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Encouraging vocational training to increase youth employability

Montreal, September 24, 2008 – To reduce the number of young people dropping out of school without the training they need to enter the job market, students who are not seeking a college diploma could be encouraged to turn earlier to vocational training at the high school level by creating a high school third-year diploma, says an Economic Note published by the Montreal Economic Institute.

After earning this diploma, students headed for university would complete three years of pre-university education at high school rather than at CEGEP, and they would then undertake a four-year bachelor’s program at university. CEGEPs would compete to provide vocational and technical training programs of variable length.

Marcel Boyer, the Note’s author and the Institute’s vice president and chief economist, says that “by resolving student streaming problems that cause lost time for young Quebecers and wasted money for taxpayers, it will be possible to bring graduation rates in the professional and technical streams closer to employers’ expectations and nearer the average in developed countries.”

Job market needs are forcing a debate

Because most politicians and journalists have attended university, there is often a tendency in public debates to forget the importance of professional training. With the population aging and many workers expecting to retire soon, numerous positions will have to be filled in the next few years in specialized trades and techniques. There are limits to the chances of making up for these shortages by sending adults back to the classroom.

Facilitating professional studies at the high school level

At age 15, young Quebecers are among the best equipped in the world to do well in the next phase of their educational journey, according to the OECD. Establishing a high school third-year diploma would open up the perspective of moving on to training programs of variable length, and it would then become possible to make shorter vocational training programs better known and more attractive. Earning this initial diploma would send a dual signal to students: first, that they have successfully completed their basic learning, and second, that the time has come to choose their path to the job market, without this choice being irrevocable or irreversible.

The structure of Quebec’s education system is among the factors that favour general education to the detriment of vocational training. The latter is only half as popular in Quebec as the average in OECD countries. At present, only a meagre 2% head straight for professional training after the third year of high school. According to the Department of Education, enrolment in professional training fell sharply here in the 1980s because of a requirement for more advanced general education. General high school diplomas are often misconceived as a prerequisite for professional training, and this mistaken orientation increases the risks of students dropping out. One-fifth of 19-year-olds in Quebec are school dropouts.

Linking up better with university

It would make sense for students who are headed for university to be able to complete three years of pre-university education at high school rather than at CEGEP following the high school third-year diploma and for them to undertake a four-year bachelor’s program at university afterwards. This structure would follow a model applied successfully in most other provinces and developed countries.

CEGEPs would lose their pre-university student base to high schools but would provide high-school-level vocational programs and thus specialize in professional and technical training against a backdrop of stronger competition between establishments. High schools would give up vocational training to make room for an extra year of general education intended for youths who wish to continue on to university. Four-year bachelor’s programs would lead to lower failure and reorientation rates at the university level, with the first year devoted to more general courses to enable students to familiarize themselves with the university environment and to pick more precisely the area of training that suits them.

The Economic Note, titled Vocational training: in search of lost time, was prepared by Marcel Boyer, vice president and chief economist of the Montreal Economic Institute, Bell Canada professor of industrial economics at the University of Montreal, and a CIRANO fellow.

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Information and interview requests: André Valiquette, Director of communications, Montreal Economic Institute, Tel.: (514) 273-0969 ext. 2225 / Cell: (514) 574-0969 / E-mail: avaliquette (@iedm.org)

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