Vocational Education refers to education that trains students to gain specific skills to do specific work and enter into a specific vocation (occupation).

The historical reference is guilds.

In the old days, people enter into apprenticeships at goldsmiths to learn how to make jewellery. The saying, the more things change the more things stay the same rings true. The landscape changes but human nature stay the same. The pursuit of happiness through making money and living the good life continues.

Today, as it has always been true, the pursuit of quality education guarantees good jobs. For the US market, the perception is that a good education means a liberal arts education at Harvard (read: study law, economics).

In this article, we are going to venture into another side of higher education which is vocational higher education. This industry encompasses community/technical colleges that offer courses in aviation, welding, occupational safety and health.

We will explore how vocational education contributes to graduates’ income, technopreneurs’ wealth and pivots a nations trajectory to enter the advanced, high-income countries club.

Why Must Governments and (K)nowledge-Entrepreneurs Invest in Vocational Education?

Malaysian, Indonesian, Thai, Chinese, and Indian workers can escape the middle-income trap through leveraging on Industrial Revolution 4.0 technology embedded into a reformed vocational education system.

This is so these workers can live the good life “not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker … [but] by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value.” – Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations.


Let’s look at what vocational education landscape looks like today and what it does to incomes of graduates across the world.

In the US, we have community colleges. To the ordinary American unable to afford prestigious liberal arts education, taking electronics courses at a community college and becoming a technical whizz is the next best option.  Breaking into Corporate America by working at Apple with a good salary and benefits is a reachable goal.

Look at Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder and a friend of Steve Jobs, – he attended community college. Getting a good job with good salary through attaining a quality vocational education is a systemic truth of the current education system.

According to a report from Florida State Board of Education meeting, community college graduate who earned an associate in science degrees earned an annual average salary of 47,000 USD while graduates from one of Florida state universities earned just 36,000 USD. Even if we were to take the better performing state universities, the salaries of graduates from vocational colleges can match those graduates of state universities.

Take a look at this table below:

Vocational CareerMedian Salary
Dental HygienistUSD 74,040
Diagnostic Medical SonographerUSD 71,410
Aeronautical EngineerUSD 80,268
Electrician USD 54,110
Industrial Electronics EngineerUSD 79,000
Diesel MechanicUSD 46,360

Comparing the table above with data from other fields in traditional jobs in administration and finance or management, the salary for vocational careers are competitive. As in the case of all careers, particular specializations and levels of experience determine the pay.

The Birth of K-Entrepreneur

Another angle to look at is entrepreneurship. After all the USA is the entrepreneurship centre of the world.

Steve went to expensive liberal arts, Reed. Although a drop-out, Steve had this sufficient background in strategic management, sales, artistic skills in font design and a sense of industrial design and business.

At the same time, Wozniak had technical skills as an engineer – skills he picked up by self-study and from community college (De Anza). The Wozniaks of the world stand a chance to go into entrepreneurship solo, with a sidekick or a team of liberal arts educated cousins, friends, relatives.

We envision a world where those born with different talents can work together and make a difference. 

We envision a generation of innovators from those with creative design skills, industrial design, good hand-motor coordination (welders) and general dexterity and ingenuity.

We envision quality and affordable secondary and post-secondary level education in big data, coding, welding, statistical analysis, automotive, electronics that could have addressed the pain point (low wages) in Malaysia. This is a country where for every 1 Malaysian Ringgit generated in profit for a company in Malaysia, 42 cents go to workers.

Let’s give companies the skills they want, and provide the workers with the fishing rod to fish for a better life. 

Opening Vocational Colleges are the Startup You Want to Start

In my previous article – Money in Education – The Rise of Education Hubs, Edupreneurs and Nations, I highlighted being an Edupreneur can make you wealthy. And in this article, I will detail down facts that offering vocational courses can generate income. Income for the individual K-entrepreneur, big universities, and small colleges.

For example, in Malaysia, they have KLIA College in Sepang, which offers occupational safety and health course (OSH) to 16-18 years old youths who are skills-inclined/hands-on rather than academic in outlook.

