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Curtis Finch, Martin Mulder, Graham Attwell, Felix Rauner, & Jan Streumer


Many educational policy measures related to Vocational Education and

Training (VET) make the assumption that VET contributes to the economic

development of nations. One key aspect of making VET an effective

contributor to economic growth is assumed to be School-to-Work (STW)

transition. This is the process of preparing students for working life before

they graduate, so they can be successful at finding paid employment in the

economy after graduation. Thus, the better this transition is, the greater the

societal return on an investment in VET.

However, the linkage between educational institutions and programs

on one hand, and the labor market on the other hand can be less than

optimal. There are various reasons for this suboptimal STW transition.

Examples include:

 Educational institutions have too few and/or too ineffective contacts

with business and industry;

 Absorption of younger persons into the labor market is limited,

resulting in high youth unemployment;

 A mismatch exists between the demand for and supply of persons

with needed competencies and qualifications;

Curtis Finch is Professor, Human Resources and Education, at Virginia
Polytechnic Institute and State University, U.S.A. Martin Mulder and Jan
Streumer are faculty members at the University of Twente, Enschede, The
Netherlands. Graham Attwell and Felix Rauner are faculty members at the
Institut Technick und Bildung, University of Bremen, Germany.

 Students’ learning experiences during internships and other applied

portions of their educational programs are not extensive enough;

 There is a disconnect between educational programs and

developments in the workplace;

 Responsiveness of the curriculum is limited due to structural delay

factors. The process of curriculum development and the duration of

a VET program may take several years.

Behind these reasons are other factors that contribute to suboptimal STW

transition: profound and accelerated socio-economic, demographic, cultural,

technological, and changes. These changes make it difficult for educational

institutions to align their programs with labor market requirements labor.

Many activities have been initiated at different levels to improve the

situation. At the instructional level, programs focusing on career guidance

have been introduced. The content of general subjects has been shifted in

the direction of vocationally relevant subject matter. Vocational subjects

have been updated, and various applied experiences have been introduced

into the curriculum, such as simulations, excursions, internships, and

apprenticeships. At the organizational level, institutions have intensified

their contacts with the corporate community. Companies are sponsoring

educational programs. Teachers are participating in exchange programs

with business and industry so that they can learn about the latest

developments. Business and industry leaders are being asked to participate

in articulating competence requirements. And, at the formal national or

state level, more and more elements of the VET infrastructure are regulated

and formalised.

Examples of formalization domains include administration, the

curriculum, teacher education, testing, and quality management. At the

administrative level, states or nations can choose to position the

responsibilities for VET within educational institutions instead of leaving

vocational competence development up to the individual or the employer.

At the curriculum level, policy makers can opt for a national curriculum

instead of a local curriculum. As for teacher education, policy makers can

decide to create a system with national standards or one with local

autonomy. The system for evaluating educational achievement of students

can also be nationalized, or institutions may have the right to perform their

own appraisals. And quality management can be either conducted by a

national inspectorate, or institutions may use quality management systems

internally that have no outside requirements. Although the formalization

domains are presented here in a dichotomous way, in reality VET

configurations are seldom characterised by extreme positions within these

domains. In most instances, the configurations are determined by

combinations of positions located somewhere in between the extremes.

VET configurations differ most at the national formalization level. An

international comparison may thus contribute to understanding of the

complexity of VET configurations in general, and the STW transition in

particular. What activities have certain countries taken during the last

decades to improve the STW transition for their students? What are the

benefits of these activities? What problems have arisen and what solutions

were found for these problems? In our view, it is worthwhile to take notice of

the cross-national differences that exist in STW policies and practices.

However, it is overly simplistic to think that solutions to common problems in

STW practice are generally and directly applicable from one country to

another. Solutions are contingent upon national VET configurations, and

those differ considerably. By understanding the various traditions different

nations have and the approaches they have taken to providing STW

transition, much can be learned about the enormous complexity of this

problem area. From that deeper understanding, the limitations inherent in

national VET configurations may be more clearly perceived, and better

solutions may be found to the deficiencies that exist in national STW

transition systems.

Therefore, four countries were selected for examination. The countries

were chosen because they vary considerably in their national formalization

dimension, internal variation, and the struggle to develop a comprehensive

VET system. We first focus on Germany, a country with much internal

variation, but which above all is characterised by its widely developed

functional system of apprenticeship training (the Dual System). Next, we

focus on The Netherlands with its nationally formalised occupational school-

based system for VET. We then turn to the United Kingdom with specific

emphasis on England and Wales, which can be characterised by its internal

variation and struggle to develop a comprehensive system of VET. And

finally, we focus on STW transition in the United States, which is viewed as

having multiple systems rather than a single national system of education.

In the concluding section, a cross-national comparison of STW transition in

the four countries is provided. We believe the descriptions and analyses of

STW transition policies and practices within the national VET configurations

of these countries will be helpful in building a better understanding of STW

policies and practices, and in solving some of the common problems nations

experience as they move forward with their STW transition efforts.


