But labor shortage means some skilled workers could earn higher than degree holders
After failing entrance university exams twice, Nguyen Bich Thuy is giving it one more shot this year. She does not want to go to vocational school, even though she's been told its classes would better suit her academic abilities.
"Vocational schools graduates don't make much money and it's easier for people with university degrees to find jobs," she said. Society appreciates university graduates much more than skilled workers."
Most people like Thuy consider a university degree an important base for the future, and few are interested in vocational schools.
Nguyen Tien Quan has given up his job at a private garment firm to study at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Hanoi. "A worker's income is not enough to live. I think I can find a job with a higher salary after graduating," he said. "Vocational school is also good, but the salary for a skilled worker is not much higher than that of a manual one."
Mac Van Tien, head of the Institute for Science of Vocational Teaching said, "Vietnamese philosophy treasures degrees. Vocational learning is the last choice."
According to a recent study of the Institute for Education Research, only 8.6 percent of 2,000 students surveyed said that they want to study at vocational schools.
The development means that vocational schools are now having trouble enrolling enough students.
According to the Hanoi Department of Education and Training, vocational colleges in the city enrolled only 79 percent of their targeted 30,225 students for the 2009-2010 academic year.
Shortage of skilled laborers
Many firms, especially those in the mechanics, electronics, and construction fields are facing shortage of skilled workers, even though many are ready to offer them high salary.
According to the Ho Chi Minh City Center for Human Resources, skilled workers account for only 20 percent of employees at local companies and skilled laborers can often find higher paying jobs than university graduates.
A personnel employee from a foreign-invested electronic company in Hanoi's Thang Long Industrial Park said her firm offers skilled workers salary of up to VND6 million ($307), but they have been unable to employ the 30 laborers they need, despite two months of recruiting.
Only 30 percent of her firms' over 500 employees are skilled workers, but she was still optimistic about the situation. "There are companies where skilled workers account for only 10 percent," she said.
Deputy Minister of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs Dam Huu Dac said vocational schools have failed to meet high demand. He said they provided worse training than similar schools in other countries.
Knowing that passing a university exam may beyond her ability, Ngo Phuong Anh, a high school student from Hanoi's Thuong Tin District, still does not want to study at a vocational school. She's now enrolled in a class helping her study for the exams.
"People say that the country lacks skilled workers, but employers always require university degrees. Will this change in the future?" she said.