Insight May 24, 2023 Lisa Sacchetti

Unpacking the Key Trends in Vocational Education

One of the fastest-growing sectors in education is vocational training, with the market expected to reach $1.1trn by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 8.5% over that period. This robust growth points to the continued demand in the market for practical, career-oriented skills in an uncertain and fast-changing world. Some of this market growth is driven by companies who want to empower their staff to upskill and adjust to changing business circumstances. But there is also a significant portion of demand that is driven in academic institutions and through self-initiated education. Research from Grand View Research suggests that this non-corporate segment represents about 53% of the overall revenue.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the most important trends emerging in vocational education as well as share our view on major players making an impact.

9 Key Trends in Vocational Education

Here are nine crucial trends that are shaping the future of vocational education:

Learning Experience Platforms

As the education and training industry has matured, we’ve seen more and more technology being used to create more seamless, efficient, and well-structured learning environments. A learning experience platform is software that enables the delivery of curriculums at scale, while still leveraging key educational insights that have been proven to get results. These include components like bite-sized course material, iterative feedback, personalization, mobile-friendly learning, and more. This platform-based technology has made knowledge and upskilling more accessible, intuitive, and effective.

Video-Based Learning

Video-based learning can be much more immersive than text, but it’s only in the last couple of years that we’ve seen this really take shape across the entirety of the vocational training sector. When content is visually compelling, interactive, and empathetic to non-traditional learning styles, it makes a significant difference to overall outcomes. In fact, research from Kaltura shows that 91% of organizations are doubling down on the use of video learning because of its effectiveness.

Virtual Reality (VR)

Another key technology that is changing the way we think about vocational education is virtual reality. VR creates fully immersive 3D environments for training to take place in. This is a significant boon for vocational training specifically because it lends itself to more practical tasks that require some form of social and physical awareness. These real-world experiences improve knowledge retention, allow for training of soft skills, and prove to be more memorable than traditional means of instruction.

The other key value proposition offered by VR is for vocational training for roles that involve dangerous tasks. VR allows one to first train in risk-free environments and master the appropriate skills before they are asked to perform in the real world. Having a safe sandbox to work in makes a huge difference for health and safety while also offering an ultra-realistic picture of what trainees are going to face in the field.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

The IoT landscape consists of a vast array of different smart devices that are connected to physical assets (or indeed to the staff themselves, in the form of wearables) in a work environment and communicate data to a central hub. These information-gathering components are becoming instrumental in the vocational training of the future because of the insights that can be derived from their use. A simple example might be enforcing specific safety procedures during a training exercise. If a worker is tasked with maintenance on a piece of machinery, sensors can be used to record whether the appropriate procedures were followed, and then report that information back to the trainers to take the necessary action. More data here means a better feedback loop, all of which contributes to higher-quality training.

Older men in classroom reading books

Learning Modes

Vocational training has typically been associated with in-person learning because of the nature of the physical tasks that make up the majority of the segment. However, with the advancements in technology and the general shift to a more remote working setup, the online learning mode has started to gather steam. In 2021, offline education only made up 58% of the revenue share for the vocational training industry, showing just how fast the online segment has caught up.

It seems that the best practice has become a hybrid approach that can leverage the strengths of each different learning mode. Online learning is used for introductory context, procedural curriculums, testing and evaluations, and other types of material that are best suited to a self-paced, theoretical standpoint. Offline learning then is the natural extension where the practical tasks are undertaken and worked upon. This blended approach is going to require strong collaboration between technology providers and in-person trainers to get the most out of each learning mode.

Growing Respect for Trade Careers

There’s long been a stigma around trade careers because they’ve never quite held the same level of status in our society as modern knowledge work. However, this is quickly diminishing as we’re finally starting to realize just how important they are for the functioning of our world. As the value of college degrees comes under pressure, trade careers are growing in respect because of the practical utility and competitive compensation that they provide. This means that there is increasing demand for robust and sophisticated vocational training that can nurture the next generation of trade workers whose role is more important than ever.

Group of students in lab

Immersive Learning

We’ve touched a little on engagement in a few points above, but it’s worth emphasizing immersive learning as a separate trend because it’s about more than just the technology, it’s about a paradigm shift we must make in terms of how vocational education is best delivered. If the mission is to imbue the skills, knowledge, and experience that have been hard-fought in whatever industry we’re in, immersive learning is the best way to make it stick.