A distinction can be made between four ways of undertaking the transition

from school to the working world in Germany. A majority of school leavers

(significantly more than 50%) decide to enroll in the dual vocational training

system in Germany. The proportion of young people who complete

vocational training between the ages of 16 and 19 is over 70%. School-

based vocational training, on the other hand, is favoured by approximately

10% of the young people in a given year. Most of the occupations involved

are in the fields of health, social care, and education as well as assistant

occupations that correspond to semi-academic professions in terms of

content. With respect to curriculum the assistant occupations are clearly

oriented toward specialised knowledge of the academic professions. Within

companies, assistant occupations are allocated to management or academic

professions. A relatively low percentage of school-based vocational training

in the overall vocational training system results from a specific demand for

semi-academic qualifications in areas of responsibility where specialised,

systematic academic knowledge very clearly dominates. Assistant

occupations that relate to the natural sciences, such as physical-technical

assistant and medical-technical assistant, fall under this segment of school-

based vocational training as do the majority of the social occupations (e.g.

kindergarten teacher). To this extent, school-based vocational training does

not compete with dual vocational training. It is worthy of note that the

health and social care occupations are becoming more important as the age

structure of the population changes. Training in this occupational field is

undergoing radical transformation. Becker and Meifort (1994) call for a

professionalization of health and social care occupations in view of the

European process of integration and propose a move from traditional school-

based training to the concept of dual vocational training.

Young people with learning difficulties who have not completed 9-year

secondary modern school (Hauptschule) represent a special problem. In

1993 this group accounted for 6.2% of all newly concluded training

contracts. For the most part these young people are trained in craft trades

(see Pütz, 1993). An analysis of statistical data on young people with

learning difficulties reveals that over a longer period of time the proportion

of young people classified as having learning weaknesses increases in times

of shortage of traineeships. This can be seen in the proportion of school-

leavers who undertake a vocational preparation year in order to attain the

requirements for an occupational apprenticeship. Conversely, the proportion

of young people with learning problems always drops when there is a lack of

skilled labor and a large supply of traineeships. In large measure, therefore,

the school-to-work transition problem for young people with learning

difficulties cannot be solved through training measures, but only by

increasing the quality and quantity of jobs and traineeships on a long-term


More than 30% of young people achieve the academic standard

required for university entrance and the majority of those decide to pursue

university studies. An interesting aspect here is that approximately 30% of

university students have also completed vocational training through the dual

system. The duality of vocational training and university education is held in

very high regard by students (see BMBW, 1994, p. 2; 1993, p. 3). This

figure has risen rapidly from 1985 when only 21% of graduates entered

vocational training. Over 50% of the students at polytechnics have

completed apprenticeships within the dual vocational training system. For

the transition of university graduates to the labor market combining dual

vocational training with subsequent university studies involves a

considerable degree of subjective mobility and labor market flexibility.

Within the university education sector a special form of dual university

training, the Vocational Academy, has come into being with approximately

15,000 students currently enrolled. The student receives equal portions of

training at the Vocational Academy and through practical work at the

training enterprise. Despite not being a formal part of the university system,

this dual university training model at the polytechnic level now has a firm

place in the university system and is widely recognised.

The most important strengths of Vocational Academy training

include the 3-year training period, the pronounced orientation to

practice and the knowledge acquired on a scientific basis, which

enable rapid application to company tasks as well as acquisition

of social qualifications (such as the ability to work in teams)1 in

the dual studies. This fundamental competence acquired in

connection with company-based socialisation forms a central

element of the qualification profile of the Vocational Academy

(Wissenschaftsrat, 1994).

The second threshold in the transition from school to the working world does

not exist in this university segment since students have permanent jobs at

the training enterprises when they begin their studies.

If university and polytechnic students are excluded, the phase of

transition from general education to the working world in Germany entails on

average a three-year vocational training period. The legal foundation of the

training system between general education schools and the working world

calls for a permanent dialogue and planning process, in which the

Bundesländer (federal states) and the federal government as well as

management and labor participate. Programs that are

limited in time and react to specific situations play a marginal role in this

system. Even during the baby boom period between 1975 and 1990 the dual

vocational training system proved to be astonishingly elastic. In 1984, for

example, 705,600 training contracts were signed. Today the figure is less

than 500,000.

The great decline in the training figures is based on a combination of

two factors. There has been a demographic downturn with three generations

(post-World War 1, post-Second World War, and the generation of the

1960s), all recording low birth rates. At the beginning of the 1990s, this

cumulative effect finally led to a deep decline in school-leavers and potential

applicants for traineeships. Decrease in the demand for traineeships

coincided with an economic recession and a period of reduced

industrialization in the new Bundesländer. Extensive rationalization

measures in industry and trade resulted in a great reduction in traineeships.

While the reduction in traineeships coincided with the demographic

downturn, this was contrasted with considerable demand for skilled labor.

During the phase of high demand for traineeships, the Bundesländer

and the federal government developed a comprehensive set of instruments

to eliminate the shortage of traineeships. Since 1973 the federal

government has been promoting the construction and maintenance of

industry-wide training centers (ÜA) that are part of company-based

vocational training. They are sometimes referred to as the third learning

site, in addition to the training enterprise and the vocational school.

