It seems negative and churlish to complain about the use of a phrase like 'lifelong learning', since the attractions of lifelong ignorance are difficult to describe. However, this alluring phrase repays closer scrutiny. It is our contention that its undiscriminating use, particularly when applied to vocational education, carries significant dangers. To be specific, we contend that while vocational expertise continues to grow over a working lifetime, the initial period of vocational education is vital to success in those occupations that require skill, knowledge and judgement. In economic terms, failure to attend to the initial period of vocational education compromises attempts to run the economy as a highskill equilibrium that uses skilled labour to satisfy a demand for high-quality goods and services (Finegold 1991; Crouch 1999; Culpepper 1999; Brown 2001). In personal terms, young people's ability to develop their lives in their working environment is seriously compromised. This, in turn, compromises one of the aims of their education, to choose a satisfying and worthwhile life.