Purpose The purpose of this paper is to estimate the causal effect of vocational high school (VHS) education on employment likelihood relative to general high school (GHS) education in Turkey using Census data. Design/methodology/approach To address non-random selection into high school types, the authors collect construction dates of the VHSs at the town level and use various measures of VHS availability in the town by the age of 13 as instrumental variables. Findings The first-stage estimates suggest that the availability of VHS does not affect the overall high school graduation rates, but generates a substitution from GHS to VHS. The OLS estimates yield the result that individuals with a VHS degree are around 5 percentage points more likely to be employed compared to those with a GHS degree. When the authors use measures of VHS availability as instruments, they still find positive and statistically significant effect of VHS degree on employment likelihood relative to GHS degree. However, once they include town-level controls or town fixed effects, IV estimates get much smaller and become statistically insignificant. Originality/value The authorsconclude that, although VHS construction generates a substitution from GHS to VHS education, this substitution is not transformed into increased employment rates in a statistically significant way.