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Narrative of Career/Labour Market Related Learning of Low Skilled Workers

This study investigated how low-educated adults regard education and continuous learning, complementing an earlier Cedefop study focused on the role of learning in career transitions (Cedefop 2014a; 2014b). It seeks to generate deeper understanding of multiple individual approaches to learning by:

  • identifying common themes, approaches, ways and/or trajectories indicating how workers with few initial qualifications could be supported in their learning activities, career development, employability and career transitions;
  • providing in-depth understanding of the variety of reasons explaining low-educated workers’ disengagement with education, continuous learning and their often limited or non-participation in a range of continuing learning activities;
  • investigating how some workers with few initial qualifications were able to develop their skills and build successful careers.

The report draws both on a literature review and an original collection of narratives from 105 biographical interviews of individuals selected in seven EU Member States (UK, Germany, Denmark, Italy, France, Czech Republic and Poland). The narratives describe the wide variety of reasons for engagement or non-engagement in learning, perceptions about and experiences of life/career transitions. The analysis focuses on motivations for learning (or not) and the conditions that shape individuals’ behaviour. The findings of the survey confirm that early negative experiences with schooling are a major factor for a disengagement from education later in life. This, combined with individual issues (such as health problems) and structural constraints, tends to prevent individuals from participating in further education. Nevertheless, many examples show that adults labelled as low-educated possess in fact a variety of skills, which can be further developed if their interest in education is resparked.The analysis of biographies brings out attitudes, aspirations and expectations towards learning in different contexts. They uncover how adult and work-based learning can help people develop their potential, re-engage in learning and become socially upwardly mobile.

The findings of the study are structured and presented according to five themes: barriers to learning; drivers for learning; the relationship between initial education and training and career development; approaches taken towards engaging in continuing education, training and career development; the role of learning for life and career progress.

The results will be used to 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.

Final report

CEDEFOP (Bimrose, J., Brown, A., Barnes, S-A., Thomsen, R., Cort, P., Mariager-Anderson, K., Rochet, S., Mulvey, R., Hansen, B., Weber, P., Weber-Hauser, S., Tomassini, M., Zanazzi, S., Kargul, J., Minta, J., Mielczarek, M. and Sprlak, T.) (2016) Improving career prospects for the low-educated: The role of guidance and lifelong learning (Cedefop Research Paper 54). Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Project Team:

Alan Brown (Principal Investigator)

Jenny Bimrose

Sally-Anne Barnes

Rachel Mulvey


Aarhus University, Denmark

Rie Thomsen

Pia Cort

Kristina Mariager-Anderson

CIBC de Bourgogne Sud, France/Czech Republic

Serge Rochet

Birte Hansen

Tomas Sprlak

Heidelberg University, Germany

Peter Weber

Sylvie Weber-Hauser

Alexander Kochem


Massimo Tomassini

Silvia Zanazzi

University of Lower Silesia, Poland

Josef Kargul

Joanna Minta

Michal Mielczarek

Project Duration:

March 2013 - September 2014

Project Funder: