JVER v28n1 - Presidential Address, AVERA: Globalization and the Internationalization of Research on Career and Technical Education

Volume 28, Number 1

Globalization and the Internationalization of Research on Career and Technical Education 1

Jay W. Rojewski
University of Georgia


I offer my perspective concerning the role of international research for an organization dedicated to the investigation of career, vocational, and technical education in all forms and contexts, to the American Vocational Education Research Association (AVERA). While I do represent AVERA, the views outlined here are not AVERA policy nor do they necessarily represent official positions of the organization. With that said however, I believe that they are to some degree reflective of AVERA members' views and reflect the broader arena of technical and vocational education research conducted in the U.S.

Mission and Activities of AVERA

AVERA was organized in 1966 as a professional association for scholars, most residing at four-year colleges and universities, interested in the investigation of education on work, family, and community. The world was a very different place when AVERA arrived on the scene in the mid-1960s. The high-tech, high-skill, fastpaced world we know today was still in an embryonic stage. Instead, the world was characterized by the daunting specter and pervasive influence of the Cold War and " . . . the clash between communism and capitalism, as well as detent, nonalignment, and perestroika" (Friedman, 1999 , p. 7). In terms of the labor market and economies of the world, " . . . less developed countries would focus on nurturing their own national industries, developing countries on export-led growth, communist countries on autarky and Western economies on regulated trade . . . " (p. 7). Most businesses and economies, whether national or international, moved slowly and deliberately. A lot of workers performed tasks that were routine and required minimal technical skills and little, if any, cognitive ability. Vocational education focused primarily on the development of manual and technical skills required to be successful in this type of environment. From a mid-1960s worldview, the notion of international research and collaboration was really not a critical concern. And, if undertaken by individual scholars, the purpose of international research was, more than likely, represented by a one-way exchange where scholars viewed themselves as representing a superior culture. Often, many of those involved with international research efforts saw their role as helping less developed countries become more advanced and "just like us."

As originally established, AVERA upheld four primary purposes: (a) to stimulate research and development activities related to vocational and technical education, (b) to develop training programs designed to prepare persons for responsibilities in vocational and technical education research, (c) to foster a cooperative effort in research and development activities with the total program of vocational and technical education, other areas of education, and other disciplines, and (d) to facilitate the dissemination of research findings and knowledge (AVERA, 2001 ). Perhaps the most important function of AVERA is to provide its membership with current and emerging information about new developments and ongoing trends and issues that affect vocational and technical education and research. Traditionally, the focus of such information has been national in scope. Here, I consider whether this scope should be expanded to formally acknowledge and encompass international issues as well.

A primary method used by AVERA to accomplish its purposes is through participation in several national conferences (e.g., Association for Career and Technical Education, American Educational Research Association) where research is presented annually and individuals have opportunities to meet and interact with others who share similar professional interests and concerns. The organization also sponsors one of the primary publication outlets in the U.S. for scholarly dissemination efforts in vocational and technical education, the Journal of Vocational Education Research (JVER). Historically, the JVER has published a wide assortment of manuscripts reflecting qualitative and quantitative orientations and has not been limited by content or discipline area, population, or geographical context.

International Nature of AVERA

AVERA does not have an official international focus, although some individual members are from other countries or pursue international research interests as part of their scholarship. Despite individual (and perhaps even institutional) interests, an international focus has not clearly emerged within the organization. For example, in a recent three-year period (1997-1999), the JVER published only 3 of 54 articles that contained an international theme or were written by authors outside the U.S. 2 , 3

In 2000, then-President William G. Camp made a strong appeal to the AVERA membership to consider an international future for AVERA, "to think global." He raised several questions designed to engage the membership in discussion. Do we [AVERA] not have research to share in an international setting? Is AVERA just an American organization? Should it be? Is it time to expand our organizational horizons by looking outward rather than inward? Camp concluded, " . . . the organization should expand its vision to become an international organization . . ." (p. 2), but stopped short of making a formal proposal to that effect. He argued that submitting a formal proposal was beyond the purview " . . . of the President in an organization that changes its officers annually" (p. 1). To date, no formal proposal reflecting Camp's vision has been advanced from the general membership and it appears that " . . . in the absence of a formal proposal . . . we will simply continue to discuss 'what-ifs' and never take action" (p. 2).

An Understanding and Rationale for Internationalization

I believe that AVERA needs to incorporate and nurture a clear, articulated emphasis on international issues relevant to career and technical education. Given the nature of the emergent workforce throughout the world and the international nature of work and national economies, it appears not only prudent but imperative that this initiative be made. Recently, Stead and Harrington ( 2000 ) bluntly stated, "To assume that all of a country's work-related problems can be solved independently is shortsighted and provincial" (¶ 1). Therefore, this section provides a rudimentary rationale for why AVERA should adopt an international perspective.

