Vocational Education beyond Skill Formation

VET between Civic, Industrial and Market Tensions

by Fernando Marhuenda-Fluixá (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection 439 Pages


Vocational education and training has played an important role in the struggles between Work and Capital along history and today; there are examples of such tensions worldwide. The first section of this book provides illustrations of different countries from the 18th to the early 20th century. The authors explain and exemplify the education of the workforce and its political engagement, contributing to the formation of the working class. The chapters provide relevant approaches to how young apprentices and adult workers developed a class consciousness through vocational education. The second section illustrates practices of resistance and transformation within policies and practices of vocational education nowadays in Central and Southern Europe and South America, addressing the needs of people with disabilities and dispossessed populations. The final section analyses how theories and policies intertwine resulting in the idiosyncrasy of vocational education practices across the world, through tensions between logics and institutional actors. The book addresses the political dimensions of Vocational Education and problematizes its mere consideration as an instrumental tool in skill formation.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Vocational Education, Labor and Citizenship: The Working Class, the Workforce and the Provision of Qualifications from Early to Contemporary Capitalism (Fernando Marhuenda-Fluixá)
  • Section 1. Nation, Work, Class and Identity: Vocational Education and the Formation of Citizenship
  • An Ambiguous Identity: The Figure of the Apprentice from the XIX Century up to Today in Switzerland (Lorenzo Bonoli)
  • A School for the Many but Attended by the Few: Industrial and Artistic Industrial Schools in Regional and National Data (Chiara Martinelli)
  • Citizenship and Participation: Apprenticeship as a Political Issue in the Swiss VET-Debate of the 1970s / 80s (Esther Berner)
  • The Twin Aspiration of Danish Craftsmen to Maintain their Traditional Privileges and Be Accepted as Respectable Members of the Emerging Bourgeois Society (Ida Juul)
  • Citizenship, Workers Education and Radical Activism in Early 20th Century United States (Kenneth Teitelbaum)
  • Education and Work in the Libertarian Thinking of 19th and Early 20th Century Spain (Germán Gil Rodríguez)
  • Section 2. Citizenship at Stake: Can VET Practices Be Alternative?
  • Implementation of Sustainability into Germany’s VET-System by Means of Model Projects: A Review on the Years 2005 to 2015 (Burkhard Vollmers / Werner Kuhlmeier)
  • The Role of VET into Social Participation and Self-determination of Disabled People as Full Citizens (Patricia Olmos-Rueda)
  • Students of Vocational Training Centers in Greece and Financial Crisis (Katerina Arkoudi-Vafea)
  • The Recent History of Vocational Education in Brazil: The Qualification of the Workforce and its Empowerment through Critisicm and Mobilization (Tânia Suely Antonelli Marcelino Brabo)
  • VET Challenges in Local Development: The UDATMA Case in Ecuador (Vicente Palop-Esteban)
  • Section 3. Tensions between the Global and the Local: Adoptions, Rejections and Reactions to Standardization of VET Traditions
  • Civic and Market Convention as Driving Forces of the Development of Swiss VET (Lea Zehnder / Philipp Gonon)
  • The Status of VET in Canada: Evidence from Literature and Qualitative Research (Thomas Deissinger / Daniela Gremm)
  • Validation and Accreditation of Qualifications and Citizenship: a Method to Guarantee Social Equity in Spain (María José Chisvert-Tarazona / Ana I. Córdoba-Iñesta)
  • The Ambiguous Role of Basic VET upon Social Inclusion: A Participatory Perspective on Social Justice (Míriam Abiétar-López / Fernando Marhuenda-Fluixá / Almudena A. Navas-Saurin)
  • Learning through Praxis and Cooperation: Lev Vygotsky and Vocational Pedagogy (Liv Mjelde)
  • Promoting Basic Social and Health Care Work through Education: Global North and Global South in Comparison (Anja Heikkinen / Perpetua Joseph Kalimasi / Elizabeth Opit / Jesse Sjelvgren)
  • VET Producing Second Class Citizens? Comparative Analyses of the VET and Tertiary Education Nexus (Lorenz Lassnigg / Stefan Vogtenhuber)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Series index

