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European Vocational Skills Week
News article30 October 2018Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion

Historical figures of VET


Some of our most famous European historical figures benefited from Vocational Education and Training (VET).

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), artist, mathematician and inventor, was renowned for his genius. But even geniuses learn from others and, actually, da Vinci was an apprentice from an early age. As a young prodigy he was trained by Andrea del Verrocchio at his workshop in Florence, and he later lived and worked in Milan as an apprentice of Ludovico il Moro. By the 1490s he was already being acclaimed as a “divine” painter... and he hadn’t even painted the Mona Lisa yet!

Another artist who served as an apprentice was prolific Dutch post-impressionist Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). However, unlike da Vinci, who had trained with painters, van Gogh worked as an apprentice art dealer. After leaving school, where he had been very unhappy, van Gogh found a training position with a dealership called Goupil & Cie, where he learned how to trade in fine art and had many opportunities to travel. After completing his training, he continued working with the company and by the age of 20 was reputedly earning more than his father. His family later said that this was the happiest period of his troubled life.

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was the founder of modern nursing, but we could also say that she was one of the founders of modern vocational education. Despite expectations for women of her time to become wives and mothers, Nightingale felt that nursing was her calling and took it upon herself to study the subject in depth, including undertaking training at a medical institute in Germany. At the age of 40 she established her own nursing school at St Thomas's Hospital in London, where nursing roles for women were formalised and professionalised for the first time. Her training school went on to become the model for similar educational institutions across the world.