Vocational Education’s Image for the 21st Century
These are hard times for secondary vocational education. Leaders of the new school reform movement do not give it high priority. They assume that it is separate from general education, has little educational value, and should be replaced by a predominantly academic curriculum. At best vocational courses are expected to provide students who are not college bound with minimal training for low-status jobs at entry level (Silberman 1986). Ask a vocational educator to name the most serious issues facing the field today, and most will rank "our image problem" high on the list ("What Do People Think of Us?"1997, p. 14)
The "image problem" has been pervasive over the past 10 years as evidenced by three journal issues from the American Vocational Association (AVA) dedicated to this topic--November-December 1987, January 1993, and September 1997. Reviewing the context of the problem over a 10-year period, the same messages resurface:
- A good image begins with good programs that meet the needs of students, employers, and
- Vocational education continues to compete against others in the arena of education for
a shrinking student population and scare resources.
- Vocational education is mostly for high school kids who dont plan to go to college.
- Groups that benefit most from vocational education include students not going to
college, adults who need job skills, and students with disabilities.
- Generally, adults and youth have heard of vocational education, but they have no clear
idea of what it is.
For many the word "vocational" doesn't work. A trend noted by AVA's Techniques has been accelerating since 1992. Five years ago, the magazine noted that at least 15 states had changed the name of their vocational education system within the previous 3 years and that in many more instances school districts had changed the names of vocational centers or programs. The reasons varied, but the one most often cited was public image: negative baggage associated with the word "vocational" (Ries 1997).
This ERIC Digest gives a brief overview of strategic marketing and how it can build a stronger image for vocational education.
Let's Get Serious about Image Building
In recent years, industries such as health care, finance, and law have been aggressively marketing their services. This departure from tradition is a response to sweeping changes in technology, demographics, and new customer demands. Vocational education, like other service industries, must respond to such change. Vocational education has much to gain from capitalizing on the benefits of a comprehensive marketing approach. For a number of years, marketing professionals have urged vocational educators to get serious about image building. Some of their more pertinent advice follows.
Shields (1989) feels that vocational education can weather the assaults on its contributions to school by...