← 8 | 9 →


Vocational Education, Labor and Citizenship: The Working Class, the Workforce and the Provision of Qualifications from Early to Contemporary Capitalism1

1.  Conflicting roles of vocational education and training (VET), past and present

This book is part of the Peter Lang Series on Studies in Vocational and Continuing Education and it intends to contribute to the dialogue initiated in some of the previous volumes. Like previous books, this one compiles a variety of contributions from academics across the world, namely America (South and North), Africa and Europe.

In doing so, the book takes into account historical and comparative research with the focus set upon the contribution of VET policies and practices to the development of citizenship in at least three different domains: The first dimension is national identity, given that VET policies were developed, as part of educational policies, to contribute to the establishment of the nation-state; the second dimension is working class identity in a different way, because VET was considered originally, and it remains so to a large extent still, as the education provided for the lower classes; while academic secondary education, particularly at the post-compulsory level, was reserved for the elites; the third dimension is again working class identity, yet with an empowering meaning, as the ← 9 | 10 → education of the working class by the working class members themselves, therefore as the raising of a class consciousness proud of itself, with its own set of values and with a clear determination to become an autonomous class and not being dependent from the decisions of the elites.

Through this approach, the book maintains the critical perspective that is embedded in the series, for it takes into account not only pedagogical perspectives but also economic and cultural ones, alongside the history of VET, mostly developed in section 1. The book also does so by addressing current developments that address the tensions around the construction of citizenship at a time of various challenges and identities, as portrayed in sections 2 and 3, that focus upon present VET developments around the world. Some of these may seem new, while other challenges reenact past episodes in history and show ongoing and open on unresolved disputes among classes and regions. While previous books in the series have attempted to look at historical approaches to VET (Molzberger and Wahle 2015; Berner and Gonon 2016) and others have looked at social issues (Mjelde and Daly 2006; Gonon et al. 2009; Weil, Koski and Mjelde 2009; Stolz and Gonon 2011; Deissinger et al. 2013), none has focused on the theme that this book addresses.

Similarly to other books in the series, there is a large presence of women contributing to the volume. When it comes to chapters drawing on the history of VET and its relation to the labor movement, the presence of women is sometimes neglected while with others it has to do with the role they were assigned at the time. When it comes to chapters on contemporary affairs, the best example in the book is the chapter by Heikkinen, Kalimasi, Opit and Sjelvgren, on VET and the health care professions, which shows how gender differences are still consistent in terms of labor conditions as well as vocational qualifications. Further work is needed in this regard as well as work that stresses the gender dimension in issues like sustainability, disability, accreditation or local development. If VET is to deal with citizenship and contribute to a liberating and emancipated workforce, women must be a driving force. Their neglect in the past two centuries has brought us to the current situation, to show how domestic justifications are still often disguised as civic ones, to use the framework provided by Boltanski and Chiapello (2002) which supports discussions in some of the chapters in this book. ← 10 | 11 →

Again, like some of the previous books in the series, the idea for this volume was set in 2014, as the call for the international research network VET and Culture (Vocational Education and Training and Culture; <www.peda.net/veraja/uta/vetculture>) conference in Valencia, Spain, was initially launched and afterwards held in July 2015. At that time, as is still the case nowadays, Spain, like other Southern European countries (some of them represented in this volume, like Greece and Italy) was suffering the pressure of austerity policies enacted since the beginning of the political and economic crisis that followed the Lehman Brothers crisis and the financial storm that followed in 2008. European policies, both at EU level as well as at the country level, particularly in the South, forced severe budget cuts in terms of funding education, as well as other public services, in addition to other citizen rights and traditions of the welfare system that had characterized most Western European countries since the end of WWII.