During periods of high demand for traineeships or traineeship

shortages, the Bundesländer have given structural support in solving the

problem connected with the transition from school to the working world

through establishment and extension of vocational preparation schools (one

year ) (BVJ) and the basic school-based vocational training year (BGJ). The

basic vocational school year is a form of vocational training that integrates

theory and practice into the vocational school. It comprises the first year of

vocational training in twelve different occupational fields (e.g. metal

technology). The portion of the basic vocational school year devoted to

practice takes place in school workshops. The high investment,

maintenance, and constant modernisation costs for these workshops as well

as the additional personnel costs for instructors were rarely adequately

provided by the Bundesländer. For some branches of industry and in some

regions the basic vocational training year has thus regained its original

educational policy significance, namely because of improvement of the

quality of vocational training through closer linkage of vocational and

general education as well as through systematic basic vocational training.

When the training market was tight, the basic vocational training year

became a reservoir for young people without any training. The basic

vocational school year has not been able to compete with the dual vocational

training system during the first training year.

The vocational preparation year is useful to pupils who have not

received training contracts after completion of the general education school

requirements or have not received certificates of graduation from the

secondary modern school (“Hauptschule”). The establishment and extension

of a one-year vocational preparation phase for young people without

traineeships is therefore aimed at entry into vocational training (1st

threshold). Both forms of school have lost a great deal of their importance

by virtue of the traineeship market easing up since the end of the 1980s.

Instruction during the vocational preparation year is practical training

oriented. The basic vocational school year is very controversial from an

educational policy point of view since, in the opinion of critics, its existence

essentially results more from the lack of suitable traineeships than from

original shortcomings in the educational system.


It is incorrect to speak of school-to-work programs in The Netherlands

since separate programs do not exist as such, at least not in the formal

sector of the education system. However, for a number of years the Dutch

education system’s vocational sector has been very responsive to changes in

the labor market. These responses cannot be understood unless the

relationship between general and vocational streams within the education

system is clarified (Ministry of Education and Science, 1993). This

relationship has evolved over the last 20 years to the point where both

streams are currently regarded as complementary components of a single

coherent whole that serve a common purpose. Until the early 1980s,

opinions were heavily influenced by the ideal of equal opportunities with the

aim being to reduce differences between general and vocational education

as far as possible. However, more recently, interest has centered on

employment opportunities and the need to meet a demand for qualifications,

while more emphasis has been placed on the specific character of vocational


Vocational education differs from general education in its degree of

orientation towards particular sectors of the labor market. Its emphasis is on

applied knowledge rather than theory. General education is increasingly

considered as a transitional form of education, leaving more options for

further study and careers. The range of later occupational practice is much

more limited in vocational education, which is therefore considered more as

a form of final education (Ministry of Education and Science, 1993).

Vocational education became a major theme in the economic and

social debate beginning in the early 1980s. Business and industry gained a

decisive role in this field as a result of several stimuli. The first was the

report of the Wagner Committee in 1980, which recommended an increase in

the influence of business and industry by creating central as well as sectoral

consultative bodies. This influence was to be given in exchange for an

adequate supply of practical training and work experience placements. In

1990, the Rauwenhoff Committee expanded on the concept of shared

responsibility. Based on the Rauwenhoff report, central themes of the

agreement between employers’ and workers’ organizations and the

government were: (a) the achievement of at least a so called starting

qualification by all (potential) workers at a level comparable to the primary

level of the apprenticeship system, (b) the development of a national

qualification structure and an attainment target for each occupation by

tripartite consultative bodies, (c) joint initiatives between schools and

enterprises which are the most important means of gearing education to the

labor process (Dercksen & Van Lieshout, 1993), and (d) the integral

dualisation of vocational education, (e.g., the apprenticeship system).

Whether dualisation would help to ensure that courses at all levels of

vocational education respond flexibly to industry needs was severely

questioned and criticized by the Commissie Dualisering (1993). Dercksen &

Van Lieshout (1993) noted that currently selective dualisation exists, that

further dualisation possibilities are being examined, and that the principle of

integral dualisation has been rejected.

Another stimulus for business and industry to play a major role was the

Manpower Service Act which was introduced in January 1991. A key section

of this Act relates to the formulation of an administrative, financial, and

statutory framework within which central government and the social partners

can bear joint responsibility for implementing broad employment policies.

Aims include the preservation and expansion of employment and an

adequate supply of manpower. The framework’s tripartite structure consists

of representatives from employer, trade union, and central government

groups. It is based on a single planning structure for the formulation of

national employment policies. The general national policy outline is then

interpreted and implemented at regional levels. One of the main tasks of the

employment-strategy framework is to promote training, (e.g., training for

those seeking work). In this way it is hoped to harmonize the various

training programs and gear them more toward actual labor market needs

(Ministry of Education and Science, 1993).

VET courses and programs are presently offered at schools for pre-

vocational education (VBO), at schools for senior secondary vocational

education (MBO), within the apprenticeship system, at vocational colleges

(HBO) and universities (higher education), and at a broad range of

institutions for adult/continuing education. Each of these areas is described


In August 1993 the government introduced a new form of basic

education, which replaced the first two years of all types of secondary

education including junior secondary vocational education. The first two

years of pre-vocational education (VBO) are mainly devoted to general

subjects, whereas the last two years are vocationally oriented, with students

being able to choose from a maximum of 16 vocational options.

Following VBO or junior general secondary education (MAVO), senior

secondary vocational education (MBO) lasts for a maximum of four years.

