• Re-conceptualising VET: responses to covid-19

      Avis, James; Atkins, Liz; Esmond, Bill; McGrath, Simon; University of Derby; University of Nottingham (Taylor and Francis, 2020-12-30)
      The paper addresses the impact of Covid-19 on vocational education and training, seeking to discern the outline of possible directions for its future development within the debates about VET responses to the pandemic. The discussion is set in its socio-economic context, considering debates that engage with the social relations of care and neo-liberalism. The paper analyses discourses that have developed around VET across the world during the pandemic, illustrating both possible continuities and ruptures that may emerge in this field, as the health crisis becomes overshadowed in public policy by the prioritisation of economic recovery and social restoration. The paper concludes that, alongside the possibility of a narrowing of VET to its most prosaic aims and practices, the health crisis could also lead to a re-conceptualisation that develops its radical and emancipatory possibilities in both the global south and north.
    • The role of education and training in the development of technical elites: work experience and vulnerability

      Esmond, Bill; Atkins, Liz; Suart, Rebecca; University of Derby (VETNET, 2019-09-19)
      Whilst education and training systems in Europe have provided qualifications preparing candidates for highly skilled, responsible occupational roles, early research indicated that firms preferred to promote to such positions internally. Following changes to labour markets, several countries now place greater emphasis on early workplace learning, in the hope that transitions to work will be eased by experience of workplace environments. The outcomes of these shifts were explored through case studies in England of provision where work-based learning provides a high level of course content. Whilst students and educators ascribed value to these early experiences, evidence emerged of a narrowing of skills taught in work settings and em-phasis on behaviours and attributes. This emphasis is reflected among disadvantaged groups such as young women preparing for service roles: this paper argues for attention to the vulnerabilities of these groups, whose exclusion contributes to the reproduction of ‘elite’ occupations.
    • VET realignment and the development of technical elites: learning at work in England

      Esmond, Bill; Atkins, Liz; University of Derby (European Research Network in Vocational Education and Training (VETNET), 2020-08-11)
      An enhanced role for work-based learning is advocated increasingly widely across industrialised countries and by international VET policies. However, this is framed differently in each country by long-term policy orientations that reflect VET’s relationship with wider economic and social formations. These national differences reflect path dependency but also distinctive responses to contemporary challenges such as globalisation. In England, recent reforms strengthening workplace learning are constrained by existing patterns of skill formation and may be shaped by further market liberalisation and divergence from social and economic policies in Europe. The study examined the relationship between greater emphasis on workplace learning in England and societal change, addressing the research question: how are early experiences of work in England, as part of young people’s full-time education programmes, positioning them for future employment? Case studies were organised around apparently distinctive placement types that had emerged from earlier studies. Using the constant comparative method, the team identified a series of categories to distinguish the way each type of work-based learning positioned students in a particular type of labour market transition. Evidence emerged of divergence in England’s ‘further education’ system, across mainly male ‘technical’ routes, young people on vocational courses preparing them for routine, low-skilled, precarious employment, and an area of greater uncertainty preparing young people for digital routes linked to the ‘new economy’. Key dimensions of difference included study locations, discourses of occupational status, types of valued learning content, approaches to socialisation, sources of expertise and processes of credentialisation. In each case, learning at work served to position students for a particular type of labour market transition, which we characterise as technical elite formation, welfare VET and new economy precarity. Approaches to workplace learning in England already reflect social distinctions but entail the possibility of reinforcing these, supporting a more hierarchical pattern of labour market transition. Whilst the upper strata of VET shift their purpose to support the formation of new ‘technical elites’, others face the possibility of further marginalisation. Such new inequalities could become central to a further fragmented society in a post-Brexit, post-COVID-19 Britain. Other European states facing challenges of globalisation and the transition to services are also likely to experience pressures for VET stratification, although they may seek less divisive solutions.