In this sense, both VET as well as other education policies have been under siege ever since. On one side, a global trend towards privatization of education has been identified (Apple 2006; Ball 2013) in recent decades, particularly since the turn of the century. On the other side, when it comes to VET policies, there is a growing demand that they be more responsive to the demands of the labor market, as if it were not responsive enough or as if the labor market were ready to recognize the contribution of VET to increased productivity, competitiveness and innovation in the world of work as most VET systems have proved to be sensitive to the calls made by industry and services. Third, if VET was in its origin a truly educational option for those who were not considered to deserve another educational opportunity, in recent times, once compulsory education became universal in most Northern countries and extended to the majority of the population in most Southern countries, if one may generalize, VET has been deprived of its educational dimension. Indeed, attempts have been made to reduce VET to a training scheme/provision that focuses mainly upon skills development, forging the skills that are demanded by industry.

In this sense, debates about curriculum design and development (Marhuenda and Ros 2015) may also be applied to VET, opening discussions from technical to political. That is the intention of this book, to deal with VET as we do with other educational policies and practices. This means to acknowledge its educational worth, while recognizing its ← 11 | 12 → distinctiveness. VET is about the preparation of the workforce, but it is also about providing alternative, non-academic pathways for young people in order to further their education and to fulfill their vocational expectations in the sense of responding to a call or vocation.

But the book also deals with the education of adult people, of people in their teens, in transition into adulthood and into the world of work. As some have recently shown (Harju and Heikkinen 2016), the understanding of adult education has significantly changed since it received attention in the 1960s, and it cannot be reduced to continuing education nor to updating the skills needed by the workforce, as some policies would like it to become. Work-related adult education is an issue that cannot be ignored in adult education, but it is only one shape of the many that experiential education can take. This is an issue that we are currently researching in the context of Work Integration Enterprises (EDU2013-45919-R)2 where we are trying to identify the social and personal dimensions that go aside the technical competences achieved in the workplace and necessary for an integrated life as active participants of civil society (Marhuenda, 2017).

2.  Looking at VET from a taken for granted viewpoint

The idea for this volume came up at the 22nd conference of the VET&Culture Network held in Valencia in July 2015. Some of the chapters in this book are elaborations of papers presented to that conference, while more than half of them are new chapters, authored by scholars who did not attend that conference but who submitted contributions in response to the call.

The call for papers for that conference, written by Germán Gil and Fernando Marhuenda, attempted to reflect upon VET policies and practices, taking into account their educational dimension and its contribution to the formation not just of the individual worker/person but also of the responsible free citizen. This call required a socio-cultural and historical perspective able to move beyond a mere skills approach, without neglecting the need to promote capacity building. ← 12 | 13 →

There is a clear explanation for why such call was made from scholars in Spain in the autumn of 2014. The country, like others in Southern Europe, as well as in other regions of the world, has been severely hit by the confrontations between the center and the margins of the current economic developments. Spain has been displaced from the center, which it started approaching in the mid 1980s, to a marginal position, with both internal and external justifications for the austerity policies that are being implemented by the economic and political powers in worldwide institutions as well as in European ones. Such policies are imposing not only budgetary restrictions, but also a certain disrespect for civil rights, particularly those related to labor relations, which took a long time and many fights to achieve. Industrial work is under siege, and trade unions are being monitored if not demonized.

The current financial crisis has been used to widen the gap between capital and the workers. Data show how wealth has grown and is being distributed differentially, as an increasing number of scholars explain (Navarro and López 2012; Martínez 2013; Ariño and Romero 2016). This is a global trend, however, that manifests in diverse ways in different countries and regions throughout the world and that we intend to show in this book, with contributions from different regions at different levels of economic and social development, with different welfare regimes, as well as with chapters on how these trends, claims and pressures have been dealt with during the history of certain successful regions. That is the case of Switzerland, for example, which is very well covered in the book with three different contributions.