A large-scale innovation introduced within MBO is the so-called SVM

operation (sector formation and innovation of senior secondary vocational

education). Apart from attempting to increase program efficiency, reduce

drop-out rates, and improve student progress; SVM operation fosters the

relationship between education and the labor market. Recently, MBO

schools have been merged, along with the apprenticeship system and

several types of adult education, into regional training centers (ROCs). The

last few years have seen an increased demand for senior secondary

vocational education. In 1991 MBO students numbered approximately

350,000 having nearly doubled since 1980. Since 1991 the number of MBO

students has remained stable. The practical training (i.e. internship)

component of MBO, which is a required part of every vocational program,

lasts approximately 200 days and is usually scheduled during the student’s

third year of study.

VBO completion is generally required for admission to the

apprenticeship system, along with additional requirements including

specific subjects and examination levels. The apprenticeship system

involves students spending one or two days a week at school and receiving

practical in-company training for the rest of the week. The primary training

program (initial course) within the apprenticeship system lasts two years,

whereas the secondary training program (continuation course) is an

additional year. After receiving a secondary level certificate a student can

continue on to the tertiary level. There are approximately 400 different

technical and non-technical occupations within the apprenticeship system.

In 1993, national apprenticeship bodies merged with the MBO

consultative bodies to form national bodies for vocational education. The

national bodies are responsible for “output” quality of secondary vocational

education and the apprenticeship system as well as for defining their

attainment targets and for setting and monitoring the examinations. Trends

in apprenticeship system participation are very sensitive to the state of the

economy: the higher the level of industrial activity, the more apprenticeship

firms will offer. In times of economic recession the opposite is true.

Enrollment in apprenticeship systems was approximately 150,000 students

in 1996, up substantially from 100,000 students in 1986.

For admission to higher vocational education (HBO), at least a MBO

diploma or a diploma of senior general secondary education (HAVO) is

necessary. As with other types of vocational education, HBO has gained

greater autonomy, both educationally and managerially. The increased

autonomy afforded HBO colleges has also changed relationships with the

business community: the HBO college itself is now responsible for setting

attainment targets. Most colleges set targets in consultation with the

business world by means of advisory councils. HBO education aims

principally at development of skills which are directly relevant to the world of

work. HBO courses can last up to four years and offer a so called first-phase

training program. For occupations with more demanding requirements,

second-phase postgraduate courses of variable duration are available. In

1991, HBO colleges enrolled 250,000 students, and recently, the number and

variety of HBO courses expanded considerably.

The current HBO curriculum normally includes internships where

students gain practical work experience through placement within a

company or institution. This is frequently a student’s first introduction to

actual working practice. The practical training ranges from 15 to 25% of the

total program. Students receive an expense allowance during the time they

spend in their internships. In addition, there are quite a number of part-time

HBO courses, where the practical training acounts to 50% of the content.

When students are working for at least 20 hours a week in a job relevant to

their course, the phrase “concurrency education” is used. Another HBO

innovation used to improve the transition from education to work is called

cooperative learning (CO-OP) where each four and six month period of

learning is followed by an equivalent period of work. The first year consists

of theory. Students prepare for their working period (and consequently the

labor market) by labor market orientation and application training.

Adult/continuing education can function in three ways (Dercksen &

Van Lieshout, 1993): First, as an intermediary support with different

vocational orientations (from general vocational to job-specific), it can be an

important instrument for starting or changing a career. Second, it can give

adults, especially ethnic minorities, a second chance. Third, it can contribute

to greater participation in the labor market. Although neither adult basic

education nor adult general secondary education directly prepare people for

the labor market, they can be prerequisites for admission to any of the

vocationally-oriented schooling programs. Vocational education for adults

includes the apprenticeship system, part-time secondary vocational

education, and specific training, e.g. courses via the National Employment

Agency (NBA) or the Regional Employment Agency (RBA).


Over the last twenty years, school-to-work transition has attracted

increasing attention in the United Kingdom1 . Until the sharp increase in

youth unemployment in the early 1970s, transitions followed a predictable

path with social background and parental occupation being the most

important determinants in aspiration and opportunity. Economic upheavals

and social change of the last twenty five years have seen the rise of

uncertainty and risk for young people and has placed a new focus on this

transition as not only the period in young peoples’ lives between the

completion of general school education but also the beginning of gainful

employment and the training systems, institutions, and programs that

prepare young people for employment after completion of school (Rauner,

1995). General economic recessions have been accompanied by profound

technological and structural changes in labor markets and in work processes.

At the same time, the social process of individualisation and the resultant

breakdown of traditional socialising institutions and agencies of social

reproduction have opened up an “infinite range of potential courses of

action” for young people and at the same time have created significantly

increased risks (Evans, 1994, p. 42). Transitions are increasingly disorderly

with the growing mismatch between aspirations, expectations, and

qualifications of younger generations and the employment opportunities

open to them leading to social conflict and to the growth of a youth culture

characterised by “introspection, psychological attachment to peers, concern

for the underdog, and interest in change” (Adamski, Grootings, & Mahler,

1989, p. 4).

Technological and structural changes in industry have led economists

and politicians to reassert the importance of a skilled workforce as a factor in

economic competition and advantage. The tendency to extend the period of

education and training, and thus the transition from school-to-work has been

accompanied by qualification incrementalism by employers in recruitment


For a significant number of young people, increased risk combined with

social disadvantage is experienced as marginalization and social exclusion.

