Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Choosing to Labour: Structure and Agency in School-Work Transitions (1)

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

Choosing to Labour: Structure and Agency in School-Work Transitions (1)

Article excerpt

Abstract: We still know relatively little about how young people rationalize their educational and occupational plans and what this might tell us about the relationship between structure and agency in school-work transitions. In this paper, based on a multi-method comparison of youth apprentices in Canada and Germany, the range of school-work transition alternatives realistically under consideration was circumscribed by socio-economic status, babitus, cultural capital, and institutional factors. While their vocational choices reproduced their class position, youth apprentices nevertheless saw their entry into the trades as an expression of a preference for, and identity with, working-class ideals of manual work. Further analysis suggests, however, that these narratives can also be interpreted as post-facto rationalization strategies in response to public discourses that equate life course success with ever higher levels of educational attainment.

Resume: Nous connaissons peu concernant comment les jeunes etablissent leurs plans d'education et de profession, et comment cela nous aiderait a comprendre la relation entre structure et agence dans la transition de l'education au travail. A base de la comparaison multi-methodes de jeunes apprenties au Canada et en Allemagne, nos determinons que les alternatives consideres dans cette transition sont circonscrits par le statut socio-economique, le habitus de residence, le capital culturel et les facteurs institutionnels. Tandis que leurs choix de vocation reproduisent leur position de classe sociale, les jeunes apprenties voient tout-de-meme leur entre dans les carriere de travail manuel comme l'expression d'une preference pour, et identification avec, les ideaux du travail manuel de la classe proletaire. Par ailleurs, une analyse plus poussee suggere que ces histoires personnelles peuvent etre interpretes comme des strategies de rationalisation post-facto, en reponse au discours publique qui equivaut le succes dans la vie avec l'atteinte de plus hauts niveaux d'education.

Introduction

The last year of high school is an important period in school-work transitions as students begin to seriously consider life after school, narrow their educational and vocational options, and reinforce dispositions toward specific career destinations. Explaining school-work transitions processes, researchers concerned with issues of structural reproduction have emphasized the capacity of institutional structures to reinforce social inequality (Andres and Krahn, 1999; Kerckhoff, 1995; Shavit and Blossfeld, 1993), while agency in school-work transitions has been variously interpreted as acts of rational choice, resistance, or as reflexive and strategic (Evans, 2002; Goldthorpe, 1996; Willis, 1977). Yet, we still know relatively little about how young people rationalize their educational and occupational plans and what their rationalization strategies might tell us about the relationship between structure and agency in schoolwork transitions. In this paper, based on semi-structured interviews and focus groups, the aim is to provide insights into such rationalization strategies by focusing on a group of Canadian students who participate in a high school based apprenticeship program. As these young people, although still enrolled in high school, have already made their first tentative steps into employment, they are in a unique position to reflect on their career decisions as both high school students and workers. Their experiences are contrasted with those of first and second year apprentices in Germany's dual system. Germany's dual system of vocational education often informs policy and implementation processes of youth apprenticeship initiatives in Canada and the US (Hamilton, 1990; Lehmann, 2000). The dual system is seen as a successful model due to Germany's low rates of youth unemployment and highly skilled workforce. What is often overlooked, however, is that Germany's dual system is embedded in very different education and labour market structures. …

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