The industry has moved past static presentations, long lectures, and convoluted training manuals that are designed to be mass-produced. Instead, the future of vocational education is in creating highly immersive and compelling environments that don’t just speak to the content, but also to the sensibility, the ethics, and the complexity of what is being taught. Research from Accenture shows that, when executed meticulously, it can improve retention by up to 75%.

By investing in experiential learning programs that leverage technology for their immersion, we can better prepare those trainees for the messiness of the real world.

Assessments and Certifications

Another key trend that has exploded in recent years has been the growth in assessments and certifications for these vocational training programs. Providing tangible recognition that a particular educational plan has been completed can be an important asset for someone as they build their own career capital. It signals a level of diligence and competence that can help buyers and hirers in the marketplace determine who are the right people to work with.

As long as it’s executed in a thoughtful way where the accreditation actually means something, certifications and badges can be an important component of the value proposition of vocational education as a whole.

Self-Paced Learning

This is when a vocational training program is delivered at the speed and level of complexity that matches the individual, rather than a prescribed speed that is destined to only suit certain people. Having the ability to work through the material in their own time places the onus upon the trainee to grapple with the content and advance only when they’ve learned what they needed to. Doing this well requires effective technology that can enable a personalized journey, but it’s well worth the investment because it transforms the learning experience from one-size-fits-all to a highly precise and logical path that is aligned with each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

Now let’s look at some of the major players in the industry to get a better sense of what the leading vocational companies are working on.

Feet going up steps

Major Players and Market Insights

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some of the major players in the vocational education industry and a brief description of what they offer:

Goodheart Wilcox

Goodheart Wilcox (G-W Publisher) is the premier textbook publisher for technical, trade-related, and technological skills. However, their textbooks have evolved into immersive online projects that offer key learning materials in mediums that are better suited to the modern world. They have offerings for high school students as well as early professionals and are dedicated to playing their part in vocational training across the USA and the world.

The Association for Career and Technical Education

The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) is a national association that represents thousands of career and technical education professionals who are striving to deliver high-quality vocational education. They aim to empower their members with resources, networking, and accreditation so that they can take career and technical education to the masses.

Cengage Group

Cengage Group is a global education company that provides affordable digital products and services specifically targeted to highly practical skills that are relevant today. They have a range of different brands under the company umbrella that each target different verticals – but all bring the same sophistication and excellence to hybrid learning environments.

Haas Automation

Haas Automation is known as the largest machine tool builder in the world but what doesn’t get enough attention is the quality and reach of its technical education community. This partnership program aims to transform CNC machinery training into high-tech, advanced education that prepares workers to use what can be very dangerous and important machines. They’ve translated their years of experience into a robust training methodology that is making a big difference for the industry as a whole.

Wadhwani Foundation

Wadhwani Foundation is a non-profit organization on a mission to accelerate economic development by empowering students, entrepreneurs, and professionals with work-ready skills and training. They primarily operate in emerging markets and are making a big difference in upskilling and retooling local communities.


Pearson is a global education company that aims to create vibrant and enriching learning experiences designed for real-life impact. They are currently in a transition phase as they shift to become a strategic solutions provider for workplace skills. This shows just how crucial vocational education is becoming and it points at some of the movement happening as society works to futureproof workforces at scale.

These players are but a few of the impactful companies who are making a mark in the vocational education space. As the industry continues to mature and the technology advances, we’re bound to see new innovative companies enter the market – strengthening the offering across all vocational needs.

Contact us to Help You Build your World Class Team

Here at The Renaissance Network, we’re extremely passionate about education and technology impact and it’s highly encouraging to see the big steps forward that the industry is making to deliver highly relevant, hands-on, and meaningful vocational education solutions for career-minded people across the world.

We help our clients build and optimize hiring funnels to attract, hire, and retain the right people to take their companies to the next level. If you’d like to explore how we can assist your organization, be sure to get in touch today, and let’s see how we can find you top talent!

Lisa Sacchetti Headshot

Lisa founded The Renaissance Network in 1996 with the mission of building world-class teams and quickly developed a focus on the growing Education and Technology vertical.

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