Right competence at the right time – but for whom? Trajectories and aspirations within and beyond higher vocational education in Sweden

The aim of this study is to launch a mixed-methods examination of the social recruitment of participants into higher vocational education (Yrkeshögskolan, YH) and their transition into the labor market. As one of the most recently established educational types in Sweden, YH has undergone remarkable expansion in government investment over the last decade. The explicit focus of YH is to equip training participants with the “right competence at the right time” in order for them to be integrated quickly into labor market segments where there is a need for workers. Government interest in YH has soared due to labor market challenges posed by immigration, ageing, and gender segregation in the labor market—all of which YH may be able to mitigate. However, despite this interest and investment, little is still known about the efficacy of this educational policy device, particularly, the trajectories and aspirations of its students. In this study, we will use newly available register data to study YH enrollees and graduates, their educational and employment trajectories pre- and post-YH. We will also conduct observations and longitudinal qualitative interviews at three distinct YH training sites (healthcare; building and construction; arts and media). The research is designed so that the quantitative and qualitative analyses will feed into each other, thereby offering robust and meaningful analyses.

This study is funded by the Swedish Research Council.

The Aspirants: How faith is built in emerging occupations

Anticipating future demands in skills and workforce development has been a longstanding practice and challenge for governments and policy-makers. While such developments are examined closely at the national and regional levels, an even more pressing issue is to advance our understanding of how people who take on jobs in new and emerging fields embark on and persist in their occupational pathways. A striking feature of these occupations is their weakly defined and unstable nature. How do individuals traverse career trajectories with these characteristics? What drives and enables them to take the road less travelled? To address such questions, this research project set off from a distinctive occupational school in Sweden that prepares individuals for emerging occupational roles in digital work. Using an interpretative, longitudinal, and multi-method approach, this study focuses on a group of aspirants who were being trained to become specialists in extracting, analysing, and using digital data for the growth and profit of organisations. These individuals can be viewed as experiencing a double “not-yet” situation, since not only are they at the stage of aspiring to certain work roles, but the occupations to which they aspire are also in a nascent, not yet fully defined stage. This study accompanies them through significant events over the years: from when they are in training, to when they search for jobs, and, finally, when they begin the work experience.

The monograph contains three empirical sections that are sequenced by the aspirants’ school-to-work pathways. The first section examines the processes of socialisation into the occupational school; the second analyses their efforts to meet the labour market; and the final one investigates the ways in which they persist in their occupational trajectories. Following these stages reveals how a strong school culture, coupled with a strong labour market, facilitates the building of “faith” into weak-form occupational pathways. Through the ceremony of being selected into the educational organisation and performing everyday rituals that engender confidence in their individual and collective futures, the analysis reveals types of “scripts” that are fashioned into the school’s methodology as well as the expectations of future hirers. It becomes apparent that aspirants generally accept these scripts as necessary and adhere to them to navigate the constantly changing demands of the labour market. However, when these interpretive schemes fail to help them cope with their unclear occupational futures, uncertainties of worth, and the unstable normative logics they encounter at work sites, the aspirants are compelled to deliberate and adapt conceptions of what is possible through individual and collective projections. In all, the empirical findings form the basis for a sociological model that offers a perspective on how to treat temporality, anticipation, and the “not-yets”, particularly in the context of education to work transitions.

Read or download the dissertation here.

Other publications from this project:

Ye, R. (2020). Reality tests: navigating education to work transitions into weak-form occupations. Journal of Education and Work, 33(3), 242–253.

The transnational track

This project explored the process of transnational institutional matching between elite institutions in Singapore and Great Britain, and the role of state-sponsored scholarships in enabling this process as political and administrative elites are selected and groomed. Using data gathered from in-depth interviews conducted with Singaporean undergraduates studying at Oxbridge and a dataset of the educational backgrounds and destinations of 580 Singaporean government scholars, the analysis illustrates how students are being matched from two Singaporean junior colleges to Oxbridge and back to the higher strata of the Singaporean Public Service. We show that the educational trajectories of these government scholars need to be addressed in relation to the informational capital acquired in specific elite schools as well as the governing roles these individuals are meant to obtain within the state upon graduation.

Publications from this project:

This work has also been included in the following edited volumes: