|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|
No one type of pathway - whether apprenticeship, school-based vocational or general education - appears to hold the key to successful transition outcomes. Excellent transition outcomes for young people can be found in different countries, regardless of which pathway predominates. However, the chances of solid transition outcomes being achieved are higher where young people have available to them learning pathways and qualification frameworks that are clearly defined, well-organized and open, designed and developed in a lifelong-learning perspective, with effective connections to post-school destinations, whether work or further study. Countries in which the connections between pathways and their destinations are embedded in solid institutional frameworks seem more likely to demonstrate successful initial transition outcomes than do countries in which the connection is more loosely coupled. These features appear to be more important than the particular nature of the pathway itself.
Countries in which young people are evenly spread over all three of the principal pathways, rather than concentrated in one or two, appear to have advantages in achieving good transition outcomes. In these instances young people can be offered wider choices. There can be greater potential flexibility in movements between pathways to suit individual needs, although often this does not occur in practice. A mix of pathways makes it more likely that young people will have available to them a wide variety of general, technical and vocational education options, developing both work-related competences and personal and social skills. A broad mix helps to ensure that the developing vocational interests of adolescents are able to be met by the curriculum, and that a broad range of talents and achievements can be recognized by qualifications systems.
Well-organized connections between upper-secondary pathways and tertiary study, as well as between upper-secondary pathways and jobs, are important. In some countries, particularly those with occupationally organized labour markets, those graduates from upper-secondary general education pathways who have not qualified for tertiary study are thought to have particular difficulties in the labour market.
Pathways are becoming more flexible as policy-makers respond both to the wishes of young people and their parents, and to perceived changes in the nature of work. The following developments can be observed:
· More links are being created between vocational pathways and tertiary study;
· The vocational content of general education pathways is increasing;
· The entry points to vocational education pathways are becoming broader, with specialization being delayed;
· The general education content of vocational pathways is being increased;
· Modular curriculum structures are becoming more common, allowing young people greater choice in the ways in which they can combine different areas of study;
· In some cases the one pathway is being offered in more than one type of institutional setting; and
· Non-university tertiary programmes are being created or expanded.
A number of issues arise from attempts to increase the relevance and flexibility of pathways. These factors are often not taken into account sufficiently when reforms are being planned:
· Raising the amount and the level of the general education content of vocational pathways, or their level of abstraction, in order to improve links to tertiary study can cause motivation problems among lower achievers;
· In a related way, there can be problems in motivating the lowest achievers in countries in which general education pathways are large and dominant. Ways need to be found to make learning more applied, relevant and contextual, and to clearly link school performance to jobs;
· Attempts to broaden the vocational content of general education pathways can suffer from lack of clarity about the purpose of the changes: to provide full occupational qualifications; to provide credit towards such qualifications; to develop generic work skills; or to improve career awareness and decidedness. This confusion is not made easier by the fact that some segments of the labour market in the countries concerned are tightly coupled to occupational qualifications, whereas others are not;
· Attempts to broaden the entry points of vocational pathways, making their content more generic to a number of related occupations or industries, can be difficult to implement if teachers have only specialized expertise, and if schools' physical facilities have not been constructed to meet the needs of more broadly defined pathways;
· By themselves modular curriculum structures might result in little real change in young people's actual choices and flexibility without changes to organizational factors such as school facilities and the school timetable. And they can run the risk of encouraging young people to leave education with only partial skills and qualifications.
It is not easy to halt or reverse the falling status of upper-secondary vocational education. However the Thematic Review does point to some important lessons. These include:
· Avoid making it a residual and dead-end pathway, linked to poor-quality jobs and directed at the lowest achievers;
· Provide institutionalized bridges between vocational education and apprenticeship and tertiary education and ensure that significant proportions of students and apprentices do take this pathway;
· Design vocational education and training programmes for less successful young people as part of safety nets rather than as ordinary vocational programmes, and make sure that safety net programmes prepare young people for participation in mainstream vocational education and training; and
· Pay attention to the financial costs and benefits for individuals and firms, for instance by providing support to employers training young people in safety net programmes and by ensuring that participants in vocational education and training programmes are not disadvantaged in terms of income support and rights to welfare programmes.