Vocational Training and Career EmploymentPrecariousness in Great Britain, the Netherlandsand Sweden Stockholm UniversityUniversity of NijmegenUniversity of WageningenEconomic and Social Research Institute, Dublin ABSTRACTThe skills, qualifications and credentials generated by educational systems are strongly related tolabour market attainment. The centrality of the educational system for the structuring ofindividuals’ life chances has generated a long-lived and intense debate around the proper design ofeducational systems. The purpose of this article is to examine whether vocational training providedwithin the educational system protects graduates against employment precariousness over the lifecourse. The extent and character of vocational training are related here to the transition from schoolto work, the risk of unemployment once established on the labour market, and the likelihood offinding new employment if unemployed. The data used consist of life history data from Great Britain,the Netherlands and Sweden. The results suggest that the impact of vocational training on labourmarket precariousness changes over people’s work career. Vocational training reducesprecariousness during the transition from school to work, whereas there is no difference in theimpact of general and vocational education on unemployment risk once established on the labourmarket. Instead, among those who do become unemployed there are indications that generaleducation may be more beneficial.
KEYWORDS: education, human capital, industrial restructuring, life course, school to work, skills,unemployment, vocational training 1. Educational systems and labour market
of educational systems and the career develop- attainment
ment of individuals. One area that has attracteda great deal of attention is the provision of voca- The skills, qualifications and credentials gener- tional training. More specifically, the question ated by educational systems are strongly related has been whether any secondary level vocational to labour market attainment. In industrialized training is desirable and, if so, how it should be countries, attainment measures such as wages, organized. In some countries, most notably the occupational status and unemployment all vary US, this discussion has mainly revolved around substantially according to educational level. The the basic usefulness of secondary level vocational centrality of the educational system for the struc- training. The question has been whether there turing of individuals’ life chances has generated should be any form of vocational training at this a long-lived and intense debate around the design level. In other countries, such as most European Acta Sociologica Copyright 2003 Scandinavian Sociological Association and SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA andol 46(1): 17–30[0001-6993](200303)46:1; 17–30; 032403 countries, the discussion has instead focused on where it can be tailored to the needs of the how vocational training should be organized, in employer and the capabilities of the employee.
particular the relative advantage of full-time vs The debate around vocational training has dual systems of vocational training.
also been fuelled by arguments related to the An important element in these debates has competitiveness of countries. Companies in the been concern over the school-to-work transition, industrialized world are claimed to be engaged in that is the problems students encounter upon the continuous development and adjustment of graduation (useful introductions to this literature high quality products and production processes.
are, e.g., CEDEFOP, 1998; Ryan, 1998, 2001).
This requires a highly skilled workforce in terms Difficulties in the early stages of a labour market of both specific occupational and general skills.
career are seen as leading to an increased risk of Throughout their careers, workers must be able subsequent unemployment and insecure employ- to acquire new skills, and will need to move ment. In addition, precarious labour market between jobs with different skill requirements entry is often believed to have potential repercus- (OECD, 1994; Soskice, 1991; Thurow, 1992).
sions in terms of increased psychological distress, This puts the focus on the educational system, in delayed family formation, increased criminality general, and the system of vocational training, and a general lack of social integration. The rela- in particular. Although situated at different tively high levels of job-to-job mobility and unem- levels, individual and national policy goals are ployment experienced by young people are thus intimately linked. This is most clearly demon- strated in discussions of the incentive structure The turbulence during the initial stages of facing pupils when they come to the end of com- labour market careers is here regarded as the pulsory schooling and have to choose whether to result of uncertainty on the part of employers as stay in education or find a job. Human capital to whether graduates from the educational investment in the form of general or vocational system possess the skills necessary to do the job.
Thus, reducing skill uncertainty is often a partly be motivated by perceived improvements primary motive for educational reformers, and in subsequent employment prospects (Soskice, proposals focus on an increase in the occu- pational specificity of education. Such voca- prospects is likely, the incentive for young people tional training can be either company or school to find training is reduced leading to a socially based systems with different strengths and weaknesses. Company based vocational training in the form of apprenticeships provides a high impact of education, in particular vocational degree of job-specific skills – something that may training, on individuals’ career employment simplify the school-to-work transition. However, prospects is a crucial aspect of the current the more broadly based training provided by debate. This of course implies that the relative schools may be more responsive to changes in strengths of different types of education should the labour market and thus more adequately be examined at different stages of the work serve students’ (long-term) career interests.
relationship between education and employ- aspects of secondary level vocational training, ment outcomes have examined this issue at only whether in the form of company or school based one stage of the life course, the transition from training, has been that high levels of mobility school to work (see, e.g., CEDEFOP, 1998; OECD, are inherent in the process of entering the labour market. Furthermore, shopping around for jobs is not only unavoidable, it is also produc- cational system geared towards vocational tive. Mobility is thus seen as a searching process training protects graduates against employment in which individuals acquire knowledge about risks over the life course. More specifically, the the labour market and about themselves, leading analyses focus on the risk of difficulties in to a better match between their productive the transition from school to work, the risk of capacity and the requirements of their jobs. This unemployment once established in the labour market, and the risk of long-term unemploy- expressed in terms of wage growth (Heckman, ment once workers find themselves without a 1994). Vocational training at the secondary job. The impact of education on labour market level could then be seen as a waste of resources.
