Historically, vocational education and training (VET) has fuelled the engine of economic growth and productivity in industrialised nations. As markets become increasingly global and competitive, governments are intensifying pressure on national VET systems to produce more highly skilled and employable workers. ‘Jobs and growth’ is now the universal mantra of policy makers and the taken-for-granted raison d’etre of VET. In an era of manufactured risk and ecological crisis however, it is imperative to question the truth-claims on which VET resides.

This paper argues for a fundamental re-envisioning of VET for an ecologically sustainable future. To this end, it examines the discourse of productivism and its constitutive effects on VET policy and practice. The logic and assumptions underpinning contemporary constructions of VET are critiqued in the light of research evidence. The potential role and contribution of VET in the transition from productivism to ecological sustainability are discussed, and central dilemmas and challenges are outlined.