These high school leavers go to a technical college to pursue a career in occupational safety and health and aviation in industries such as maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO). The MRO business is worth 18.8 billion USD in 2028, globally.

OSH job in Malaysia made it into the critical occupation list. There are 9,000 vacancies. A search on Jobstreet Malaysia will reflect this reality. 

From the startup founder point of view, offering the vocational course such as diploma in vocational safety and health (DOSH) brings in tens of thousands of ringgit per student.

Patents, The Seeds of Business Empires

Patents are important for making money. The US is the world leader in patents according to Bloomberg. International Business Machines (IBM) is one of the companies that are most strong in digital data processing.

Did you know that Apple has a 5,000 reasons manJonathan Ive holds 5,000 patents in his name and he was a student of a polytechnic in the UK.

The story of UK-born Jony Ive is that he is an industrial designer who studied at Royal College of Art and Newcastle Polytechnic. Ive studied car design and industrial design. Fast forward to his career years, he was responsible for the design of the iPod.

Remember those years where you had music on your hands but not on the cloud? No more expensive albums!

This is a disruption story.

Notice that an old business model is disrupted: retail music business moved to digital, to the cloud. Think iTunes. Centralized music store which you can pay with online payment gateway/systems/app.

Another industry in itself! The online payment systems industry. Now, that’s an entrepreneurial knowledge worker making an impact!

We also have Russel Rafton, Managing Director of Dryfix Preservation Ltd. He studied Bricklaying at York college. He also studied for certificates in flood and fire damage. Now, he’s an entrepreneur who solves the problems of complex buildings by designing specialist systems to dry them out.

I was impressed with vocational graduates resilience because when Russel was laid off, but because of his hands-on skills, he could start a business in construction. He took the initiative to continuously add to his certificates but chose to specialise in construction-related courses.

The Game Changer for GDP 

In Germany, many students go for apprenticeships. An apprenticeship refers to a real job with pay whilst gaining nationally or internationally recognized qualifications. For 3 to 4 days, an apprentice work at the company, the remaining 1 to 2 days are spent at vocational school or college.

The average pay is 650 euros a month. The duration is between 2 and 3.5 years. Often, upon completion, the good ones are absorbed as permanent employees. This means apprentices are a bridge between student life and the working world. 

In Malaysia, under the Economic Transformation Program, there is (A.T.O.M.)  which stands for Automotive Workshop Modernisation. This program targets 8000 jobs are to be created by 2020. Soft loans are provided to workshop owners to buy materials and equipment.

The 500 workshops nationwide are targeted to bring in 947 million ringgit. These workshops with the latest equipment employ students from vocational colleges which creates a virtuous cycle of students who gain skills with exposure to the latest technology.

The workshops provide service at higher service level quality and increase the owners’ income. This, over the long term, enables them to expand to offer other high-end technical services to fix automobiles.

Under Prime Minister Najib Razak, Proton was sold to Geely, 49% of it. Proton has more than 140 vendors while the cars in Malaysia achieve 80% localization rate which means the components are made locally by local engineers.

Under the “new” Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir, Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) is accepting proposals from the private sector for the creation of 3rd national car project. Proton’s engineers are mostly locals and in status quo, Proton builds upon the technology and platforms of Geely.

A manifestation of Proton-Geely partnership is the Proton SUV X70. The first SUV for Proton and targeted to be sold to the 640 million population of Southeast Asia. As for local targets, out of 28 million Malaysians, Proton aims to sell 280,000 cars. Eventually, the prize is the world market but the first stop is ASEAN.

Similar to the strategy pursued by Apple, which is designed in California, manufactured in China, Proton is manufactured in Malaysia but the technologies of the car come from China.

In the vocational food chain, from the macro level to the micro level, there is economic pie to be enjoyed by nations (ex. China/Malaysia), companies (ex. Geely, Proton, Volvo) workers (ex. Chinese, Malaysian), vendors and consumers (the World).

