The hammering that resounds in the nave, that of the needle piercing the skin of a shoe for the first time, is heard less and less in the shoe workshop of the La Torreta public institute in Elda, Alicante. The reason is that the enrollment of this Vocational Training degree has been languishing for years: it has 13 students, a quarter of those that the teacher María José Soto, who has been teaching in the cycle for two decades, had in the good times, and a 78% vacancies. The same thing happens in almost all communities: some FP cycles have very little demand, while thousands of students are left without being able to enter others due to lack of places. Public education is not quick when it comes to reorienting its offer, and private education takes advantage, among other factors, of this slowness to grow.

The survey carried out by this newspaper among a dozen autonomous communities (the Ministry of Education does not have global data and a part of the territories have not responded) shows that between 12% and 22% of the places remain unfilled. There are exceptions, such as Navarra, where enrollment is close to 100%, or the Balearic Islands, where vacancies have been reduced from 18% to 7% in four years. Part of the unoccupied places come from titles that are in demand, but that are widely offered. As Administrative Management (what is studied to be an administrative or receptionist) in the Canary Islands, where it can be studied in 40 institutes and last year there were 398 empty places. In almost all communities, however, there are degrees that simply very few kids want to study.

María José Soto with her shoe students at the public institute La Torreta de Elda, in Alicante.
María José Soto with her shoe students at the public institute La Torreta de Elda, in Alicante.ALFONSO DURAN

The fact raises uncomfortable questions, such as what to do with these qualifications and, if they disappear, with the teaching staff assigned to them. Ainara Zubillaga, director of Education and Training at the Cotec Foundation, and Rodrigo Plaza, head of Vocational Training at Comisiones Obreras, agree that, in addition to being able to recycle to teach other degrees (or update those that have been suppressed), these teachers they treasure knowledge that goes beyond the discipline they teach in the classroom, which could be used to promote the great deployment of Vocational Training launched by the Ministry of Education and pursued by the new FP law. They could carry out functions that the system needs and are not sufficiently attended to, such as guidance and accompaniment of students, linking educational centers with companies, accreditation of professional skills, and teacher training, they say.

In Elda, María José Soto would prefer to continue teaching: “I would recycle myself. I would go to upholstery, automobile, furniture. Because they work with the same materials that we do, albeit on a different scale,” she says. The reasons why a degree goes into decline are varied. In the case of the medium cycle of Footwear and Fashion Accessories, Sara Villaescusa, head of studies at the Elda institute, attributes it, in part, to the image of precariousness that the shoe industry earned in the Vinalopó regions based on treating their workers badly for decades: “The bad contracts, the bad hours, the work in b… did a lot of damage. Here are parents who tell me: ‘My son has not been taken in his first option, nor in the second, and we are looking for another’. I offer them the shoe cycle and they tell me no, they don’t want their son to suffer what they remember working in footwear entails, which many experienced at the time”. And this, adds Villaescusa, despite the fact that there are now companies, such as those that have agreements with his institute, that need labor, offer decent working conditions and are willing to hire and start paying students while they study (the so-called training dual).

Among the titles with very low demand there are not only traditional activities. In Castilla-La Mancha, Energy Efficiency and Solar Thermal Energy (a sector that has had a great deployment in the autonomous community) had 77% of vacancies last year. Irene Martínez, head of studies at the Virgen de Gracia Institute, in Puertollano, Ciudad Real, believes that the cycle has lost its appeal due to the launch of an online version of it, which is filled with students from all over Spain, many of them of which they take it while they work. And there are degrees, such as those related to hospitality and tourism, that work in certain places, but not in others. In Extremadura, Directorate of Restoration Services (to be maitre d’ or manager of a cafeteria) head, together with Construction, the list of vacancies, and in Cantabria the animation and tour guide cycles do so.

In Aragón, Excavaciones y Sondeos, the cycle that teaches how to be a miner, barely covered 15% of the places last year. And in Asturias, Navigation and Coastal Fishing, 16%. “And there is work. In this sector, our biggest problem is not the fishing quotas, but the lack of generational renewal”, comments Indalecio Estrada, director of the Institute of the Sea in Gijón, where said medium cycle is limp, while higher maritime qualifications are doing well. “There are almost three million unemployed, but almost nobody wants that. You wouldn’t send your children either, if you have another option,” says Enrique Pazos, director of the Ferrolterra Institute in A Coruña. In its center, the Consumer Electronic Equipment cycle disappeared because people stopped repairing televisions, radios and other devices. And the professors who gave it were recycled to teach the Telecommunications Installations cycle.

The administrations take advantage of the high percentage of interim teaching staff to cancel degrees with little demand. That was what Navarra did at the beginning of the course with two cycles due to the very poor demand achieved. “If they had had official teachers, we would have had a serious problem. Having so much temporary work, which is generally very pernicious, in this case allowed us to amortize them by not hiring temporary workers”, affirms the general director of FP of the foral community, Tomás Rodríguez Garraza. The stabilization plan for teachers, underway throughout Spain, will make it much more difficult for administrations to apply this solution.

High demand and little job opportunity

There are FP cycles with a very high demand and poor job opportunities, like a good part of the medium degrees of Image and Sound, warns Rodrigo Plaza, from CC OO. This reflects, he continues, that it is necessary to improve the orientation that students and families receive to choose what to study, and also the public tools for “evaluation, control and prospecting” of the FP offer. “To adjust it to the demands of the respective territory, and also of the people. Because let’s not forget that in the end the choice of studies must be a voluntary option”. For strategic reasons, adds Plaza, a minimum offer of certain degrees should also be preserved, such as those associated with industries that are still active.

It is good that the public system does not allow itself to be “carried away by trends that may be temporary,” says Ainara Zubillaga, from the Cotec Foundation. But if it is verified that there are qualifications that are neither in demand among students nor will the labor market demand them, it makes no sense to keep them, “because if not, this is not VET”. “Teachers who remain in no man’s land have accumulated pedagogical knowledge that they can put at the service of the educational system. It does not necessarily have to be a classroom position, but figures that help to fill many gaps that the system has and that they, as teachers, will surely have demanded”.

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