[Viewpoint] A path for vocational schools

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[Viewpoint] A path for vocational schools

At the end of last month, I visited Cinema Makeup School in Los Angeles. It was located close to Koreatown. It is only natural to have a vocational school teaching professional makeup skills in the home of Hollywood. When I visited, some students were busily transforming a beautiful face into a monster, while another female student was focusing on the makeup technique for an elf.

The school occupied a few floors of an old building, and space was limited. At that time, 72 students including three Koreans were enrolled. Vocational school principals who travelled with me from Korea said the facility was far inferior to those in Korea. And yet, tuition for the 18-week, full-time, course was 16 million won ($15,070). This represents the school’s pride in its education.

The Korean principals asked how many of the students were from overseas, and if the school would award a diploma. A representative from the school said about 40 percent were foreign students from around the world.

The American principal asked if we thought a diploma was necessary. He said the school was a place to educate professionals to immediately enter the workforce. He said creating a diploma program is a possibility, but there would be more to lose than gain. The course would be longer and students would have to learn things that aren’t necessary to succeed in the industry - all for a higher tuition.

The American knew what was needed for a student to land a job. The school was founded in 1993, but became the best in the field in a short period of time.

During the visit, I began to understand where the school is coming from. In any country, the top priority for vocational school students is employment. That’s why Cinema Makeup School pays special attention to faculty - attracting professionals working in the field. Its teachers have worked on the sets of “Avatar” and “Batman Begins.”

The school representative said that makeup techniques are changing rapidly, and only professionals in active service are able to teach the latest skills.

There was also a more important advantage, he said. The lecturers pay special attention to talented students during classes, introducing them to production teams upon program completion. Graduates are welcome to join classes and often maintain relationships with teachers.

The school said it does not cost much to recruit students, because current students and graduates promote the institute by word of mouth. It also uses the school’s Web site, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

The school also pays special attention to exchanges with movie production teams to learn about job information. Students share that information through social networking services with their alumni.

We also toured the Los Angeles Trade Technical College, operated by the State of California. Established in 1925, the school offers 90 courses, including auto repair, home building, cooking and beauty skills, to some 15,000 students. Most students were from overseas, including Mexico.

LaSalle College in Vancouver, Canada, operates campuses in 16 countries. It provides vocational education to its global community of students, not just in Canada.

After our trip, the Korean principals said they had found the necessary path for Korean vocational schools. They also said the 520 vocational schools in Korea should be allowed to teach foreign students as soon as possible. The Ministry of Employment and Labor is lukewarm about the matter, because it worries about a possible surge of illegal aliens.

The principals admitted that they struggle to attract students because youngsters tend to avoid “hard” jobs. They said inviting foreign students could be a great alternative. There are many foreign youngsters who want to learn using Korea’s advanced technology, they said, adding that the lecturers and educational facilities are capable of accommodating them.

After the youngsters finish vocational training in Korea and return to their home countries, they may unleash a new Korean Wave of sorts - a Korean Wave of vocational skills. It could very well be another current, following in the path of Korean dramas and K-pop. Famous French culinary schools and hotel management schools in Switzerland are magnets for Korean youngsters. It is time for Korea to attract foreign students to our vocational schools.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Shim Shang-bok
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