Conference Agenda

Symposium 4: The future of vocational training in the 1950s and 1970s
Thursday, 03/Feb/2022:
4:15pm - 5:45pm

Session Chair: Lorenzo BONOLI
Session Chair: Philipp GONON
Location: Room 4

Discussant: Philipp GONON

Session Abstract

In the years after the Second World War, several European countries reformed their vocational training systems by adopting measures and making choices that have marked the field to this day. Our symposium raises the question of the "future of vocational training" in this period in three European countries. In other words, what were the representations of the future of society and VET in the years 1950-1970 in Switzerland, Germany and France and to what extent did these representations shape the development of VET in the three countries considered here?

The 1950s and 1970s were years marked by an economic boom, a significant development of automation, a gradual expansion of the service sector, an acceleration in the pace of technical innovation, and major changes in social relations both in schools, with the democratisation of education, and in society, with the ‘68 . These events will have a profound influence on the future of society in general and vocational training in particular, which will be called upon to improve its quality, to review the content of its teaching, to integrate a greater number of young people and to ensure better conditions of equal opportunities.

Our symposium will allow us to examine how these events have influenced the debate in France, Germany and Switzerland and what concrete traces they have left to this day.



Is the future in the past our present? The future of Swiss VET in the 1950s-1970s. The foundations of the current situation.

Lorenzo BONOLI1, Philipp Gonon2, Jackie Vorpe1, Lena Freidorfer2

1HEFP. Lausanne; 2Uni Zürich

In the period 1950-1970, Switzerland underwent major economic and social changes. The Swiss education system was under great pressure to adapt to these new conditions. The economic boom after the Second World War brought with it a series of new expectations and demands on the education system in general and on VET in particular. The reforms adopted at that time were inspired by a certain representation of what the 'future' might become. This representation of the future was strongly marked by the following factors: the economic boom and the gradual improvement in the living conditions of Swiss citizens; an acceleration in the pace of technological innovation and an increasing demand for qualified and highly qualified labour; a wide-spread demand for more comprehensive and general education, in order to train workers capable of 'controlling the machines' and to educate good citizens; and finally a more egalitarian organisation of the education system, reducing geographical and financial inequalities, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, ensuring quality training paths for all motivated and capable young people and support structures for the weakest profiles.

All this is reflected in concrete measures in the Swiss education system and in VET in particular, ranging from reforms of lower secondary education to the development of the grants system or to the expansion of the teaching of theoretical and general contents. However, even if we can identify a general movement throughout Switzerland, the cantons will react in different ways to the challenges raised by this future. An in-depth analysis of three cantons, Zürich, Geneva and Ticino, will allow us to see in concrete terms how this future was translated into measures at the level of cantonal VET policy, measures which are still central to the current situation of the Swiss VET system.

Planning for the future of VET: the French way (1945-1975)

Antoine VERNET

Laboratoire Triangle, Université de Lyon, France

From 1945 to 1975, the French VET system was the subject of numerous reform projects, some of them successful, and of a few singular initiatives. These were carried out as much by educational and scientific institutions and actors, as by politicians, firms, interest groups and trade-unions. Those attempts sought to democratize, massify, extend and diversify the vocational training of French workers, responding to both social and economic demand.

Implemented in a context of economic planning, but within a state-framed market economy, these projects and achievements enabled the conception of a desirable model for the evolution of the production system. Those quantitative forecasts fuelled the restructuring of qualifications and skills. They specifically led to the enhancement of scientific and technical knowledge in the industrial world, and to the development of management. These changes were inspired by the US economic model. They favoured the education and training of engineers and technicians, as well as clerical workers.

This communication thus proposes to question the modalities of the forward planning of French VET system, highlighting its successes, like the development of new pathways (further and continuous training, technical higher education) and the extension of the vocational schools’ network. It also intends to reveal its main pitfalls, especially the growing divergence between VET and the labour market, exposed by the crisis of the Fordist model.

Continuity and Reform in German VET 1950 to 1970


University of Konstanz, Germany

The post-war history of VET in Germany is marked by the challenge to rebuild the country after the war by strengthening the economic system. The dominant theory in VET of the 1950s was to give companies a major say in organising training based on the apprenticeship system which had developed since the late 19th century. However, the "dual system", as it is called up to the present day, also required a certain amount of state influence, especially regarding the vocational part-time school as the second learning venue - something which originated before the Second World War. Due to the federalist tradition, this has been the responsibility of the federal states up to the present day. However, the stability of the dual system as a whole was creepingly challenged from the early 1960s onwards, including system reforms that were meant to reduce the overall responsibility of companies in the apprenticeship system. State influence, seen as a major concern of the reform protagonists of the 1960s and early 1970s, in fact led to a confinement of changes in the system. The Vocational Training Act did not install a new training system, but mainly „consolidated much previous practice under one Act“ (Raggatt). All in all, it may be said that the "conservative" character of the German VET system, its corporatist governance framework and the "occupational" orientation underlying training, was not challenged fundamentally, in the years between 1950 and 1970. Neither the influence of the occupying powers after the war nor the reform initiatives of the left-wing spectrum of the political system proved strong enough to change its basic features and underlying "philosophy".

The paper’s focus is on reconstructing the underlying drivers of these features of German VET representing an “updated past” even in the face of new challenges.