Across the different chapters in the book, we discuss whether and how vocational education can keep its educational value and whether and how vocational education is able to contribute in a proactive way to the demands, neither merely nor necessarily of the market, of citizenship and of the increasing participation of the large majority of the working force in economic and industrial decisions. We consider this plea particularly current at a time when workers’ rights are being undermined across the world: in European countries, as a response to the ageing of the population and the need for human resources able to support the pension system developed as part of the welfare system; in other countries because the role of informal work (Bacchetta et al. 2009) has been much larger than that of formally recognized forms of work. ← 13 | 14 →

The labor market has undergone continual changes that have accelerated in the past decades. Some of the countries discussed in this book, in Southern European – Greece, Spain – or in South America – Brazil, Ecuador – have been used as experimental sites for new developments in terms of labor relations and production policies internationally, often through the intermediation of international funding bodies. While the labor market demands a skilled workforce, working conditions are increasingly precarious (Castel 1997; Standing 2011) and some international institutions claim for decent work (International Labor Office 2013; European Economic and Social Committee 2016; Comisión Europea 2014). The old divide between blue and white collar workers is now taking different shapes.

Across the past four decades, vocational education has contributed to the improvement of general education as a whole and helped it meet demands of the world such as greater application of content or the reduction of the academic weight through the introduction of work experience of various kinds. Apprenticeship has been strongly recommended by authors worldwide (Hamilton 1990; Marhuenda 2016) and the debate over dual systems and dual approaches to VET is heated in many countries worldwide, as one of the symposiums held at the Valencia conference showed (examples in Canada, México, the United States of America and Spain were debated) and it is discussed in the final section of this book.

It may be the right time to consider whether despite these efforts, vocational education is an independent educational offering, with its own identity; or perhaps it continues to be considered a subaltern educational offer, reserved for those not willing to pursue academic work. If this is the case, we wonder whether vocational education is ready to accept the challenge of merely serving the needs of the industry or whether it is ready to play a role in the formation of a strong working class consciousness about its role in political and economic discussions. The examples from different times and countries presented in the book show that the latter can be the case, which is a relevant contribution to the overall discussion from sections 1 and 2. This is a question behind many of the chapters of this book and clearly stated in the discussions held at the conference in Valencia.

All of these transformations happen parallel to and within the framework of the revision of the social contract of the welfare state ← 14 | 15 → that has ruled continental Europe since WWII. The European social protection system seems to be witnessing the end of its days, which is having a huge impact upon the workforce and working culture. The social contract that was part of the post WWII way of living in Northern and Western countries is being questioned and upheld (Castel 1997; Bauman 2000; Sennett 2000; Standing 2011).

Will vocational education nowadays be able to educate the workforce in terms of cooperation, political consciousness? Can we identify practices or policies with a clear determination to look for collective solutions and to share common problems instead of searching for individual alternatives to the current difficulties of the labor market? These are central questions that the contributors to the book were invited to address, from different historical, national, regional and theoretical perspectives. All contributions have been arranged in three sections, in which we intend to provide some answers for these questions, as well as to assess whether there is hope or whether our questions may not make sense any longer but rather pertain to a different era, one that has already passed. The reader of the volume must answer these questions. My belief is that most of the contributions provide a basis for worry as well as hope.

We expect the debates raised and addressed in this book to enlighten our present. We expect historical and contemporary considerations to inspire and challenge the reader’s approach towards vocational education and citizen-related issues like the transitions between education and work, old and new forms of labor-market precariousness, low-quality employment and different forms of unemployment. Those are the issues that have been discussed along the years by networks such as VET&Culture or SUPI (Hepp et al. 2016).

3.  Structure and content of the book

Section 1 covers how the central debates in the book relate to the origins of vocational education as well as the working class, as these two fields have strong connections and interdependencies. During the 19th century, European nationalisms ended with the establishment of the nation-state ← 15 | 16 → and the guarantee of basic compulsory education, which had three aims: first, to provide equal educational chances to the young generations, inspired by the principles of Enlightenment; second, to assure the consolidation of the modern state with the teaching of a common history, geography and language conducive to creating a national identity; third, to give those willing to learn beyond compulsory education the chance to develop their knowledge and skills. The end goal was to improve the productivity and competitiveness of the workplace, whether through the teaching of scientific disciplines or the development of vocational education emerging from a context where medieval guilds were not able to meet the fast-changing needs of the Industrial Revolution.

