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Learning for Career and Labour Market Transitions

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Learning for Career and Labour Market Transitions: Individual Biographies, Alan Brown (IER), Jenny Bimrose (IER), Barbara Merrill (Centre for Lifelong Learning); Funded by: European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) 12/2011 - 06/2013.

This study, funded by CEDEFOP and co-ordinated by the University of Warwick Institute for Employment Research, will investigate how adults established in their careers are navigating their ways through changing labour markets. It focuses upon how skilled workers have engaged with different forms of learning (including learning at work as well as in more formal settings), guidance and other support in order to develop their current set of skills and competences and overcome barriers to career progression. The study examines the different patterns and pathways individuals follow in their career development in Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, partly through outlining the strategic learning and career biographies of 25 interviewees in each country.

The research is intended to investigate how learning can support workers’ continuing transitions in the labour market; generate a deeper understanding of the many dimensions underlying individual approaches to career transitions and learning; contribute to the development of a comprehensive model that will accommodate the different ways in which learning can support labour market transitions; inform Cedefop on the topic of how adult and work-based learning can help people to better manage careers and working-life transitions, in order to set the stage for future analyses and pave the way for policy recommendations at national and European level.

The five countries were chosen to represent very different approaches in relation to policy strategies, laws and regulations which frame their national contexts and the factors that affect the ways in which learning supports labour market transitions (structure and characteristics of the educational provision, active labour market policies and relevant features of the welfare system).

If this brief project description has whetted your appetite for further details on the progress of the research, please register your interest with Alan Brown (the project co-ordinator).

End of project: June 22nd, 2013 (month 18).

National teams:

Rie Thomsen, Ida Juul, Pia Cort (Denmark);

M’Hamed Dif, Rachel Mulvey, Sophie Perdrix (France);

Simone Haasler, Barbara Rinken (Germany);

Massimo Tomassini (Italy);

Esther Oliver, Lena de Botton, Itxaso Tellado (Spain);

Central team:

Alan Brown, Jenny Bimrose, Barbara Merrill (Warwick);

Antje Barabasch, Giovanni Russo (CEDEFOP).


Project Outline:

The study will undertake the following tasks:

  1. investigate how learning can support workers’ transition on the labour market.
  2. generate a deeper understanding of the multiple dimensions underlying individual approaches to career transitions and learning.
  3. contribute to the development of a comprehensive model that will accommodate the different ways in which learning can support labour market transitions. The model will inform Cedefop’s research agenda on the topic of how adult and work-based learning can help people to better manage careers and working-life transitions, to set the stage for future analyses, and to pave the way for policy recommendations.

The review of how learning can support labour market transitions will:

  • review recent and most relevant literature in the field in different European countries;
  • review relevant material (policy strategies, laws and regulations) on the national context and the factors that affect the ways in which learning supports labour market transitions (structure and characteristics of the educational provision, active labour market policies, relevant features of the welfare system);
  • review available statistical data in relation to career trajectories or life course sequences to decide to what extent they can inform the current study and/or be used for the development of a theoretical framework.  

The empirical study will involve the development and implementation of an investigation into the strategic learning and career biographies of 125 individuals in Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and Spain through the use of 185 interviews (60 interviewees will be interviewed twice). Contextualised strategic career and learning biographies will be produced, with the approach to data analysis expressly designed to make a contribution to discussion about policy and practice of career and labour market transitions.

Interviews: by means of in-depth interviews it is intended to capture the meaning of evolving career trajectories and biographies of individuals that draw out the forms and strategic significance of learning and development to individuals as they make transitions in the labour market. The interviews will seek to draw out the complexity of the linkages between different aspects of learning, careers and workers’ identification with their work and performance with the meaning itself emerging from giving the interviewees the opportunity to 'tell their stories about transitions'.

Sample: the intention is that interviewees in each country should reflect a number of different pathways by which workers in their mid-career reach the position of performing middle-range jobs in the labour market. Because of the considerable debate about who is and is not in the sample it seemed helpful to propose one overarching criterion – the suggestion is that every individual in the sample should:

  • be performing or have performed middle-range jobs for at least five years but not necessarily continuously (typically ISCO 3-Technicians and associate professionals; 4-Clerical support workers; 5-Service and sales workers; 6-Skilled agricultural, forestry and fishery workers; 7-Craft and related trades workers). Those who move into or out of 1-managerial; 2-professional; 8-Plant and machine operators, and assemblers; 9-Elementary occupations and 0-Armed forces occupations jobs are not automatically excluded provided most of their working life has been spent in middle-range jobs).

The argument for five years is that each person needs to have reached 'experienced worker' status so as to be able to reflect upon their experience of at least one complete skill formation process as a whole. Additionally, the sample as a whole should mainly be aged 35 – 45. Further the individuals in the sample should have spent at least ten years in the education and training system in one or more of the five countries and have spent at least five years working in one or more of the five countries.

The project will also involve generation of a deeper understanding of the multiple dimensions underlying individual approaches to career transitions (including differences in their career transitioning styles) and the development of a comprehensive model that will accommodate the different ways in which learning can support labour market transitions across the life-course. The model will inform Cedefop’s research agenda on how adult and work-based learning can help people to better manage their careers and working-life transitions and create a platform for future analyses, which incorporates a role for the use of narrative interviews to facilitate the development of individuals’ strategic learning and career biographies.The approach to mapping individual career development could be relevant for future surveys as well contributing to policy recommendations.

Overall, the project will examine how to

help people better manage their careers and working-life transitions.