Proposals to reform vocational education need to be backed up with a clear definition of precisely what vocational education is, the Tertiary Education Union has said.It is striking that there is no common definition of vocational education in New Zealand, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.In part this is because the practices that sit under vocational education and the places it is taught vary. Vocational education can be taught in schools, workplaces, tertiary institutions, and online. It covers education in trades, professions, arts and humanities, and, social services.What’s more the approach to vocational education is influenced by the history of its development (in New Zealand’s case through community innovation and demands), and the cultural life of a nation.The TEU is calling on the Minister for Education, Chris Hipkins to use the opportunity his proposed sector reforms provide to develop an agreed definition of vocational education.This would help provide clarity around why reform is necessary, regardless of what the final structure of the sector is.That’s because, at least in terms of how the TEU defines vocational education, the goals of the sector are not advanced by the current model put in place by the last National Government.The TEU is suggesting the Minister make clear that vocational education and training provides both the comprehensive foundation and ongoing innovation needed in broad fields of practice for professions and vocations.It does so through developing knowledge of practice, the technical base of practice, and the attributes needed for the integration of students into professional life and their communities. This can be provided in all levels of education and includes vocational bachelors and postgraduate degrees. It also needs to ensure the advancement of a strong Te Tiriti o Waitangi relationship, kaupapa Māori, and mātauranga Māori.Vocational teaching and learning is based on applied research and the ongoing development and evaluation of applied and workplace-situated methods of teaching and learning. Students will be inspired to be lifelong learners, entrepreneurs and to both exercise the rights and obligations of citizens as professionals.This approach will enable them to participate in collectively addressing and advancing the ever changing needs of industries, the labour market, and the major issues of their time (environmental, social, and economic).Vocational education and training is a powerful instrument for enabling all members of the community to face new challenges and find their roles as members of a community, and for ensuring decent work, the full development of the human personality, and to ensure social mobility and reduction of inequality.For the reforms Hipkins has proposed to work, we need to be working towards a common goal. For that to happen, a shared understanding of what vocational education is will be critical.