It is clear that the issue of globalization serves as a primary catalyst for career and technical educators in the U.S. and worldwide adopting an international focus in research and educational programs (Doherty, 1998 ; Hobart, 1999 ; Zeszotarski, 2001 ). Friedman ( 1999 ) explained that

globalization is not just some economic fad, and it is not just a passing trend. It is an international system--the dominant international system that replaced the Cold War system after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We need to understand it as such . . . . It also ha[s] one overarching feature--integration. The world has become an increasingly interwoven place, and today, whether you are a company or a country, your threats and opportunities increasingly derive from who you are connected to. (pp. 7-8)

Globalization, or internationalization, then, refers to our growing reliance on a worldwide market and an increasing interdependence of the world's economies on that market, as well as the diminished national autonomy that results. Trends toward globalization, market deregulation, the worldwide influence of capitalism, and the need for knowledgeable workers skilled in information technology have broad economic, social, and cultural implications that are reshaping entire segments of the U.S. and other economies. Additional issues requiring an international focus on career and technical education include the growth of a mobile, global labor surplus poised to compete for jobs anywhere in the world, and the restructuring, merging, and downsizing of many work organizations resulting in a contingent workforce around the world that no longer enjoys job security, long-time institutional identification, or health and pension benefits (Herr, 2000 ). These trends increasingly require businesses (and nations) to attain standards " . . . that will enable them to succeed in the arena of global competition. These standards of best practice are therefore influencing the production, management, and employment decisions and practices of both national and international production and services entities" (Hobart, 1999 ).

These problems and issues are no longer matters of concern to only one nation or one population . . . . As nations become increasingly interdependent, career problems transcend political boundaries, affecting entire regions of the world, not simply sovereign states. Thus, the solutions to career problems often require cross-national collaboration just as they require cross-professional organization collaboration. As a result, there needs to be constant cooperation between professional organizations and governments. (Herr, 2000 )

Possibilities for Research on International Aspects of Career and Technical Education

It seems that the jury is still out on determining the ultimate benefits or drawbacks to an international focus for research in vocational and technical education (Hobart, 1999 ). Even so, given its position as one of several national research organizations in the United States focused on career and technical education, AVERA must be an active participant in the debate about the role of international research on vocational and technical education.

What are the benefits and potential drawbacks? Freeland ( 2000 ) identified some of the positive aspects of assuming a broad, more international mission and scope in career and technical education research. These include

  1. Better understanding of costs and benefits associated with educational reform and reform in career and technical education in particular.
  2. Comparative data can be used to shape national and regional educational policy.
  3. Improvements can be gained pertaining to the assessment of program and training system effectiveness.
  4. Comparative international data could help professionals determine the levels and types of training and education provided by different countries. This information could help determine the extent that students and workers are being prepared in the U.S. for elsewhere.
  5. Investigations of curriculum could be used to identify demanding or inadequate offerings.
  6. Outcomes for participants in secondary-based programs (or their equivalent) would provide a basis for determining whether graduation requirements are stringent or comparable to other countries.

A major problem with international research is that social and economic environmental influences cannot usually be transferred from one nation to another. This leaves the applicability of individual research studies somewhat in doubt and dependent on the particular circumstances associated with the investigation. Other potential barriers to effective international research efforts include language, social, cultural, and work-related differences. Sellin and Grollmann ( 1999 ) noted that even the definitions used by various countries to understand and articulate the essence of vocational training and research, and hence vocational training research, vary. 4

Yet, despite such difficulties, Freeland ( 2000 ) asserts that international research in career and technical education and training is vital because the results of such work can (a) aid in identifying trends or changes in the status of vocational and technical education [in the U.S.], (b) shed a critical light on "taken for granted" assumptions about how vocational and technical education operates, and (c) suggest alternative methods and approaches. Further, when considering the limited international experiences of most U.S. educators, international research and personnel exchange as well as ongoing dialogue could be one way to acquire and understand issues from other parts of the world.

At the dawn of the 21st century, members of AVERA must develop and actively support the internationalization of the association. The universality of knowledge in the information age and the competitive nature of world trade dictate that AVERA broaden its range of vision. Internationalization affects most aspects of our lives particularly in areas related to work preparation, public education, trade, and maintaining an acceptable standard of living. It is no longer an abstract idea for our leisurely consideration; it is a reality and necessity.

