|The Transition of Youth from School to Work: Issues and Policies (IIEP, 2000, 188 p.)|
|Chapter I. From initial education to working life: making transition work by Marianne Durand-Drouhin and Richard Sweet|
The length of the transition from the end of compulsory education to working life varies widely between countries, but there was a general tendency for it to rise during the 1990s. Across 15 OECD countries the average duration of the transition rose by nearly two years between 1990 and 1996. The reasons are complex and varied. They lie both in the nature of pathways through education, and in what happens to young people after they leave initial education. In some countries there was a rise during the 1990s in the time that it took young people to settle into work after leaving initial education. In some of these countries the explanation lies in more difficult labour market circumstances. However it can also be related to young people's attitudes and values: to a desire to travel or otherwise postpone settling into work; and to a belief in the importance of satisfying work rather than work for its own sake.
Increasing proportions of young people are now completing a full upper-secondary education, rather than dropping out after compulsory schooling or part-way through their upper-secondary schooling. Closely related to this is an increase in the proportion of young people who continue on to tertiary study after the end of upper-secondary education, a tendency that is likely to increase as countries create more bridges between vocational education and tertiary study and develop new non-university institutions and courses. In addition, some countries are extending the average duration of upper-secondary education; for example by prolonging vocational education from two years to three years, as in the Nordic countries; or by encouraging the completion of vocational qualifications in countries with modular systems, such as the United Kingdom. And part of the explanation lies in young people 'double dipping', completing more than one course at the same level. This may be the result of young people delaying the move from one educational level to the next in order to increase their chances of gaining a place in one of the more prestigious pathways. Or it may be due to bottlenecks caused by a shortage of places, especially at tertiary level. Furthermore, prolonged transitions are in some cases due to young people simply wanting to have time off, for work or travel, before embarking upon the next stage of their lives. Their ability to make such choices is strengthened by rising national wealth and strong currencies. Finally, an important if insufficiently understood factor appears to be interactions between tuition costs, student financing arrangements, access to and the conditions attached to part-time work and the taxation system, which in some countries act together to create incentives for tertiary students to delay course completion.
Longer transitions should not be seen as an altogether negative phenomenon. They have both benefits and costs. The short transitions that result from early school leaving certainly carry high and by now well-understood costs for both individuals and governments. A more highly educated population and labour force requires more extended periods of education. The combination of work and study, to the extent that it contributes to longer initial study can improve the conditions of labour market entry, and some of the activities in which young people engage in order to delay the transition, such as travel abroad, can contribute in a positive way to their personal development. On the other hand, long periods spent looking for work, in labour market programmes, or out of either education or work, are poor indicators of future labour market success, particularly if they occur in the immediate post-school period. Similarly, longer transitions through initial education can be the result of pathways being too narrow or too inflexible, requiring young people to backtrack, sidetrack or wait for study places if they want to obtain the mix of skills, experience, knowledge and qualifications demanded in the labour market. Such negative reasons for prolonged transitions from initial education to working life should be the object of policy concern.