vulnerability is studied using data from Great Training should instead take place on-the-job Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden. The Korpi et al.: Vocational Training and Career Employment Precariousness 19 education and training systems of these three From this perspective, people with higher countries differ in a number of respects, and the education are always in a more favourable results are therefore indicative of the extent to position on the labour market. Their attractive- which the impact of vocational training is ness makes them relatively secure at all stages of system dependent. Section 2 contains a review their labour market career. They tend to experi- of theories of education as a sorting mechan- ence less difficulties in the transition from school ism, and of hypotheses regarding the impact of to work, and also be less likely to experience education on employment precariousness at unemployment once they have gained a foothold various stages of the work life career. This on the labour market. Finally, if they do end up section also reviews the empirical evidence as unemployed, they are more likely to find new relating to the impact of vocational training. An employment. With regard to vocational training, overview of the educational systems of the three the theory implies that this is largely a waste of countries is provided in Section 3. The data and time and resources. Instead of the acquisition of analytical strategy are introduced in Section 4, specific skills of limited value, employment and the empirical results are presented in prospects would be better served by investments Section 5. The article ends with a summary and Job competition theory thus downplays the value of the job skills conferred by a particulareducational career. Nonetheless, the proposition 2. Training and careers – theory,
that on-the-job training is the only method of hypotheses and evidence
learning job relevant skills is of course debat-able. If it is assumed instead that some skills Education may affect individual labour market vulnerability in a number of ways. Educational acquired outside the company, the type of skills systems, and in particular systems of vocational taught in schools becomes crucial. One distinc- training, place students in specific institutional tion here is between general and specific skills as contexts structuring the transition from school defined by human capital theory (Becker, 1964): to work (see, e.g., Ashton, 1997; Müller and general skills are transferable between different Shavit, 1998; Rosenbaum et al., 1990).
contexts, while specific skills are relevant to a However, for proponents of the skill develop- ment/career flexibility perspective, two other factors would seem to be of greater importance.
hired from the external labour market rather On the one hand, the educational system confers than trained internally, costs may be external- skills, either in the form of general skills such as ized to some extent. Hiring becomes a question reading, writing and arithmetic or in the form of of finding the person with the right skills for the specific vocational skills; on the other hand, edu- job, thereby lowering training costs as much as cational degrees may also signal ‘trainability’ – possible. The type as well as the level of edu- that is, indicate the ease with which an indi- cation now becomes important, and the skills acquired while in vocational training may serve The possibility that education is used by as a comparative advantage in the competition employers as a signal of trainability is a central for jobs. However, it should be noted that this factor in job competition theory (Arrow, 1973; only applies to some jobs, namely those requir- ing skills obtained in training. When it comes to required to do a particular job are seen as being other jobs, vocational training may instead extremely job specific, so specific that almost all signal additional training costs. Applicants with job relevant training takes place on the job. Any a vocational degree may thus be perceived as job skills taught in schools are consequently lacking the general learning skills often associ- deemed largely irrelevant. Instead, education ated with non-vocational training. For those signals the extent and ease to which an indi- with vocational degrees searching for jobs vidual may be trained on the job; that is, it indi- beyond the limits of their training, their degree cates the costs associated with training the may turn out to be a disadvantage rather than person in question. More education is thus an indication of lower training costs. This, in turn, places an individual in a more favourable importance of the role of educational qualifi- position in the competition for jobs, providing a cations as a signal either of general trainability position closer to the front of the job queue.
or of the possession of specific skills. This idea may in turn be related to educational systems, The extent to which vocational training actually and used for the formation of hypotheses regard- provides an advantage over people’s work career ing differences in the relationship between is not clear. Analyses of the association between qualifications and career employment risks in various countries. If schooling only sorts out market attainment are relatively rare. There are, young people in respect to trainability, those with of course, a large number of studies on people the lowest levels of educational qualifications who return to education, yet most of these focus will be the ones with the greatest precariousness, on the impact of the level of education on wages.
whatever the contents of the educational system.
