Can Brazil Teach Us How to Get Over Our Vocational Education Snobbery?

With the economy being what it is, it's time for us to get over our antiquated ideas of career prestige.

During my college years, I spent a lot of time with two plumbers named Mario and Luigi. But, like many of my peers who enjoyed hanging out with the two Nintendo video game superstars, I didn't see their careers as something prestigious, nor something to aspire to. Even nowadays with so many people hunting for work, government economists predict that over the next decade we'll have faster than average job growth for plumbers—and a good many other "trade" professions—but we often still look down upon vocational careers. Can't you just hear modern parents saying, "You want to be a plumber (or insert any vocational job)? You can do better than that." But it's time for us to get over our snobbery, especially with the economy being what it is. It turns out that Brazil is making a serious investment in vocational education, and their approach is one we can learn from.

Brazil had to tackle vocational education head-on since their growing oil and gas industries have increased demand for "skilled professionals, including welders, electricians, builders, and information-technology specialists." There's also been a boom in infrastructure projects so that "roads, airports, stadiums and accommodations will be ready for the 2016 Olympics and the 2014 World Cup." So over the past decade, the Brazilian government has boosted vocational education funding from $385 million to $3.8 billion. Except—and this is important when worrying about career prestige—they don't call it vocational education anymore. Brazil calls it "professional" education, and the schools are called technical institutes.

The number of these government-funded technical institutes has tripled to 401, and nearly 150 more will open by 2015. Because Brazil has done such a good job connecting the institutes to job needs, enrollment in them has also increased sharply, from 102,000 students in 2002 to 401,000 today. And, instead of isolating seekers of professional education from everyone else, Brazil has smartly set up the institutes to "offer everything from basic education to graduate courses and doctorates in professional areas." That means, for example, that people who want to be math teachers can attend a technical institute, right alongside people studying to be plumbers. And, if someone starts out taking technical courses, they can easily switch to a degree program.

This kind of thing could happen at our community colleges. Our politicians certainly talk about their importance in the economy, all the while defunding them. Still, people who hope to be plumbers already take math classes at community colleges alongside people hoping to transfer to a four-year university. But our society tends to put kids on either a college or career (code word for vocational) track and that tends to break down according to class status.

I asked a friend who works as a web designer what he thought about vocational education. He told me that schools like DeVry are where the poor kids go. That has to change: while it's true that our employment projections show that 60 percent of jobs in the next seven years will require some college, that doesn't necessarily mean a four-year degree. Just as Brazil has had to embrace vocational education to meet the needs of its economy, we're going to need to get over our elitism and do the same.


McDonalds sells a lot of coffee. Over a billion cups a year, to be exact. All that coffee leads to a lot of productive mornings, but it also leads to a lot of waste. Each year, millions of pounds of coffee chaff (the skin of the coffee beans that comes off during roasting) ends up getting turned into mulch. Some coffee chaff just gets burned, leading to an increase in CO2.

Now, that chaff is going to get turned into car parts. Ford is incorporating coffee chaff from McDonalds coffee into the headlamps of some cars. Ford has been using plastic and talc to make its headlamps, but this new process will reduce the reliance on talc, a non-renewable mineral. The chaff is heated to high temperatures under low oxygen and mixed with plastic and other additives. The bioplastic can then be formed into shapes.

Keep Reading Show less

For over 20 years, our country has perceived itself as more divided than united, and it's not getting better. Right after the 2016 election, a poll conducted by Gallup found that 77% of Americans felt the country was divided on the most important values, a record high.

The percentage of Americans who agree that we disagree got higher. During the 2018 mid-term elections, a poll conducted by NBC News/Wall Street Journal found that 80% of Americans felt the nation was "mainly" or "totally" divided.

We head into the 2020 presidential election more divided than ever. A new poll from USA Today found that nine out of ten respondents felt it was important to do something about the conflict in our country. We can't keep on living like this forever.

Keep Reading Show less
via Honor Africans / Twitter

The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

Keep Reading Show less