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The Contribution of Vocational Education and Training to Innovation and Growth

Uschi Backes-Gellner and Patrick Lehnert

No 177, Economics of Education Working Paper Series from University of Zurich, Department of Business Administration (IBW)

Abstract: Despite the common view that innovation requires academically educated workers, some countries that strongly emphasize vocational education and training (VET) in their education systems - such as Switzerland and Germany - are highly competitive internationally in terms of innovation. These countries have dual VET programs, i.e., upper-secondary-level apprenticeship programs that combine about three-quarters of workplace training with about one-quarter of vocational schooling, and design them in such a way that their graduates (i.e., dual apprenticeship-graduates) play crucial roles in innovation processes. Regular updates of VET curricula incorporate the latest technological developments into these curricula, thereby ensuring that dual apprenticeship-graduates possess up-to-date, high-level skills in their chosen occupation. This process allows these graduates to contribute to innovation in firms. Moreover, these graduates acquire broad sets of technical and soft skills that enhance their job mobility and flexibility. Therefore, conventional wisdom notwithstanding, dual apprenticeship-graduates in such countries not only have broad skill sets that accelerate innovation in firms, but also willingly participate in innovation because of their high flexibility and employability. Moreover, Switzerland and Germany have tertiary-level VET institutions that foster innovation. These are Universities of Applied Sciences (UASs), which teach and conduct applied research, thereby helping build a bridge between different types of knowledge (vocational and academic). UAS students have prior vocational knowledge through their dual apprenticeship and acquire applied research skills from UAS professors who usually have both work experience and a doctoral degree from an academic university. Thus UAS graduates combine sound occupational knowledge with applied research knowledge inspired by input from the academic research frontier and from practical research and development (R&D) in firms. Firms employ UAS graduates with their knowledge combination as an important input for R&D. Consequently, regions with a UAS have higher levels of innovation than regions without one. This effect is particularly strong for regions outside major innovation centers and for regions with larger percentages of smaller firms.

Keywords: vocational education and training (VET); innovation; education systems; apprenticeship training; Universities of Applied Sciences; applied research (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 40 pages
Date: 2021-02
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-cse and nep-edu
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