There are also a number of studies on the role of If, on the other hand, vocational training also pro- education in intra-generational class mobility.
vides some job relevant skills, educational systems Nonetheless, in general, these studies do not that focus on vocational skills may protect grad- examine the specific transitions underlying the uates from labour market precariousness.
aggregate patterns observed. The existing com- One could thus hypothesize that the specific parisons of educational systems as well as those skills that trainees acquire in the course of of systemic differences within countries have company based training programmes or clearly tended to focus on the school-to-work transition, defined occupational courses may increase the with special interest attached to the impact of possibilities of gaining employment. A high degree of specific training would then be associ- One interesting study of the importance of ated with lower risks of entering unemployment the educational system for labour market tran- at the time of labour market entry.1 Within each sitions is that of Allmendinger (1989). She examined the impact of education, measuredboth as years of schooling and as degree H1 Among people with the same level of education, attained, in the US, Norway and the former West those with vocational training are less vulnerable in Germany. Studying the transition from school to the early stages of their occupational career. work and the extent of later job-to-job mobility,Allmendinger found education was associated This initial difference in unemployment risks with significantly greater mobility in the US than may however be reversed in later stages of the in the other two countries. This she mainly career. The limited transferability of skills may ascribed to the lack of vocational training and lead, for example, to a greater risk of unemploy- great variability of the American educational ment later in people’s life course. Structural change may thus make some (company) specific skills obsolete – something less likely to happen mendinger, Müller and Shavit (1998) studied to general skills. Likewise, among those who the relationship between educational qualifi- become unemployed, the limited transferability cations and various labour market outcomes in of company based skills may lead to greater diffi- the transition from school to work in 13 coun- culties in finding new employment.2 Thus: tries. Although their general conclusion echoesAllmendinger’s, i.e. that the effects of education H2 Among people with the same level of education, differ depending on institutional context, they those with vocational training are more vulnerable in found little variation in the relationship between later stages of their occupational career. education and unemployment in the course ofthe transition from school to work. In almost all These hypotheses are based on the effect of some countries, a higher level of education was associ- vocational training versus none. However, a ated with a lower risk of unemployment. Like- second issue is the impact of different types of wise, in almost all countries, vocational vocational training. In line with H1 and H2, it education lowered the risk of unemployment more than general education. Exceptions in thelatter case were the US and Ireland, two coun- H3 Among students with vocational training, those tries with little vocational training, in which with a more specific training will experience a vocational education seemed on a par with smoother transition from school to work. Related to this literature is the research on H4 Among students with vocational training, those the impact of various forms of vocational train- with a more specific training are more vulnerable in ing on early labour market attainment. Elias et the later stages of an occupational career. al. (1994) studied the wages of secondary school Korpi et al.: Vocational Training and Career Employment Precariousness 21 graduates (approximate age 23) in Great Britain Increasing specificity may thus have some short- and Norway. While there was little variation in term advantages, yet there are indications that wages between different, primarily school based, these quickly evaporate. However, so far there vocational training courses in Norway, the com- are no signs of specific training turning into a pletion of an apprenticeship was associated with a higher wage in Great Britain. A similar earlyadvantage is reported by Winkelmann (1996a).
He compared the probability of employment and 3. The institutional background –
unemployment immediately after the acqui- education and training in Great Britain,
sition of a degree in Germany. The risk of unem- the Netherlands and Sweden
ployment was substantially lower among thosehaving completed an apprenticeship than The theoretical discussion highlights the poten- among those having obtained any other qualifi- tial importance of the contrast between general and specific training. As noted earlier, this distinction can be applied to both general vs training does affect early labour market attain- vocational education and to company vs non- ment, and that attainment improves as the company specific vocational training. This specificity of training increases. Nonetheless, division may in turn be used to categorize this conclusion is to some extent challenged by different educational courses, as well as edu- results from analyses of long-term effects of cational systems in general. The focus here is on the extent and type of vocational training pro- (1996b) studied the earnings effect of appren- vided by the course/system. While most edu- ticeships vs other forms of secondary school cational systems include general as well as vocational training in Germany. In contrast to vocational training, there is much variation in the results found on the impact on immediate the extent to which vocational training is post-school employment reported earlier, he emphasized and the way it is structured. One can found no differences between the various forms of vocational training. On a similar note, systems that emphasize general skills and those Harhoff and Kane (1997) compared the earn- that stress specific skills; the latter may in turn ings of secondary school graduates in the US be subdivided into company specific skills and and Germany. While the latter is known for its general occupational skills. In the case of apprenticeship/dual system of vocational edu- company specific and general occupational cation, the former has very little vocational skills, the relative emphasis is visible in the education at the secondary level. Nonetheless, amount of training that is carried out within despite these systemic differences, they found no companies as well as in the amount of influence differences in earnings and the development of business has on the training carried out within schools. While vocational training in almost all educational systems includes some company initially, these results would seem to indicate that specific training, some systems include more of the content of the educational system is of rather limited significance; the impact of various types of education is basically the same across produced a fairly homogeneous educational systems. However, Harhoff and Kane (1997) system.3 This was particularly the case in com- noted that their result of very similar wage pulsory schooling, that is up to the age of 16, effects of education in Germany and the US may where the curriculum was largely identical for be the result of very different mobility patterns.
