in an undefined future.
In this chapter, we draw on a range of disciplinary perspectives to examine
why: (a) VET researchers and policymakers adopt a retrospective rather than
prospective view of the relationship between VET, expertise, and work; (b) there
has always been continuity and change in work, and how the major changes that
are on the horizon will have an impact on VET; and (c) the concept of skill needs
to be replaced by a concept of expertise in discussions about the design and
­purpose of VET. It concludes with ideas for the development of a new conceptu‑
alization of the relationship between work, expertise, and VET, which we term
prospective VET expertise. This is based on the development of expertise across
a process‐based continuum: the initial process of formation; the continuous
recontextualization, updating, and lateral branching process; and the reformula‑
tion process.
We argue that the further VET drifts from concepts of and changes in work
and expertise, the less effective and meaningful it becomes. We hope to contrib‑
ute to a renewed focus in VET research on the critical analysis of the nature and
development of expertise in the context of contemporary forms of work and
­ he Continuing Power of the Retrospective
Skills‐Based Approach to VET
The retrospective skills‐based view of VET can be traced to the heavy shadow
cast by Braverman’s (1974) seminal volume, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The
Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, over the definition and use of the
term skill in Marxist scholarship, industrial sociology, labor process theory, and,
by extension, some of the VET literature. Braverman argued that the shift from
craft occupations to mass‐industrialized forms of production based on the rou‑
tinization of work in capitalist societies fundamentally changed the relationship
between work and the development of skill. He makes this case by drawing on
what Attewell (1987) refers to as the “cost” and “control” principles of economic
activity. The term cost refers to a discernible tendency in capitalist economies in
the first half of the twentieth century to divide complex craft tasks into simple
routinized steps and to hire cheaper labor to perform those steps, the process
known as Taylorization. The term control refers to management’s tendency to
David Guile and Lorna Unwin
gain knowledge of production and reduce workers to executors of the work
­process (see Thompson & Smith, 2010).
Braverman (1974) argued,
In each craft, the worker was presumed to be the master of a body of
­traditional knowledge, and methods and procedures were left to his or her
­discretion … the craftsman, like the professional, was required to master a
speciality and become the best judge of the manner of its application to
specific ­production problems. (p. 109)
He contrasted this with the reorganization of work in the period from the
1900s to the 1970s into low‐skill jobs lacking any conceptual content, which
occurred as management appropriated the intellectual knowledge and skill once
held by craft labor. This dissolution was accomplished through “the separation of
conception and execution” (Braverman, 1974, p. 124).
Braverman’s thesis has been questioned by some writers operating with an
industrial sociology or labor process perspective. This includes his tendency to
imply, first, that managers impose their will in the workplace without significant
resistance from labor and to gloss over the countertendencies to deskilling that
have manifested themselves in different industrial sectors (see Burawoy, 1979).
Second, he uses a rather circumscribed notion of the term specialization to refer
to work that can be learned quickly and does not require planning or abstract
knowledge on behalf of the worker (Attewell, 1987, pp. 330–332). From this
­perspective, it is difficult to grasp that the form of specialization associated
with, for example, the work of stonemasons, hairdressers, pharmacy technicians,
radiographers, chefs, and electricians presupposes considerable expertise.
We, however, adopt a different approach. We argue Braverman’s argument
has led, albeit unintentionally, to a retrospective focus on skill in VET for two
reasons. The first is his “romantizisation” (Attewell, 1987, p. 332) of a particular
kind of craftwork, which he understood to require minimal formal education
and a long apprenticeship. These examples of craftwork, including the mechani‑
cal engineering example he cites, can be described as “turn‐of‐the‐twentieth‐
century” work—in other words, forms of work that existed prior to the
development of advanced science and IT. One consequence is that many of the
above as well as other forms of work now require higher levels of domain knowl‑
edge. A more complex relationship has therefore existed between formal
­education and employment for many decades in industrial societies, compared
with the early part of the twentieth century. Braverman’s attachment to forms of
craftwork based on his belief that the unification of conception and execution
constituted the definitive definition of skill precludes him, however, from accept‑
ing this development. Instead, he treats the higher‐level entry requirement as
evidence of what has come to be known as “credential inflation” (Collins, 1979).
This is problematic, from our perspective, for the following reason. If we fol‑
low Braverman and assume that qualification requirements reflect cultural
rather than technological demands, then it is reasonable to question his
­description of the longevity of craft apprenticeships as being solely driven by the
“knowledge to be assimilated, the dexterities to be gained, and the fact that
the craftsman … was required to master a speciality” (Braverman, 1974, p. 109).
VET, Expertise, and Work: Situating the Challenge
Becoming a “master” certainly took time, but the length of apprenticeships
(known as time‐serving) was a means by which the craft guilds sought to protect
their “secrets” and keep apprentices under the control of their masters for as
long as possible to prevent poaching (see, inter alia, Davids & Munck, 2014;
Epstein & Prak, 2008; Ogilvie, 2014). From the late nineteenth century onward,
trades unions maintained time‐serving as a way to protect older workers from
being replaced by the much cheaper labor provided by apprentices. The quality
of apprentice training has always been highly variable (Fuller & Unwin, 2012;
Lane, 1996; Ogilvie, 2014). Because Braverman’s primary concern was the deni‑
gration of work, he was less concerned with whether the reasons for the previ‑
ous organization of work, especially apprenticeship, justified its time‐served
The second reason is that Braverman’s definition of skill as the unity of concep‑
tion and execution glosses over the interconnected nature of forms of work,
where it has been very difficult for many centuries for one person to conceive
and execute the enti…
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