Where are we now? In terms of national research agendas, Wonacott ( 2000 ) indicates that differences currently exist in the focus of research conducted in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Recurring themes in the United States reflect change-what skills workers need for the changing workplace and how vocational education should provide them . . . . In Europe and Australia, attention is focused more on the impact of research on policy, decision making, and return on investment. (¶ 2)

Given these differences Wonacott asks,

Why do comprehensive research programs in the U.S., Europe, and Australia have different emphases? Does the somewhat different focus and schedule of occupation-related research merely reflect the different priorities-and place-in the pipeline-of-front-line practitioners? Why do different themes recur in the U.S., Europe, and Australia? (¶ 5)

What might an emphasis on international research look like? One possibility is that AVERA develop and maintain a wide range of academic and professional activities, organizational policies, procedures, and strategies designed to integrate an international dimension or perspective into the association (adapted from Simon Fraser University, 1999 ). I identify five possible research agenda emphases that reflect an international focus as examples and for establishing a starting point for discussion and elaboration.

1. Comparative studies . International comparative studies are most often used to describe and explore progress made by countries toward the realization of national vocational and technical education and training goals, in respect to more developed countries. The results of such investigations are usually used for policy-based decision-making related to education and training programs. Freeland ( 2000 ) writes, "Perhaps the most significant way in which international comparative studies can assist policy-makers is in developing or uncovering an understanding of the network of factors that underlie particular outcomes in particular countries" (p. 4).

2. Education and training activities: A look at best practices . Speaking at the Second International Congress on Technical and Vocational Education, Timo Lankinen ( 1999 ), Director of Vocational Education and Training in Finland, remarked, "Although the ways of implementing vocational education and training are largely culture-dependent, we can also learn form each others' methods and manners" (¶ 1). He posited challenging questions that could guide both national and international research.

How to keep up vocational education and training with continuous changes and meet the requirements of the society and the world of work? How to make vocational education and training attractive to youth? Which is the best way to ensure youth a smooth transition from training to working life? How to create a system providing everyone the opportunity for individual continuing education and lifelong learning? How extensively should the mastery of professional skills, general education, and so-called generic skills be combined, or, on the other hand, kept separate? How to divide costs and labor between the educational system and the world of work most efficiently? (¶ 6)

At the same conference, Schmidt ( 1999 ) spoke about the pivotal role that education plays in the emerging "knowledge management and information age." He argued that vocational education and training programs must place a greater emphasis on providing students with reasons for ongoing global changes and their impact on local work and workers, skills on how to gather, select, and use information and knowledge in the planning and decision-making process, problemsolving and practical skills, social and team skills, entrepreneurial skills, and the development of workers' personality. All of these areas have some parallel in research focused on U.S. students and programs that could be expanded to a global scale.

3. Problems, issues, and trends: Problems abound on the international stage . U.S. researchers in career and technical education could examine both common and unique problems in any number of iterations. For example, economists and others are divided on whether the fallout of globalization is positive or negative. Some point to increased competition spurred by access to worldwide markets and the resulting benefits to consumers in the form of lower prices and more choice. Opponents predict an erosion of workers' rights, particularly in developing countries and the loss of jobs in more industrialized nations as work is exported to countries with cheaper labor and production costs. Other issues might include looking at ways that advancing technology influences employment preparation and attainment patterns, wage structures, or standards of living.

4. Social justice . A number of concerns have emerged on the international scene over the past several years that might be considered by international career and technical investigators. The unrelenting exploitation of women and child labor in lesser-developed countries, often by multi-national conglomerates seeking the lowest production costs, continues to be an issue. High rates of unemployment, aggravated by social and economic ills of the working poor, are a problem in many countries throughout the world (International Labor Organization [ILO], 1997 ).

Criticism, sometimes violent, about the unabated consumerism generated by the internationalization of markets and economies and the resulting damage that a consumption-oriented economy inflicts on a finite set of world resources must be addressed. What role does national or international career and technical education play in these types of scenarios? Can educators and scholars alike, whether in the U.S. or other countries, simply ignore these very controversial political and human issues connected to the workforce?

5. Expansion and applicability of traditional vocational and technical areas to different cultural and political contexts including a need to examine ways to balance work and family life. Constant demands for quicker and more timely goods and services from a world-wide consumer-driven population increasingly requires more from workers, usually in terms of longer hours at work and/or taking work home thus blurring the distinctions between work and leisure time. The need for understanding this phenomenon and identifying ways to counteract this growing trend will take on increased importance in the years to come.


