With such massive changes occurring in the world’s economy and in the global marketplace that have come from factors such as war, the Internet Age and global connectivity as well as the movement of large portions of the manufacturing sectors out of some countries and into others, it is likely a good time to re-examine the role of colleges and universities and the role of vocational schools.
In order to determine the differences between colleges and universities and vocational schools, we spoke to Sanjeev Mansotra. Mansotra is a business leader who is the chairman of an educational firm that designs and markets its own educational management software products for educational institutions. Mansotra has seen a shift in the importance of both university and trade school education worldwide.
The Changing Role of Colleges and Universities and Their Relative Importance
A few decades ago, in many industrialized countries around the world, parents would encourage their children to study hard in secondary school, so they could attend the best college and secure their economic future. The advent of the internet has caused an upheaval around the world in terms of the distribution of jobs that can be done remotely anywhere. For example, there was a trend about a decade or so ago in which companies in the United States began to close their domestic customer service centers and hire educated workers in developing countries who could work for lower wages, due to the realities of the cost of living in the two countries.
Another profession that has witnessed the same type of phenomena is computer programming. Programmers can be hired from any country in the world and can easily work remotely or relocate.
The role of colleges and universities is to provide well-rounded, critical thinkers that can work in the labor market in the field of their major but who also can be called upon to research topics in a variety of fields, assimilate and analyze the information and develop new ideas.
The role of vocational education is to provide hands-on training so that the student can move directly into a career, usually in two years or less. Vocational education institutions tend to cost less. Their students can enter the workforce in half the time college graduates take to enter the workforce. Typical occupations one can learn in a vocational education institution include different construction trades; automobile mechanics; machinists and medical workers like dental assistants and hygienists as well as X-ray and pharmacy technicians.
Sanjeev Mansotra recommends that young people seriously consider the realities of the employment situation in their home country. In many countries, students are not guaranteed that they will graduate college and find work in the field of their major. Then, they have four years of time invested, possibly a load of student debt, and no employment prospects.
For students who do well in school and are majoring in growth fields that are likely going to lead to a high-paying job soon after graduation, Mansotra encourages students to find the scholarships, grants and other funds to get that bachelor’s or higher degree with little or no debt incurred.
But, in the current global environment, students need to look carefully at their national and local job market in their desired occupation. They need to take this examination of the job market prospects in their target career as seriously as they would need to if they were about to invest in a large business startup. It is financially risky to spend time in any institution pursuing a career that will have few, if any real job prospects. It is a waste of money and time and is actually a safety risk to students who are independent and have no financial safety net.
Mansotra goes on to say that students who get a trade school education and go into an in-demand field can always attend college while working in a trade. The internet makes that easy, with many top-ranked colleges offering fully online or hybrid online/in person degree programs. Asynchronous programs allow students to study and participate in their courses at any time that is convenient for them, as they work in their trade for a decent, living wage.
Also, trade school jobs tend to be ones that cannot be performed over the internet. They tend to be jobs that require a local person doing the work on site. Thus, your work cannot be moved to another country where they pay workers less. The carpenter, electrician, car mechanic and X-ray technician must be in your local environment and cannot do their work online. Thus, a trade school education may lead to reliable employment, even if your country’s economy goes through a recession or other economic decline.
Mansotra also says that he in no way discourages students who do well in school and are eyeing an occupation that requires a master’s degree or better from working their way through both a bachelor’s and master’s program. There are many schools that are beginning to combine bachelor’s and master’s degrees into one program that takes more on the order of five years, as opposed to the traditional six years. One must ensure that there really will be work at the end of the program. To that end, it is a really great idea to participate in one or more internships while attending college in order to provide proof of hands-on work in the field.
Thus, Sanjeev Mansotra encourages young people to know the current job market in their local area before making any decisions between college and vocational education. Those who do not do as well in school or who do not have good prospects of graduating with a degree would likely be better off learning a trade and moving quickly into a career in a field that is in demand. Students who have gifts in disciplines that require high levels of analysis and critical thinking should consider pursuing majors that lead to in-demand careers in their locality. Students should apply for every possible scholarship or grant in order to make whatever education they pursue be as inexpensive as possible, with the goal of entering the workforce debt-free.