The Estonian National Audit Office (NAO) analysed the participation of adults in vocational education and training (VET) and the impact of VET on their labour market performance. The report, published in January 2016, indicates that vocational training generally has a positive impact on adult learner employability and reduces the risk of unemployment. Moreover, vocational training helps adults in Estonia engage in entrepreneurial activities.
One third of adults aged 25 to 64 in Estonia have neither professional nor vocational education. The government objective is to reduce this share to less than 25% by 2020. Although adult participation reached 31.9% of the total number of VET students in 2015, the question remains as to how the VET system contributes to achieving the government goal and how VET supports adult graduate careers and employment.
NAO monitored the progress of adults who had been enrolled in VET programmes during the last five years (2010-15). Evidence from their labour market performance and educational attainment was collected before and during their studies, and after graduation. Of adults enrolled in VET programmes, 44% lacked both professional and vocational education. Many students had chosen to pursue a VET school certificate subsequent to their previous education; this included 20% after higher education and 36% after VET. The most popular programmes were business services, horticulture and tourism, food and accommodation services. The year prior to commencing their VET studies, 23.2% of adults had been registered as unemployed; 76% had been in employment, of whom only 31.7% earned higher wages than average.
During the 12 months following graduation, unemployment decreased compared to the same period prior to the studies. NAO also reported an increase in the number of people who earned income from work, whose earnings estimates were higher than average, or who were engaged in entrepreneurial activities. However, the report indicates unequal returns on education among different groups of adult learners. Adults who entered VET studies following higher education have greater chances of improving their employability compared to adults with no previous professional or vocational education.
In light of this evidence, NAO believes that it is important for the Minister for Education and Research to determine how to attract more people to VET and how to support their progress in their studies. The main focus would be on those without professional or vocational education, adults inactive on the labour market, and individuals with an unstable or low income.