all students. Furthermore, educational tracks Wage gains in the German context may thus be within the secondary level were limited in the outcome of low mobility and tenure based number and focused on either traditional aca- wage increases. In the context of the US labour demic subjects or on broad vocational skills. The market, wage increases may on the other hand latter were almost exclusively taught within the be the result of high mobility and resulting job confines of school, actual company based train- wage gains (cf. the conclusions of Allmendinger, ing periods being of fairly short duration. Apart from vocational skills, these tracks also included general skills such as reading and writing. As for cational systems matter in relation to some apprenticeships, they did exist but only in small outcome variables, but not in relation to others.
numbers.4 The division between vocational and academic tracks was also part of university level particularly interesting system difference with education, with vocational skills again taught regard to intermediate level vocational training in the Netherlands and Sweden; whereas the In contrast, the educational system of the Swedish system was designed to generate fairly Netherlands is more differentiated, with sub- broad occupational skills, the Dutch system has stantial tracking and a number of specialized been claimed to produce more narrow skills. A vocational skills being taught. This system has comparison of the Dutch and Swedish results also been in place since the late 1960s. An could consequently be indicative of the impact of important branching off point lay within com- the degree of specificity in vocational training.
pulsory schooling at age 12. At this point, It may also be noted that when it comes to students choose between educational tracks educational reform, the period between 1975 leading either to university education or voca- and the early 1990s was a period of relative con- tional training. Like vocational education in the stancy in the Netherlands and Sweden. This is Swedish system, vocational training in the therefore the period under analysis in this Netherlands was mainly carried out on school article. A comparison of the prevalence of voca- premises. However, whereas vocational skills in tional education in Great Britain, the Nether- the Swedish system were primarily broad occu- lands and Sweden during these two decades can pational skills, the skills taught within the voca- be found in Table 1. This shows the distribution tional tracks in the Netherlands were much of educational degrees in the three data sets used more specialized. Vocational training in the in our analyses, classified according to the Netherlands has indeed been said to lead to a CASMIN schema (both the data and the edu- degree of occupational specificity on a par with cational classification are described later in more the apprenticeship systems of Germany and detail). As is clear from the two rows at the Switzerland (Müller and Shavit, 1998).5 In bottom of the table, while the overall figures for the Netherlands and Sweden were very similar, common than in Sweden. The tertiary system the extent of vocational training provided within finally encompassed both vocational and tra- the British educational system differed markedly from that of the Dutch and Swedish. Whereas slightly more than half of the students left the changed more than the other two during the last latter two systems with a vocational degree of decades. After the reforms of the mid-1960s, some sort, this was only the case with a third of students were tracked at the age of 11 years.
Tracking here mainly consisted of the choice between a high and a low level general track.6 mainly to be due to the large number of students The high level track led to graduation at age 18, leaving British schools with only the lowest level often followed by university education. The low of education, here labelled elementary general.
track led to graduation at 16, and did not provide At the intermediate level, the proportion with for higher level education. Up until the mid- vocational training in the three countries is 1980s, both tracks were general in character.
roughly equal. Finally, a notable difference at the Vocational skills were obtained through appren- tertiary level is the relatively large number of ticeships outside the educational system. These Dutch students with a vocationally oriented were quite common, yet often failed to provide a formal qualification. However, in the first half ofthe 1980s, industrial restructuring reduced thenumber of apprenticeships outside the edu- 4. Data and method
cational system and further reforms made itpossible to acquire some vocational qualifi- The analyses here focus on the impact of edu- cations as part of the lower track.7 As was the cational qualifications on employment precari- case in Sweden and the Netherlands, there are ousness in three different educational systems.
both vocational and academically oriented The data used come from four different represen- tative surveys. The data from Great Britain come The education and training systems of the from the Employment in Britain survey carried out three countries thus differ in a number of in 1992 with data on c. 4800 individuals (Gallie respects, and the results are indicative of the et al., 1998). The data for the Netherlands are extent to which the impact of vocational train- part of the survey Households in the Netherlands, a ing is system dependent. In addition, there is one survey based on c. 3300 respondents carried out Korpi et al.: Vocational Training and Career Employment Precariousness 23 Table 1. Vocational training in Great Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden: graduates between 1975 and approx. 1992 (% bycountry and educational level) Sources: Employment in Britain, Households in the Netherlands, Swedish Level of Living Survey, 1991.
in 1995 (Kalmijn et al., 1996). Finally, the and 32 years of age at the time of graduation.
Swedish data come from two surveys. The first is The date of graduation here refers to the date of the 1991 wave of the Level of Living Survey, the receipt of the highest educational degree.
