Vocational training vs. college education: Lessons from Europe

November 30, 2011

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(AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
Two young Americans participate in vocational training aimed at those who have not completed high school.

Thanks to the feverish coverage of the European debt crisis, we know that Germany is the economic engine that’s kept the Eurozone afloat. The Germans attribute their success in large part to their dual education system. At a young age, schoolchildren go on tracks that determine whether they’ll receive vocational training to prepare them for employment or go to university.

While the system provides little flexibility, it does deliver on jobs. Germany, as well as Switzerland and Austria — which have similar education models — have the lowest youth unemployment figures in Europe. Young people in countries like France and the U.K., which put a greater emphasis on college degrees, fare much worse. In the U.S., youth unemployment is double that of adults.

Pepper Culpepper, a political science professor at the European University Institute in Florence and editor of the book The German Skills Machine, tells Worldview what the U.S. can learn from foreign educational models.