As the segmentation of pathways becomes more complex leading to the

need for young people to develop individual occupational biographies,

support and advice structures become ever more important. However it

appears that the least support is available to those who most are in need

(European Commission, 1995).

Compulsory education in the UK ends at the age of 16 when most

students take a number of single subject graded examinations called the

General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). Whilst there is some

limited provision for pre-vocational school education under the National

Curriculum, this is primarily targeted at low achievers and students with

special learning needs. Careers advice and guidance is provided through

two different structures, through school based careers teachers and the

Training and Enterprise Council funded local careers service.

There are five main routes for progression post-16 embracing a

number of different modes of learning and a diversity of provider institutions.

There is no commonality between the different pathways which have

different methods of assessment and no shared core of general education,

although young people may frequently move in and out of different routes

(Green, 1992).

The first is an academic route leading to individual subject

examinations ‘A’ (Advanced) level at the age of 18 pursued either through

school or tertiary institutions. ‘A’ levels are traditionally targeted at the top

30% of achievers and serve as an entry qualification for university or

management training. Assessment is through written examinations.

However, over the last ten years there has been a rapid growth in the

numbers of students remaining in full time education after the age of 16

although last year there was for the first time as slight decline, possibly due

to an upturn in the labor market. One of the major transition trends in the

UK has been an unprecedented growth in university provision. There are

now over 150 universities in the UK with 1.5 million students representing a

growth of 250% over the last 25 years (Institute for Employment Studies,

1996). Over 700, 000 of these are full-time first degree students with

500,000 studying part time. Part of the increase has been due to increased

numbers of mature students returning to university, the proportion of young

people entering university currently standing at 33%. There is evidence to

suggest that university attendance is seen by significant numbers of young

people as a way of postponing transition to work.

The second mode of transition is through vocational education and

training delivered mainly by local further education colleges. Prior to 1988

there was a bewildering plethora of different vocational qualifications,

offered by independent examining and assessment bodies and by industry

based organizations. In 1988 the government established the National

Council for Vocational Qualifications to reform and modernise the

qualification system for vocational qualifications. The NCVQ instigated

Industry Lead Bodies for different occupational sectors with the remit of

establishing national standards expressed in terms of competencies and

associated performance criteria on a five rung hierarchy of qualifications.

When complete, there should be around 900 different National Vocational

Qualification routes. Assessment is mixed mode although formal validity is

stressed with emphasis on observation of performance in a range of tasks.

More recently the importance of underpinning knowledge has been

acknowledged in order to improve the reliability of assessment. NVQs have

no age or gender barriers, nor do they stipulate any prescribed form of

learning. Although designed for work-based learning and assessment, most

students are college-based with work placements or simulated work practice

providing practical training and opportunity for assessment. The

introduction of NVQs remains highly controversial with widespread criticisms

of the alleged low standards compared with other European vocational

training programs, the lack of knowledge requirements, and the unreliability

of the assessment process. NVQs are a purely vocational qualification and

students do not normally follow any general education curriculum. Whilst a

minority of students may achieve employed status prior to entering

vocational education and training the majority progress to employment

following their training and are heavily dependent on local labor market

conditions. A significant number of higher level vocational students progress

to university from further education.

More recently NCVQ has introduced the General National Vocational

Qualification (GNVQ). This pathway comprises 14 more broadly based

vocational routes providing a two year vocational and general education

foundation for students. Available at four different levels, assessment is

provided through a mixed mode which includes project work and written,

nationally administered, multiple choice tests. Although usually

incorporating a period of work placement, these qualifications are designed

to be delivered in a full-time education setting. The government has

attempted to establish the ‘equivalence of esteem’ between Level III GNVQs

and ‘A’ levels, referring to the new qualifications as vocational ‘A’ levels.

GNVQs also incorporate core skills in numeracy, communication, and the use

of information technology, with an optional extra in a modern language. It is

intended that GNVQs present young people with a transition path either to

more specific job related vocational training and thus to employment or as

an alternative route to university study.

A third transition mode is Youth Training. For young people choosing

to leave full-time education at the age of 16 the choice is more complicated.

Immediate transition into full-time employment is heavily dependent on local

labor markets with a general reduction in the availability of unskilled manual

work. With low wage differentials for skills in manual labor, early leaving is

seen as a rational choice. Despite the government’s goal that all young

people participate in some form of education until age 18, there is little

evidence that employers are providing such training. Since 1984, when the

proportion of employees participating in job-related training stood at just

under 10% of the United Kingdom’s workforce, that figure had only increased

to 15% in 1994 (Unwin & Wellington, 1995). Reliable information has been

more difficult to locate for 16-18 year olds. For those not wishing to continue

in full time education and training and unable to obtain employment, there is

a guarantee of a two year placement in Youth Training. There are two

different forms of Youth Training, one being industry-based and the other

non industry-based either with private or public sector training providers.