Interest has centred on the length of time it takes (Jonsson and Mills, 2001). Since there were only to find a stable foothold in the labour market after a very limited number of unemployment spells graduation. Rather than examining the rate of observed in this data set, the data from the Level transition into any job, a certain employment of Living Survey in the analysis of re-employment stability has been required for the transition to have been augmented with data from the Longi- work to be considered successful. In this analysis, tudinal Study among Unemployed. This is a sample the dependent variable is the rate of transition of c. 650 individuals who were unemployed in into a job lasting at least 12 months, with dura- 1992 and followed up in 1993 (Sidebäck and tion measured between school exit and employ- ment entry. Although a lower limit for stable employment of 12 months is somewhat arbi- course surveys carried out in the early to mid trary, it would at least seem to guarantee that a fair degree of employment stability has been detailed information on the educational career obtained. Finally, periods of military service have of the respondents. The surveys also contain been excluded from the period at risk, and the work histories covering the full work career, and spells have been censored at 36 months.11 distinguish between all periods of employment The subsequent analysis focused on the risk and unemployment with events recorded on a of becoming unemployed once such a foothold monthly basis.9 There is thus a high degree of had been established. People at risk were those comparability with respect to the type of infor- who left school no earlier than 1975 and no later than the year of the survey, who graduated In accordance with the different hypotheses between 16 and 32 years of age, and who had presented earlier, the analysis deals with the found a stable job. That is, the analysis does not transition from school to work, the risk of measure the risk of unemployment at very early unemployment once established on the labour market, and finally the possibility of finding new variable has been the rate of transition into employment if unemployed. These transitions unemployment (with a duration of at least one have all been analysed using Cox proportional between entry into stable employment and entry In the analysis of the school-to-work tran- sition, people at risk were all those who left The final analysis examines the re-employ- school no earlier than 1975 and no later than ment probability among those becoming unem- the year of the survey and who were between 16 ployed after having established themselves in the labour market. People at risk thus all left school validity problems inherent in the use of such no earlier than 1975 and no later than the year classifications. One drawback with the CASMIN of the survey, graduated between 16 and 32 scale is that the distinction between general and years of age, and became unemployed after vocational education not only involves a differ- having found a stable job. Again, this excludes entiation according to the type of training, but the very early stages of the work career. The also often one of the quantity of training. This is dependent variable is the rate of transition from most clearly evident at the elementary level, the first spell of unemployment and into employ- where vocational training involves some train- ment, and the duration of the spell is that of the ing in addition to compulsory schooling. It is also period of unemployment. Here, spells have again the case at the tertiary level, where vocational training would seem to be associated with less training. However, the problem would seem to be events conditional on previous career events (i.e.
less acute at the secondary level, in part because finding stable employment after leaving school, general education there is partitioned into a low and a high level. The CASMIN scale would there- employment, and finding new employment after fore appear appropriate in the present context, becoming unemployed). For each of these three since much of the debate about vocational train- transitions, a common model for all three coun- ing has focused specifically on the secondary tries has been estimated. This allows the differ- level. Nevertheless, these issues should be kept in ences between general and vocational training within as well as between countries to be tested As for other factors influencing the various statistically. National variations in the business transitions, sex, immigrant background, age, cycle have been taken into account through the social class and employment experience were inclusion of time varying measures of the stan- taken into account in the analysis. Age was dardized unemployment rate as measured by the measured either at the entry into the labour OECD. In addition, country dummies have been force, entry into stable employment, or entry used as controls for other national factors influ- into unemployment. Ethnicity was defined as encing the transitions. These models have been having at least one parent with non-native estimated separately for men and women. As is citizenship. Social class refers to a five-class the case in the vast majority of these types of version of the EGP class scheme which distin- studies, the lowest educational category in each guishes between self-employed, service, routine country has been used as a reference point; that is, the transition rate of the least qualified has provided the baseline against which the mobility entry, class was measured as a time varying vari- of other educational categories has been com- able indicating class of present job. In the analy- ses of unemployment exit, class was measured As noted earlier, the level and type of edu- as class of last job. Finally, employment experi- cation here refers to the highest degree obtained.
The basis for the categorization of educationaldegrees is the so-called CASMIN schema forcomparative classification of educational levels 5. Education and employment risks during
(Müller et al., 1989). This schema was developed the work career
as an explicit attempt to arrive at a comparativeeducational scale, and focuses on the hierarchi- 5.1 The school-to-work transition
cal differentiation of general education as well as The impact of education on the school-to-work the distinction between general and vocational transition in the three countries is examined in education.12 The seven-category version of the Table 3. This table shows the results from two CASMIN schema was used (see Table 2). This dis- models, a basic model with the variables edu- tinguishes between three levels of education; cation, country, national unemployment rate, elementary, secondary and tertiary. At all three sex, ethnicity and age as well as an interaction levels, it separates between general and voca- model in which the basic model has been aug- tional education and, at the secondary level, a mented with an education–country interaction.
further distinction is made between lower and The basic model shows the transition rate increasing with educational level. The increase is While this type of scale is a prerequisite for systematic, but non-linear. The advantage associ- comparative analyses, there are always potential ated with increasing education attainment is Korpi et al.: Vocational Training and Career Employment Precariousness 25 Table 2. The CASMIN educational schema This is the social minimum of education, i.e. the minimal level that individuals areexpected to have obtained. It generally corresponds to the level of compulsoryeducation.
Basic vocational training above and beyond compulsory schooling.
