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Exploring school-to-work transitions. Alison Wolf King ’ s College London. Today ’ s World. Huge expansion in education – in the developed world, full-time to 18 the norm, in developed and developing, very rapid growth in higher education Major changes in structure of labour market

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exploring school to work transitions

Exploring school-to-work transitions

Alison Wolf

King’s College London

today s world
Today’s World
  • Huge expansion in education – in the developed world, full-time to 18 the norm, in developed and developing, very rapid growth in higher education
  • Major changes in structure of labour market
  • In most developed countries, disappearance of the youth labour market
disappearance of the youth labour market for 16 18 year olds

Disappearance of the youth labour market for 16-18 year olds

Recent in the UK which maintained teenage employment at high levels longer than most other European countries. Long-standing in mainland Western Europe.

Large growth in UK enrolments reflects disappearance of youth labour market, and also low apprenticeship numbers
structurally high unemployment for 18 24 year olds

Structurally high unemployment for 18-24 year olds

More recent, potentially more amenable to policy interventions but also highly damaging to those involved


Today, the UK is quite typical of developed economies in a number of key ways. Problems of transition are general and quite intractable.


Relative unemployment of young adults: 2009

Ratio of the unemployment rate of 20-24 year-olds to those of adults (aged 25-64). (OECD Stat Extracts, http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx)


Germany is the best-known ‘positive’ outlier – although they too have labour market challenges.

transition into low paid work
Transition into low paid work

Source: IAB panel study, 2011

Note: OECD definition of low paid work (wages below two-thirds of median income)

new transition patterns in higher education
New transition patterns in higher education
  • Bachelor degrees ‘overloaded’: do not leave students opportunities to
    • develop practical skills
    • develop language skills
    • gain intercultural experience
    • develop analytical and problem-solving skills in professional area
  • Masters degrees as labour market transition currency
  • Problems with selective access to Masters degrees
income according to degree type
Income according to degree type

Source: Rehn et al., 2011

the background

The Background

Economic change, education and transitions

the hourglass economy
The ‘hourglass economy’
  • Post-war, huge increase in professional, managerial and technical jobs. Growth has slowed enormously.
  • Huge productivity rises in manufacturing and services have squeezed the number of skilled jobs in manual and white-collar middle ranks
  • Big increase in numbers of low-paid service job, which require soft rather than technical skills
  • However, these changes, while real, are ongoing, and do not particularly impact on the young rather than on older workers
the vast majority get jobs but
The vast majority get jobs, BUT
  • In some areas, unemployment rates are twice as high as national as national averages
  • Many jobs are short term – a lot of ‘churning’
  • Most ‘NEETS’ have gone in and out of short-term employment
  • Unemployment scars permanently in many cases
  • ‘High-quality’ progression routes are not available to many young people

Formal education is increasingly seen as vital for life-chances, not just as a source of skills but as a gateway into the upper parts of the labour market. Employers may complain about the quality of education (and do, everywhere). But they use it, constantly, as a screening device and a ranking device.

high quality access routes 1 higher education
High-quality access routes (1): higher education
  • Application rates have not been affected permanently by fees
  • Have stabilised since 2010 in England, Scotland and Wales and even though England has highest fees, also has highest application rate (43%)
  • Return to a degree has also remained high. Completion rates are at top end for OECD
high quality access routes 2 apprenticeship
High quality access routes (2): apprenticeship
  • Near-demolition of traditional high-quality apprenticeship route, but where survives, remains highly desired and shows high returns
  • Funding + targets regime (established by successive governments) resulted in a growing proportion of so-called apprenticeships being given to older employees. Decreasing proportion at ‘level 3’ especially for young people. Huge excess demand for good placements
current apprenticeship reform of critical importance

Current apprenticeship reform of critical importance

But success not guaranteed – trying to recreate demolished institutions is hard

returns to qualifications
Returns to qualifications
  • Vocational awards ‘deliver’ as part of apprenticeship: most lower-level awards delivered in education or by private training providers do not.
  • Less qualified young people, and those on active labour market schemes (eg Work Programme), have been chanelled into programmes which award these low-status awards with no progression routes/wage returns
  • Pre-18, recent reforms have changed the funding system, but post-18, still payment-by-qualification-awarded: training providers incentivised to offer easy awards and ensure 100% success on internally assessed qualifications.
forthcoming and ongoing reforms
Forthcoming and ongoing reforms
  • ‘Study programmes’ for 16-18 year olds in full time education which prioritise work experience
  • English and maths for all lower-achieving 16-18 year olds
  • ‘Traineeships’, subsidising work experience
  • Wage subsidies
  • Apprenticeship reform (barely started yet)
  • Qualification reform for 16-18 year olds (general academic; applied general; technical (occupational) – ‘Tech Bacc’, currently a level 3 technical/occupation + level 3 maths and extended project
the prognosis
The prognosis
  • Work experience placements – pilots encouraging
  • Wage subsidies – a failure (as has often been the case with similar initiatives)
  • Qualification reform – not yet clear
  • English and Maths – better late than never
  • Apprenticeship reform – too early to tell but both key and difficult
workplace experience is critical
Workplace experience is critical
  • Saturday jobs
  • Substantial work experience
  • Traineeships
  • Apprenticeships