Whatever the specific topic, international research should be guided by several themes that are based on the firm belief that any efforts initiated by AVERA or its members do not assume a superior attitude where scholars are represented as rescuing lesser-developed countries. Based on the responses of participants at the 5th International Conference on Adult Education, international research and cooperation should not mean merely transfer of resources and technical know-how but rather mutual learning and sharing of experiences. It should also involve institutional and organizational development, reciprocal communication and all parties learning from the process of international cooperation. International cooperation needs to be viewed as a mutually beneficial exercise between parties, for the purposes of enhancing their capacities to pursue their educational [and research] goals. It should be a mutually empowering experience and include a wide variety of actors from the grassroots to the national and international level. (UNESCO, 1999 , pp. 4-5)


So, what does AVERA do at this point in time? It is more critical than at any time in the history of the organization that we collectively and publicly engage in dialogue about the role of international research in AVERA, and that we establish an official position for the organization (voted on by the membership) within one year. While I do not represent the official position of AVERA, I think that there are several ideas and initiatives that, as an organization, we must consider. These activities include the following:

1. Name change? Past AVERA President, William G. Camp ( 2000 ) posited, "An organization's name should capture the core of the organization's meaning. It should concisely reflect what the organization is about" (p. 2). If members of AVERA determine that an international perspective is important, a change in the name of the organization will be required.

2. Appoint a special committee charged with making special recommendations to the AVERA executive board concerning future directions for the association on the issue of international research. This committee could be composed solely of AVERA members or could incorporate IVETA membership for their perspective.

3. Plan for and implement ongoing collaboration with IVETA . One possibility may be to appoint liaisons from each organization that serve on each other's executive board to relay information and facilitate collaborative efforts between the two groups.

4. Plan and conduct special conference sessions at major research conferences (ACTE, AERA, IVETA) within the next several years on international aspects of vocational and technical education.

5. Plan and publish one or more special issues of the JVER . Another option in terms of publication is to support a joint publication effort with IVETA on the topic of international research in career, vocational, and technical education. There is some precedent for doing this type of thing. Recently, the National Career Development Association (NCDA) and the National Employment Counseling Association (NECA) collaborated on a joint issue of their respective journals--The Career Development Quarterly and the Journal of Employment Counseling --devoted to collaboration, partnership, policy, and practice in career development.

In his presidential address to the AVERA membership several years ago, Thomas ( 2000 ) asked, "Are we making the changes needed in the organization . . . [to remain] a viable force in vocational education and what are the changes we should make in the future?" (p. 4). Thomas' question challenges us as we consider whether to pursue an official position on the internationalization of AVERA including research, affiliations, and organizational scope. To remain viable, the association must vigorously pursue an official position. The emergence of an international perspective could provide AVERA with resurgence in membership and an increase in the influence of both AVERA and IVETA. Clearly, there is work to be done and my thoughts and recommendations serve only to stimulate our thinking and discussion on this issue. The possibilities are exciting. We should move ahead.

To close, I offer the words of one AVERA member who responded to a general call for comments on the issue of the internationalization of AVERA. 5

As the political, geographical, and cultural boundaries of the world become more permeable, as communication becomes easier, as teaching and learning crosses international boundaries in real time, our research will have to cross international boundaries as well . . . . When we engage in collaborative activities with people facing problems in settings outside of our own, we become more cosmopolitan, more knowledgeable, more concerned, and more aware that what happens in other parts of the world impacts or has profound implications for what we do here.


1. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the AVERA-IVETA jointlysponsored symposium, Internationalization of Research on Technical and Vocational Education , which was conducted during the 2001 annual meeting of the Association for Career and Technical Education, New Orleans, LA.

2. Two of the articles were "German experience in easing the transition from school to early careers" (Geiss & Schmidt, 1999 ), and "How women [from Australia] experience social support as mature adult learners in a vocational setting" (Williams, 1997).

3. A notable exception is the 2000 annual meeting of the Vocational Education SIG, American Educational Research Association (AERA). There, one-third of the scholarly presentations on vocational and technical education (5 out of 16) were international in terms of presenters and/or scope of papers. Unfortunately, not all of these papers have made their way to publication in the JVER.

4. Sellin and Grollman ( 1999 ) proposed the following definition as a working basis for describing research on international vocational and technical education and training:

Vocational training research is the study, on the basis of scientific criteria and appropriate methodology, of personal and social conditions, of the processes involved in imparting and acquiring knowledge and skills and the outcome of those processes, and of attitudes and behaviour patterns which have a particular bearing on potential or actual roles in the economic and social division of labor. (p. 69)

5. I am indebted to a number of AVERA members who responded to an openended query I posted to the AVERA listserv on September 6, 2001. Their comments were helpful in clarifying the issue and developing my responses.


Special acknowledgement and thanks to William G. Camp for initially raising this issue during his term as AVERA President and for offering me the benefits of his thoughts and insight on the topic.


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Author Note

Jay W. Rojewski is Professor in the Department of Occupational Studies at the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602-4809. [E-mail: rojewski@uga.edu ]. He served as President of the American Vocational Education Research Association in 2002 and is a past editor of the Journal of Vocational Education Research.