All types of secondary school programmes in which general intermediateschooling is combined with vocational training.
Academic or general tracks at the secondary level.
Full maturity certificates (e.g. Abitur, Matriculation, Baccalauréat, A-levels).
Lower level tertiary degrees, generally of shorter duration and with a vocationalorientation (e.g. technical college diplomas, social worker, or non-universityteaching certificates).
The completion of a traditional, academically oriented university education.
Source: From Müller and Shavit.
Table 3. Education and the rate of transition from school to stable employment in the Netherlands, Sweden and Great Britain:Cox regression (SEs in parentheses) Notes: Stable jobs are jobs lasting at least 12 months. Figures pertain to those who left school no earlier than 1975,and who were between 16 and 32 years of age at the time of graduation. Total spells = 5023 (GB = 2223, NL = 1950,S = 850), total number of failures = 4118 (GB = 1850, NL = 1504, S = 764). Spells censored at 36 months.
Transition rates for the interaction model calculated from the education, country, and education and countryinteraction terms included in the regression. In addition to education and country, the models also include thevariables national unemployment rate (time varying), sex, ethnicity, and age.
thus only perceptible within ‘educational type’.
than graduates with general degrees. Within The gradient is strongest within general edu- each educational level, the transition rate cation, and it is also here that the stepwise associated with vocational training is higher increase is most clear-cut. The only difference than that for general education. The p value for within vocational education that is fairly well equal effects, a conservative test given that the established is that between the elementary and hypothesis is that the transition rate for voca- the tertiary level (p for equal effects = .08). In tional training is greater than that for general contrast, apart from the distinction within the education, is in most cases below .01. The only intermediate level, all differences related to exception is at the tertiary level, where no general education are significant at or below this significant difference was found. Nonetheless, the p value for a combined test of equal effects It is also clear from Table 3 that vocational at the intermediate and tertiary level was less students find stable employment somewhat easier than .01, so the hypothesized individual level difference between vocational and general edu- 5.2 The subsequent risk of unemployment
Turning to the risk of unemployment, Table 4 displays the impact of education on the risk of (cross-country) effects of vocational and general experiencing at least one spell of unemployment education are broken down into within-country after becoming established on the labour market.
effects. With some exceptions, these results Two models are again presented, a basic additive corroborate the conclusions from the basic model and one with an education–country model and a LR-test also indicates that the edu- interaction term included. In addition to the cational effects are identical in the three coun- education and country variables, both models tries (p = .17). In particular, these results show also incorporate the variables sex, ethnicity, age, that the advantage associated with vocational the national unemployment rate (time varying) training tends to be evident within each country.
and social class (also time varying).
In almost all cases, the estimate relating to voca- tional training indicates a higher rate of tran- association between education and mobility.
sition than the estimate for general education at There is a clear inverse relationship between level of education and risk of unemployment, The statistical significance of these differ- both in general and within educational type. The ences varies. At the elementary level, the differ- gradient again appears more pronounced within ences are unequivocal in Great Britain and the general education, yet the differences within Netherlands but not in Sweden. At the inter- vocational education are also fairly well estab- mediate level, they are clear in Sweden but not in lished. Apart from the distinctions between Great Britain and the Netherlands. At the tertiary elementary and intermediate vocational and level, there is no clear difference between voca- between lower and higher intermediate general tional and general education within any of the all differences are significant at or below the 5 three countries. Although the level of signifi- cance in each individual comparison is less than The distinction between general and voca- desired, the fact that the transition rate associ- tional education is instead of less importance.
ated with vocational training is higher in all three While the risk of unemployment in most cases is countries and at all levels would seem to indicate greater among graduates with general degrees, that graduates with vocational training do find rather than the hypothesized advantage of stable employment quicker than those with a general over vocational education, these differ- comparable level of general education.
ences are not clearcut. The p value for the com- bined test of equal effects at the intermediate related to the rate of transition into stable and tertiary level (see note 12) is .36. Edu- employment, although in a manner contrary to cational level thus remains important, edu- that tentatively hypothesized. Rather than the graduates from intermediate level vocational training in the Netherlands having a higher been broken down into country specific edu- transition rate into stable employment than cation effects. These interaction results show their Swedish counterparts, the results suggest much the same pattern as those obtained with the opposite. However, this result is associated the basic model, and the LR-test again indicates with large uncertainty (the p value for equal that the educational effects are equal in the effects is .26), indicating that the transition rates three countries (p = 0.29). The only instance where a clearly lower unemployment risk is associated with general education is at the men and women separately (results not shown).
intermediate level in Sweden. In none of the These results basically reiterate the ones dis- remaining comparisons is there evidence of an cussed earlier. Among both men and women, unequivocally lower unemployment risk for there is a tendency for transition from school to work to become easier with increasing edu- cational level. Likewise, among both sexes there Swedish systems of intermediate level vocational is a tendency for graduates with vocational train- training also run counter to what was conjec- ing to find stable employment earlier than grad- tured. Rather than Dutch graduates having a uates with general education. Although evident higher risk of unemployment, they run a lower among both sexes, these trends are on the whole more explicit among women than among men.