Funding for both forms is administered through the Training and Enterprise

Councils. There is no guarantee of employment at the end of either form of

training and whilst the firm-based provision has a slightly better reputation,

Youth Training has always suffered from an extremely poor image by young

people and parents. There has been sustained criticism of the low level of

training and qualifications actually provided and only 34% of participants

actually complete a full NVQ with most of these at the lowest levels (1 and 2)

(Unwin & Wellington, 1995). Non-industry YT is often seen as the choice if

nothing else is available, with young people continuing to aspire to a paid job

at the earliest possible opportunity. Once more the percentage entering YT

is dependent on local labor market conditions, higher proportions being

found in areas with high structural unemployment. For those failing to

obtain employment during or after a period of youth training, there is the

danger of long term unemployment and social exclusion from the labor


The new Modern Apprenticeship was launched in September, 1994

with apprenticeships being provided in 14 different industrial sectors. Until

the 1960s apprenticeship had been the main route for transition to skilled

employment but suffered dramatic collapse in the recession of the 1970s.

The new model differs from traditional apprenticeship in that formal training

is provided through further education colleges. The intention in the new

model is to provide training in both traditional and non-traditional sectors,

equally available to both men and women. The projected number of

apprenticeships was 150,000 across all industrial sectors but in 1994 there

were only 700 apprentices. In an initial evaluation, Unwin and Wellington

(1995) found that the vast majority of the apprentices were white and 88.7%

were male. Two sectors, Childcare and Business Administration, predictably

had few male apprentices. Three sectors, Agriculture, Engineering

Construction, and the Steel Industry were entirely male. One sector, Retail,

had equal numbers of males and females. The majority (72%) had been in

full time education prior to becoming apprentices and possessed above

average GCSE results. The survey uncovered considerable differentials in

pay with the highest paid occupational sectors in Marine and Engineering,

Agriculture, and Engineering Manufacturing and the lowest paid in Childcare.

They also reported a ‘hierarchy’ according to which employer the young

person was attached to (if any). Despite this, nearly all the apprentices felt

their work based route was ‘a cut above’ Youth Training. Many felt

themselves to be caught in the middle of the academic/ vocational divide. A

number had rejected ‘A’ levels as an option because of a perception that

employers preferred to recruit people with work experience.


The educational “system” in the United States serves as the basic

context for school-to-work transition. In actuality this educational system

consists of over 50 systems or one for each state, territory, and island.

However, many of the administrators and governing boards for the 14,000

plus school districts (A Quarter Century, 1996) across the United States

appear to hold a different view. Since these school districts have by most

other countries’ standards a tremendous amount of local autonomy,

residents of these localities do not necessarily attend to what state and

national officials say should be taught and/or how it is to be taught.

Depending on their particular governance structures, post-secondary

community and technical colleges likewise may or may not be sensitive to

directives emanating from state and national levels. This situation can be

both a blessing and a curse for the implementation of an educational reform.

One school district may take a proactive stance by implementing positive

change long before it is generally recognized as being of value. Another

district may be more reactive by choosing to lag behind everyone else in the

implementation process or just taking a wait and see attitude. Implementing

educational reform across the United States can thus present tremendous

challenges. As contrasted with centralized “ministry of education” models

found in most countries, educational change in the United States relies

mostly on federal and state money and mandates as incentives to affect

change at the local level. Money is typically available for short time periods

(e.g., one to five years) and requires states and localities to make significant

financial contributions to the change. This “carrot” approach to

implementing change can actually work very well but may cause change to

occur more slowly, thus resulting in some poorer school districts and

community and technical colleges beginning to implement a particular

change many years after it has been fully implemented by the wealthy ones.

In addition to decentralized educational governance, several factors

have contributed to the current status of school-to-work transition in the

United States. One of the factors that appears to have stimulated the

growth of school-to-work transition efforts is concern about the declining

position of the United States in the world economy (Finch, 1993). Over the

past ten plus years, numerous reports have been published stating that the

United States has been falling behind other countries in areas such as

productivity, product quality, customer satisfaction, and economic growth

(Carnevale, 1991). Most of these report recommendations have been

targeted at schooling and/or the workplace and called for major structural

changes and improvements. Concern about the need for these changes and

improvements has resulted in (1) major shifts in the ways businesses and

industries function and (2) implementation of national and state legislation

designed to more formally link education and the workplace.

A second factor is the perception that education may not be meeting

students’ future work needs. As Gray (1996, April, p. 530) notes, in the

United States during the next ten years “at least one-third of all graduates of

four-year colleges will not find employment commensurate with their

education. The outlook is even worse for those with graduate degrees.” This

situation, coupled with the dismal employment opportunities for high school

dropouts and high school graduates who have not developed highly

marketable talents, has caused educators, employers, and even entire

communities to realize that formal links between education and the

workplace are important.

Another factor is the growing view that schooling may actually be a

contributor to economic development (Berryman & Bailey, 1996). However,

before schooling can become a major contributor, it must undergo significant

changes. Here is where school-to-work transition enters the picture. Many

educators and employers have begun to recognize that in terms of the sub-

university degree labor market, education has neither met business and

industry needs nor the needs of students who want to obtain good jobs when

they graduate from high schools and community and technical colleges. This

recognition has enabled school-to-work transition to have more widespread

acceptance by those who are in the best position to implement this reform

(i.e., teachers, educational administrators, employers, community leaders,

and policy makers).

