Joint FLaG and SSP research seminar: ‘Vocational pathways, inequalities and the meanings of (decent) work’ (a mini-symposium)

We are delighted to invite you to a symposium with 3 complementary presentations, from guest speaker Jonas Masdonati (University of Lausanne), and SSP academics Karen Tatham and Kim Allen.

Each speaker will present for 20-25 minutes followed by a cross-cutting discussion and Q&A. 

Presentation abstracts

"When Career Transitions Reshape Relationships to Work"

Speaker: Jason Masdonati
Drawing on findings from two qualitative studies, we focus on how career transitions (re)shape people’s relationship to work.

First, a study on the transition from vocational training to employment in Quebec showed that for some young adults, entering the workforce can lead to a downgrading of work expectations. In contrast, other participants experienced a satisfactory integration into the labour market that consolidated and clarified the meaning of work in their lives.

Second, an ongoing longitudinal project on adult workers undergoing involuntary career change in Switzerland has revealed that this experience can lead to a rethinking of the meaning of work in their lives. While in some cases career change results in a disengagement from the occupational sphere, in others it prompts a recalibration of work expectations and purpose.

Overall, this line of research provides a basis for reflection on what defines the quality of career transitions and paths.

"Early career sequences, opportunity, and constraint in vocational pathways to high skilled work: a three-sector comparison"

Speaker: Karen Tatham
In the post pandemic English labour market, vocational qualification reforms are uncritically moving to an ‘employer-led’ skills system, placing employers at the centre of skills decision making, through vocational qualification design, progression pathways, and local skills planning. But employers are already central to skills processes, where employer behaviour and sector norms create unequal progression prospects for young workers.

I share emerging research from a Northern local study of three industrial sectors, digital, construction and textiles manufacturing, exploring career sequences and progression in vocational technical pathways to high skilled work. Findings show high skill pathway processes were embedded in distinct occupational pathways by sector, which themselves were a product of the sector as a low, mid, or high skills system. But within progressions, there were binaries of ‘slow’ and ‘fast’ vocational transition processes to higher level qualifications. This created occupational stratification by the technical or manual basis of worker vocational skills, in new forms of vocational progression field, in expansive or restrictive upward mobility prospects.

Closing regional inequalities through wider access to high skilled work is a UK-wide priority. This paper contributes to the emerging debate of employer-led skills systems and locality approaches to skills.

"‘Sh*tty Jobs and Side Hustles’: student employment, precarity and young people’s understandings of work"

Speaker: Kim Allen
Student employment - or ‘Earning While Learning’ (EwL) – has become increasingly commonplace in the UK and globally; partly in response to the spiralling costs of education, including rising tuition fees and mounting housing costs. The current cost-of-living crisis is exacerbating these trends, with more students working (and working longer hours) to support themselves and, sometimes, wider family members.

Concurrently, increased demand for cheap and flexible part-time labour has meant that students comprise a significant proportion of the workforce in the lowest-paid and most precarious sectors of the labour market (e.g. hospitality and retail). Across Higher Education policy, media and some academic work, EwL tends to be conceptualized in narrow and binary terms: as trivial, temporary and separate from (or even detrimental to) academic success and transitions into ‘graduate careers’.  

In this paper, I draw on two ongoing collaborative research projects – one on ‘Student Side Hustles’, and the ESRC-funded L-earning project on young women’s working lives – to consider the implications of EwL for young people’s future working biographies and understandings of ‘decent’ and ‘meaningful’ work within contexts of increasing precarity, risk and inequality in education and the youth labour market.