Again, separate analyses have been carried Korpi et al.: Vocational Training and Career Employment Precariousness 27 out for men and for women (not shown) and unemployment. In addition to the education and country variables, the two models pre- effects again corresponds fairly closely to the sented in Table 5 include the variables sex, eth- overall effects presented in Table 4.
nicity, age, the national unemployment rate(time varying), and social class of last job.
5.3 The probability of re-employment if
Before examining the results, it should be noted unemployed
that unemployment is a rather rare event in the Netherlands and Sweden and that, as a conse- the probability of finding a new job in case of quence, the number of observations is limited in Table 4. Education and the risk of unemployment in the Netherlands, Sweden and Great Britain: Cox regression (SEs in paren-theses) Notes: Figures pertain to those who left school no earlier than 1975, who were between 16 and 32 years of age at thetime of graduation, and had found a job lasting at least 12 months, within 36 months after graduation. Total spells =4300 (GB = 1828, NL = 1612, S = 860), total number of failures = 754 (GB = 583, NL = 109, S = 62). Transitionrates for the interaction model calculated from the education, country, and education and country interaction termsincluded in the regression. In addition to education and country, the models also include the variablesunemployment rate (time varying), sex, ethnicity, age, and class (time varying).
Table 5. Education and the rate of re-employment in the Netherlands, Sweden and Great Britain: Cox regression (SEs in paren-theses) Notes: Figures pertain to those who left school no earlier than 1975, who were between 16 and 32 years of age at thetime of graduation, had found a job lasting at least 12 months within 36 months after graduation, and later becameunemployed. Total spells = 774, number of failures = 525 (GB = 399, NL = 69, S = 57). Spells censored at 36months. Transition rates for the interaction model calculated from the education, country, and education andcountry interaction terms included in the regression. In addition to education and country, the models also includethe variables unemployment rate (time varying), sex, ethnicity, age, class, and experience.
these two countries. This introduces an extra 6. Discussion: education and employment
degree of uncertainty into this analysis and also precariousness
prevents a more detailed analysis of educationat the tertiary level, as well as the estimation of The impetus for this article came from the strong association between educational qualifications analysis will therefore be primarily explorative and subsequent labour market attainment, as well as from the ongoing lively debate in many Regarding the educational effects there countries about the design of the educational is a clear positive relationship between re- system. Against this background, the purpose of employment probability and educational level.
this article has been to examine the importance It is difficult to judge the relative strength of the of the extent and type of national vocational relationship within vocational as opposed to training for employment risks over the life course.
general educational, as data limitations necessi- The results show substantial differences in tated the merger of the two categories at the employment precariousness among graduates in Great Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Of particular interest, however, is the fact As is well known from previous research, pre- that the bonus associated with vocational cariousness is generally inversely related to edu- training now seems to have vanished completely.
cational attainment. This is the case for both the At the elementary level, there is no clear advan- risk of unemployment as well as the risk of tage attached to vocational training, even becoming long-term unemployed and, to some though it generally implies more education. In extent also, for the school-to-work transition. In addition, at the intermediate level the point esti- other words, the stratification of the educational mates suggest that general education is associ- system and individuals’ attainments within this ated with a higher re-employment rate than system is consistently related to precariousness vocational training. While this result is far from at various stages of the work career.
decisive (p value for the conservative test of In contrast, the results from the analyses equal effects is .35), in the light of the limited suggest that the impact of vocational training on number of observations, this would nevertheless labour market precariousness varies over the suggest some weak support for the original work career. The basic hypothesis in this article has been that a greater degree of specific train- The country specific effects show that in ing would be advantageous at the initial stage of all three countries the positive association a career, as it would give a clear indication of skills when other information was lacking.
employment is more distinct in the case of However, in later stages more general training vocational than general education. Although would indicate a greater potential for skill acqui- the LR-test indicates that the hypothesis of sition, a useful signal when career flexibility is equal educational effects in the three countries required. While data limitations prevent a con- cannot be rejected (p = .47), the interaction clusive analysis, the results are still suggestive of such a shift in relative advantageousness over general education is associated with a higher exit rate in both Great Britain and Sweden. It is Thus, at the start of a work career, any form only in the Netherlands that this is not the case.
of vocational training is beneficial. However, The Great Britain and Swedish results indicat- once employed, the type of training previously ing a higher exit rate for general education are acquired is of little importance. Somewhat sur- primarily suggestive, in particular in the prisingly, there is a reduced unemployment risk Swedish case with p values for equal effects related to narrow vocational training. This may being .10 in Great Britain and .49 in Sweden.
indicate that the skill investment associated with Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that, in company specific training offers some additional the only country in which there are a sizable protection against unemployment. Finally, number of observations, general education at general education appears to gain in importance this stage of the career appears more beneficial during unemployment and, to some extent, this than vocational training. The final hypothesis also applies to broad occupational training. This involved intermediate level vocational training may imply that flexibility and/or trainability in the Netherlands and Sweden. The transition facilitate employment in new occupations.