Traditionally, both educators and employers in the United States have

shown little concern about establishing a comprehensive school-to-work

transition system. And, until quite recently, most national level policy

makers have chosen to consider school and work as separate entities. The

transition between education and work has thus tended to occur more

informally, with limited financial incentives and support. Although federal

funding for vocational education has existed in the United States since 1917,

formal federal recognition of the need for national emphasis on school-to-

work transition originated with the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied

Technology Education Act of 1990 (Perkins II). This legislation, which is

grounded in the notion that the United States is falling behind other nations

in it’s ability to compete in the global marketplace, reflects the evolution of

federal support for vocational education. Among its various provisions, the

Perkins II legislation offers the states financial incentives to create and

operate education programs that have as their goal producing workers who

function more effectively and thus increase United States competitiveness in

the current and future international workplace. The Perkins II legislation

ushered in a new era of preparing students to enter and succeed in the

workplace. For example, this law shifted emphasis from reactive and rigid

vocational education curriculum and instructional models to those that

emphasize flexibility and collaboration. In contrast with earlier laws that

contributed to a wide separation between academic and vocational

education, the Perkins II legislation supported the integration of academic

and vocational studies. Also included in the Act were provisions for using

Tech Prep to formally link high school and post-high school technical studies

in creative ways. This landmark legislation appears to be having positive

and meaningful impact on students; however, it has also provided educators

with many implementation challenges.

More recently enacted legislation, termed the School-to-Work

Opportunities Act of 1994, has expanded on the proactive elements of

Perkins II by allowing states to combine federal education and job training

program money so more meaningful school-to-work programs and services

can be provided. In order to receive school-to-work funding, programs are

required to include three components: school-based learning, work-based

learning, and connecting activities that link the school- and work-based

activities in meaningful ways. The School-to-Work Opportunities Act is seen

by many as legislation that “brings it all together” to form a powerful

delivery system. However, since school-to-work efforts involve educators

and business, industry, public service, and community representatives in

running the system; organization, articulation, and collaboration activities

can be daunting. Even though the national school-to-work legislation has

been in effect for only a few years, several states passed similar legislation

that predates the national act. These states have had more time to begin

creating school-to-work programs that are more comprehensive than what

has existed in the past. This means school-to-work transition in the United

States includes some states and localities that have had over five years

experience with the reform. These early adopter states and schools have

learned much about school-to-work implementation. Others, however, are

just beginning to explore the implementation process.

Even though school-to-work transition in the United States has existed

for many years, programs have tended to rely on the expertise and creativity

of individual teachers rather than more comprehensive systems that enable

large numbers of students to benefit from the experience. Passage of the

Perkins II legislation and the School-to-Work Opportunities Act have, for the

present, formalized a national commitment to the school-to-work concept

and provided money so state and local educators can link with business,

industry, and the community. Although the movement is gaining

momentum nationally, a school-to-work system or set of systems is still at

more of an incubation stage than being fully grown and healthy. For some of

the states (early adopter states in particular), financial stimulation already

provided by the federal government may be enough to insure that

meaningful school-to-work systems established. Other states may not be as

fortunate. If they do not continue to receive federal funding in support of

school-to-work transition, progress on the implementation of this important

reform may slow down and eventually stop altogether. This would be

unfortunate since the school-to-work transition movement in the United

States has great potential to involve entire communities in the successful

preparation of future citizens and workers.


Many differences exist between the four countries in terms of STW policies

and practices. The most evident differences between the countries are


United States

 The VET system in the USA is characterized by its low formalization

level. The same holds for the STW transition configuration.

 The STW transition issue has only recently been formalized, and at

present receives much attention.

 Although there is no real comprehensive national structure for VET

and STW transition, national and state educational agencies have

adopted a stimulating policy.

 Educators as well as employers rely heavily on corporate Human

Resource Development for workers’ competence development.

 VET programs and STW transition approaches are performance-


United Kingdom

 The United Kingdom has internal differences (like the USA) but in

general there also exists a low formalization level of STW transition.

 STW transition has become an issue since the onset of mass youth


 There is intensive government intervention aimed at structuring the

VET system. Much emphasis is put on (general) national vocational

qualifications and modular training schemes for various subgroups

of adolescents.

 Many adolescents rely heavily on getting a job as soon as possible.

They perceive this as a higher priority then staying in an initial VET

program longer.

 As a consequence of this phenomenon, many subpopulations that

have had little further vocational education are characterized by a

low skills equilibrium.


 The German VET system and the STW transition practice is

characterized by a high formalization level.

 STW transition practice is connected to the Dual System. Students

first find an employer and a job, and then enroll in an

apprenticeship training program which is tightly regulated.

 Traditionally, skilled labor, the occupation, and the Dual System are

held in high esteem, not only at the bottom end of the job hierarchy

but at the top end as well (for example, one third of all university

graduates enroll in this system).

 There is a strong emphasis on formally regulated job training.

Training programs are developed according to nationally agreed

procedures, and employers and employee organizations must

approve these programs before they are officially recognized.

 because of the strength of vocational education and training there

is a high skills equilibrium throughout the working population.

 There is an explicit linkage policy: job requirements and training

content are carefully linked together.

The Netherlands

 As with Germany, there is a high level of formalization as to VET

and STW transition.

 The VET system is dominated by full-time vocational schools and

colleges at different levels.

 There is a well developed apprenticeship system for lower and

intermediate level jobs. The government follows an active

stimulating policy to let the apprenticeship system grow further,

which is difficult because the apprenticeship enrollment is

contingent upon fluctuations in the economy. The apprenticeship

system flourishes when the economy is doing well.

 There is a broad employability diploma culture. This means

students focus on pre-employment graduation.