The relations between national citizenship and vocational education are addressed in the cases of Switzerland, Denmark and Italy, focusing upon the transformation of the guild training system into the apprenticeships that will be the basis for the development of a system of vocational education that fell far behind the expectations of the States themselves, yet contributed to its consolidation and differentiation.

Lorenzo Bonoli contends that although apprenticeship took a long while to be settled as a national educational policy, it contributed to developing a national identity during the time that the reforms took to be introduced. These issues can be traced anew in Esther Berner’s chapter, which approaches the issue in terms of the justifications of policymakers in order to maintain and update the apprenticeship system. There are clear connections between Bonoli’s chapter and Chiara Martinelli’s, which deals with the debates over the role of apprenticeship and the modernization of VET at the birth of Italy as a nation-state.

Focusing on the same period of time, the contribution of Ida Juul points to a different and critical dimension of the struggles over apprenticeship in terms of national definition and of working class definition. Juul provides details of the tensions between Denmark and Germany and attempts to introduce national borders that would differentiate the quality of apprenticeships, challenging the previous distinctiveness of global journeymen. But Juul also points to internal power struggles in Denmark among the growing power of the bourgeoisie based on free trade, the craft power of the guilds, and the aristocracy as represented by the king. In this sense, Juul’s paper makes a seminal contribution to the book, for it highlights the beginning of the capitalist state and describes ← 16 | 17 → tensions behind today’s professional and class struggles, even if there have been changes in the power imbalances.

Berner’s chapter can be better understood in relation to the debates that Lea Zehnder and Philipp Gonon present (in the third section, as explained below), as both chapters refer to contemporary time, that of the reconstruction of VET systems after the years of wealth that followed the reconstruction of Europe after WWII. Furthermore, Berner points to the need to reconsider the industrial system after the first oil crisis of the early 1970s, which set the scene for the new developments that came at the end of the 20th century and the first two decades of the 21st. Berner tackles the main role that civic justification has played in the process of keeping and modernizing apprenticeship within modern Swiss educational policies.

While the focus of these first five chapters is on the relations between vocational education and national identity, the two remaining chapters advance the issues presented by Juul and give us different insights into class struggles: those of the development of a worker’s identity and the role of education in the developing class consciousness and an alternative view to citizenship. This viewpoint strengthens the weight of social class, the relation of humankind to work, in order to empower a large majority of the population who did not see themselves properly acknowledged nor represented by the powers that took over democratic institutions in both America and Europe. In this sense, the internationalist approach towards citizenship raised by the working class as an alternative to national citizenship was a relevant issue in debates not only in the second half of the 19th century but also very vividly during the troubling times around WWI. While colonialism played a relevant role in strengthening the power of the economic elites, the peace movement was also an invitation to the working class not to embark on a fight that was not its own but which served the interests of different social groups.

Within this context, Kenneth Teitelbaum provides insightful views on the development of an education of its own for the working class in the United States between 1900 and 1930, with implications not only for the education of the young generations but also for the development of adult education. Similarly, Germán Gil portrays the contribution of the anarchist movement to education debates in Spain as the country ← 17 | 18 → was facing the loss of all of its colonies, suffering a great depression and the reconsideration of its national identity. While the 19th century powers wanted to keep its dominance over a growing working class that was starting to claim freedom and rights, the Enlightenment principles arrived to Spain so late and so distant from the rest of Europe. We must not forget that these were the issues behind the Civil War in Spain in the mid 1930s, which was also an experimentation camp for WWII and the Cold War that followed it.

Here, I would like to point out that both Teitelbaum and Gil are aware of sources that could provide rich examples of the role of women within the practices they portray.

Also relevant is the fact that in both chapters, the role of workers as a class that is able to develop self-awareness and to establish its own aims gives profound hope to the current times: There is the possibility to collectively and autonomously face challenges that pose a risk to a social group. Whether done at regional, national or international levels, even if it has not happened in the past without much effort, these two examples show the possibilities of action taken by the actors themselves, what we might now call collective agency.

Seen as a whole, section 1 allows us to think two of parallel and intertwined developments: On the one side, the education of the working class provided by the nation-state in order to satisfy the need to be comfortable with the universal claim to education while preparing the workforce of the nation for the global competition. On the other hand, the education of the working class provided by itself, in the attempt to construct a class perspective of its own, respectful of humankind and attempting to be freed of the powers that control it and that are under control of other social groups. These are not simple issues, but rather require the understanding of both outer as well as inner confrontations in the struggle to set free and to achieve full status of autonomy, speech, vote, power and control, hence freedom. In both cases shown for Spain and the US, even if Marxism played a role as an ideology to facilitate the struggle against oppression, we can also find the attempts of different groups to achieve the aim of liberation while at the same time escaping from new forms of oppression that may arise from Marxism itself.

As a whole, section 1 equips the reader with a wide historical perspective where the Northern and Western societies were those ← 18 | 19 → allowing for such developments, as most other regions in the world were still severely suffering exploitation through colonialism, mainly by European countries.

Section 2 turns to present times and is more de-centered than the precedent section, insofar it provides examples from different regions, in both Western (Germany) and Southern Europe (one chapter focusing on Greece, two on Spain) as well as in South America (one chapter dealing with Brazil, one with Ecuador). Chapters in this section cover the different attempts by state institutions as well as by civic promotion or free citizens’ initiatives to make VET more comprehensive and more educational, as well as to make it an offer as appealing, appreciated and valuable as academic pathways.

That is the case of the chapters addressing wider concerns that have come to VET debates recently, such as the introduction of sustainability into the curriculum, as Burkhard Vollmers and Werner Kuhlmeier describe and, to a certain extent, also advocate for the efforts conducted by the German administration towards this aim. This attempt cannot be described without criticism, yet they acknowledge its contribution to the fulfillment of what is required nowadays from education in terms of global awareness of environmental issues worldwide.

Patricia Olmos, for her part, offers the problems but also the benefits of adapting VET to an educated audience of young people with different forms of disability, providing a twofold understanding of what VET is able to provide as well as advocating for the contribution of a fully trained and skilled workforce with disability able to actively participate as equals with the rest of the workforce from the perspective of producers as well as consumers.

Both chapters bring a more thorough understanding of citizenship and how VET can contribute to increase awareness of it and contributing to a better future for citizenship. It can be seen as a late consequence of the ideas of Enlightenment being brought to all of the population but also as an effect of the second and third generation of human rights, which expand to include environmental issues and a diverse society, both in cultural terms as well as the different capabilities that each person is able to activate. Therefore, VET can provide a significant contribution to the expansion of the idea of citizenship. It is also worth noting that both approaches come from very different positions: While ← 19 | 20 → the German government’s push toward providing space for sustainability is a top-down attempt, which seems to have been well received by those in charge of applying it, the story described by Olmos is the result of a bottom-up approach, where citizens go well ahead of governments. The provision of VET for people with disability as a chance to bring their education pathways further as well as to improve their individual skills is the result of the advocacy of people with disabilities, together with their families and support associations. They have claimed and struggled for this to happen, within wider approaches such as person- centered planning and independent living movements.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (May)
critical pedagogy citizenship sociology of conventions
Bern, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 439 pp., 24 b/w ill., 7 b/w tables

Biographical notes

Fernando Marhuenda-Fluixá (Volume editor)

Fernando Marhuenda is University Professor of Didactics and School Organization at the Universitat de València, Spain. He coordinates a research group on Transitions from Education into Employment for Vulnerable People. He lectures on Social Education and Teacher Education, and has been visiting scholar in Wisconsin-Madison, Rochester, Mainz, Augsburg and London.


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