The Business Level Money and Sense

An unintended but virtuous benefit of the allowance paid to workers in the companies in Germany and Malaysia means we have a more equitable society because underprivileged youth get the chance to change their socioeconomic status while learning in a field they find interesting. 

On a side note, in Germany the appointment of apprentices are done directly by the companies, this includes nursing homes that require nursing talent or childcare professionals. This ensures demand-side balancing of the equation; the government knows what the market wants but it is the industry that drives the education landscape. 

In Malaysia, there are charitable foundations that sponsor locals to pick up courses in welding, underwater scuba, and automotive. They collaborate with companies like SPANCO that manage 35,000 vehicles. The company, in operation for 25 years, has 217 service centres nationwide. This ecosystem provides job opportunities to locals inclined into the technical world.

In German Malaysian Institute (GMI), we have courses related to preparation for engineering courses in Germany. In twinning programs, the best and brightest are sent to Germany to learn from the best and upon returning they can work for Malaysia Airlines (the airline with the best cabin crew in the world) and AirAsia (the world’s best low-cost airline).

The students will take the German A-level preparatory program (GAPP) and continue their personal career journey to the University of Applied Sciences or Hochschule in Bavaria, Saxony and others.

The Dollars and Cents in Creative Side of Technical World

We should not overlook the creative world. Hollywood is a big business. One of the hallmarks of globalization is you go anywhere in Asia, and people know Harry Potter the movie, Spiderman and Pirates of the Caribbean. 

Now, with the Belt and Road Initiative of China, it really is beginning to become like the Asian century: a place where Asia is the centre of the world for economics (GDP), arts and culture and technology.

While Japan has global domination in automotive business with Toyota and Honda, this dominion is extended into the creative side of Japan. Japan influences popular culture with Naruto, One Piece. Overall, in Japan, the creative industry contributed 6.6% of all sales across all industries.

Taking a sum of parts is greater than the parts view, we can see that vocational professionals are beginning to shape culture in the world.

The Final Word

In conclusion, we believe in education hubs, K-entrepreneurs and specifically vocational education as a platform for entrepreneurs and skilled men (and women) to change their lives and be a force for positive change in their communities. 

All in all, we believe the future is bright for the technically inclined World Economic Forum. 




1.  “Steve Jobs.”  By Walter Isaacson

2. “Apple Leadership.” https://www.apple.com/leadership/jonathan-ive/

3. “Here are 5 ways for workers to win in the robot age.” https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/09/ways-to-win-as-a-worker-in-the-robot-age/

4. “Vocational Alumni.” https://www.yorkcollege.ac.uk/about-us/316-alumni/1441-vocational-alumni.html

5. “Community Colleges vs State Schools: Which One Results in Higher Salaries.”  https://www.communitycollegereview.com/blog/community-colleges-vs-state-schools-which-one-results-in-higher-salaries

6. “Global Aircraft MRO market – Statistics and Facts.”  https://www.statista.com/topics/3745/global-aircraft-mro-market/

7. “These are 10 of Malaysia’s Most In-Demand Jobs for 2018.” https://eduadvisor.my/articles/demand-jobs-malaysia-2018/

8. “What is Liberal Arts Education?” https://www.topuniversities.com/blog/what-liberal-arts-education

9. “Who is SPANCO?” https://www.spanco.com.my/about-us/who-is-spanco/

10. “Atom Programme: Servicing Workshops.”  https://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/features/2012/06/19/atom-programme-servicing-workshops/

11. “German A-level Preparatory Programme (GAPP).”  http://www.gmi.edu.my/german-a-level-preparatory-programme/

12. “Prospect of Vocational Training.”  https://www.make-it-in-germany.com/en/for-qualified-professionals/working/industry-profiles/prospects/prospect-of-vocational-training

13. “Degree Requirements.” https://www.extension.harvard.edu/academics/bachelor-liberal-arts-degree/degree-requirements

14. “Your Guide to an Occupational Safety and Health Course In Malaysia.” https://eduadvisor.my/occupational-safety-health/