 The government has decided to implement a national qualification

structure in which all VET programs are structured by domain,

duration, practical orientation, and educational level.

If a closer look is taken at the problems surrounding and solutions to

STW transition, than the comparisons become less complicated. Why did

countries choose certain solutions? Why did they not select others? Can

countries adopt solutions of other countries? To answer these questions, it is

important to analyze the factors related to STW transition approaches in the

different countries. A discussion of these factors is provided. However,

specific conclusions and answers to specific country questions must be left to

the reader.

The most important cause of STW transition problems is the

disconnection between the VET market on the one hand, and the labor

market on the other hand. The VET system creates a qualification

configuration. The way in which the VET system does this depends on three

categories of variables: the population characteristics, the architecture of

the STW transition configuration, and the level of national regulation. These

three variables strongly influence the supply of qualifications in a society.

Population characteristics that can be distinguished are, among others,

the general education level of students in VET programs, work ethics and/or

morale of students, and students’ career ambitions and perceptions of STW

transition’s importance. STW transition configurations vary according to the

level in which they are oriented toward the educational supply side, the

industrial demand side, or the Dual system. They also vary according to the

number of thresholds existing in the VET system. Regarding national

regulations, there are quite different general education laws, labor laws,

social security laws, and regulation policies. As can be seen in the country

descriptions, there are differences in the equal opportunities movement, the

prevention of social exclusion, the emphasis on high end labor market

relevant starting qualifications for all, the national qualification structure,

cooperation between schools and employers, the stance on comprehensive

dualization, and drop-out prevention policies.

Despite the variation in all these factors and the wide differences in

qualification configurations as to levels and labor market relevance, all

national systems must face the tensions that exist between the VET market

and the labor market. This is not only caused by imperfections at the

qualification supply side of the market. The qualification demand side also

shows various imperfections such as mass youth unemployment, uncertainty

in the articulation of future qualification needs, and labor substitution caused

by risk and cost reduction behavior of companies.

As for the labor market configuration, cross national variation is as

enormous as the variation in the VET market. For instance, qualification

requirements, wage structures, labor regulations, and tensions within the

labor market may differ considerably. Besides this, wide variations can be

perceived in organizational characteristics, human resource characteristics,

and the supra-organizational contextual configuration.

Regarding organizational characteristics, organizational visions and

functions, structures, strategies, systems, and cultures differ. As to human

resource characteristics, labor conditions, management, development

policies and practices, and support systems vary. And regarding the context

within which organizations are operating, markets, administrative

regulations, social economic developments, and politics differ. Despite these

differences, the overarching philosophy is that the VET system as a whole

and the STW transition as a specific field within this system contributes to

the economic performance of a nation.

There are several reasons for this. First, the VET system is more cost-

effective than employee education and training. This is mainly caused by

the fact that employee costs are the most important factor in the total costs

of employee education and training. And although VET infrastructure costs

are quite high, the costs per day per student are far less. This is also due to

the long periods of VET instruction students receive when they are enrolled

in initial programs. Employer costs of employee training and development

do not often exceed five percent of the working time, which is in most cases

less than ten days per annum. This excludes intensive career oriented VET

programs in which employees can enroll to get a higher qualification, that in

turn assists them in climbing the career ladder. In most cases employees

themselves carry the main burden of costs associated with these programs.

The belief that VET contributes to economic performance also varies

across countries. This belief is related to the strength and perceived added

value of the VET system as a whole. And it leads to the paradoxal situation

that when the VET system is weak, organizations choose a micro economic

solution of creating a qualification market: they do it themselves. In this

way, organizations are brought into a prisoner's dilemma: on one hand they

want to reduce their labor costs, which means that they should rely on the

externally provided qualification supply. But because this external supply is

not sufficient they need to invest in their employees, which is very

expensive. The willingness of organizations to invest in their human assets

is restricted further by the risk of losing well trained employees to the

competitor who may invest less in training and development, and therefore

have a better margin to pay higher salaries. So, investing in the VET

infrastructure is clearly a public responsibility.


As can be seen from the country descriptions and the analysis

described in this article, formalization of VET can be fruitful, but it does not

regulate STW transition nor does it solve its own problems. On the contrary,

it is striking to see the similarities between STW problems across the

countries that were selected. Apparently STW transition problems arise

independently from the formalization of VET. They result from tensions that

exist between the VET market and the labor market. It is especially the case

when the labor market is not regulated by formalization structures that exist

for the VET system. This is a characteristic that emerged in all four of the

countries that were examined. Countries that want to solve their STW

transition problems may choose to start with this conclusion: more effective

solutions to STW transition problems may be found in labor market

regulation than in the VET system. In any case, overcoming STW problems

must take the interaction of the VET system and the labor market system

into account. Various stakeholders from both sides should communicate and

cooperate to find new solutions for this perennial problem.


The term ‘social qualifications’ (social competence) is used in curricula for vocational training adopted by the
German Ministries of Education to designate the ability to perceive and comprehend social relations, situations,
spheres of interest and conflicts as well as to deal with social situations and come to an understanding in such
situations in a rational and responsible manner. This includes, in particular, the willingness to take on social
responsibility and show solidarity.

2Although the systems for school-to-work transition in Scotland and the North of Ireland are
broadly similar, there are significant differences in institutional and educational structures
and systems.


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