rate here is substantially higher in Sweden In a sense, this interpretation of the results is (p value for equal effects = .08).
very traditional. General education may provide Korpi et al.: Vocational Training and Career Employment Precariousness 29 numerous transferable but few specific skills, 4. While there have been no great changes at the compulsory broad occupational training supplies both trans- level, substantial changes have taken place at the secondarylevel in the late 1990s.
ferable and specific skills, while narrow company 5. Again, as in Sweden, in the Netherlands there were some and job specific training offers many specific but noticeable changes at secondary level in the late 1990s.
few transferable skills. This interpretation also 6. Prior to the development of the comprehensive school, these corresponds quite well to earlier results. As in tracks corresponded to the grammar and the secondary previous research, this article has shown that modern school. However, the tracking at age 11 remainedthe same within the comprehensive school, as the O-level vocational training does affect employment and A-level exams and the corresponding difference in prospects upon graduation. Furthermore, for the large group of individuals who manage to 7. Like the secondary system in the other two countries, the establish themselves on the labour market and system in Great Britain also went through a number ofchanges in the early 1990s.
8. In addition to the public educational system, there is a impact of vocational training is evident. In significant elitist system of private schools.
contrast, no previous research on the relative 9. In the Swedish case, the work histories in the LLS and the impact of vocational training among unem- LSU cover the career of the respondents from their first job ployed has been discovered, and these results 10. In addition, Weibull and Loglogistic hazard rate models have suggest some potentially interesting trade-offs been estimated, yielding the same basic conclusions as those between general, broad occupational and nar- 11. As the Swedish work histories start with the first job lasting In the light of the large literature on the six months, episodes of military service falling betweengraduation and the six-month job have not been recorded.
However, information on military service is found in 33 systems, it is interesting to note in this context percent of the male work histories, and in an additional 19 that in none of the three analyses was the percent of the cases, the work biography started prior to hypothesis of equal effects rejected. Rather than graduation. Nonetheless, this is likely to lead to an overesti- documenting differences. these analyses thus mate of the transition period among Swedish males, some-thing which should be kept in mind when interpreting the It should nevertheless be noted that this 12. The schema was developed within the project Comparative interpretation is somewhat speculative. The Analyses of Social Mobility in Industrial Nations, hence the results are not always unambiguous and, in 13. That is a test of the combined hypothesis Int. voc = Int. low.
particular, the analysis of unemployment in the gen., Int. voc. = Int. high. gen., and Tert. voc. = Tert. gen.
Netherlands and Sweden would have benefitedfrom greater sample sizes. Additional infor-mation on the type of training obtained by voca-tional students would also have been desirable.
The work on this paper was initiated as a part of the project
Nonetheless, this is a first analysis along these ‘Employment Precarity, Unemployment, and Social Exclusion’ lines and, if nothing else, the results would seem funded by the EU under the Targeted Socio-Economic Research to call for further research. In addition to Programme. See Gallie and Paugam (2000) for other results. In addressing the shortcomings of the data, future addition to the project members, we would like to thank Markus research could examine alternative outcomes Gangl and Lena Schröder as well as two anonymous reviewersfor comments.
such as intersectoral mobility and wages. Theproblem of balancing short- and long-term goalswould seem to be an issue of great interest, forindividuals as well as for societies.
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Tomas Korpi is a researcher at the Swedish Research Council and at the Swedish Institute for
Social Research. Research interests include social stratification, in particular unemployment, and
public policy. Recent publications include
Acta Sociologica (2001), European Sociological
Review (2001) and Work, Employment, and Society (2001). Address: Swedish Institute for
Social Research, Stockholm University, S-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.
[email: [email protected]]

Paul de Graaf is an associate professor at the Department of Sociology, Nijmegen University.
His research interests include social stratification and mobility, education and divorce. Recent
publications include
Sociology of Education (2001), British Journal of Sociology (2001),
European Sociological Review (2001), European Societies (2002) and Social Forces
(forthcoming). Address: University of Nijmegen, PO Box 9108, 6500 HK Nijmegen,
Netherlands. [email: [email protected]]

John Hendrickx is an assistant professor at the Department of Management Studies at the
University of Wageningen. His research interests include social stratification, labour market
studies and statistical research methods. Address: Management Studies Group, Wageningen
University, Hollandseweg 1, NL-6700 HB Wageningen, Netherlands.

Richard Layte is a researcher at the Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin. His main
research interests are labour market dynamics, income poverty, deprivation and social
disadvantage. He has published widely on these issues in journals such as
Acta Sociologica,
European Sociological Review, European Societies and the Journal of European Social
Policy. Address: Economic and Social Research Institute, 4 Burlington Road, Dublin 4, Ireland.
[email: [email protected]]


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