02 SES 04 C, Strengthening VET in Times of Transition
The German dual system of vocational education (VET) is renown for its smooth transitions to the labour market. Notwithstanding, recent quantitative research brought to light that for a considerable number of graduates, labour market entry trajectories are not so smooth any more. To inform VET policy decision-makers about potential relations between individuals’ leaving their occupational pathway and previous experiences in-company VET, a major research project was launched. As a first step, 30 graduates from the dual system whose labour market entry trajectory during the first three to five years after graduation was characterised by minimum two changes and who then did not work in the occupation they had been trained for, were interviewed about their experiences during in-company VET. While the necessary next step, to capture the different orientations to meaning respondents brought with them into vocational education, is not dealt with here, this presentation shows how the study approached the excavation of the orientation to meaning acquired during in-company training in VET in Germany’s dual system from retrospective interviews. Because of the decision makers in the background of the research project, ‚meaning‘ should bear a reference to the social structuring of VET.
A strictly interpretivist perspective on the actor’s viewpoints and their patterns of interpretation would make the access to the social structuring of experiences during in-company VET very difficult, especially because vocational education in the German dual system encompasses a multitude of occupations in different occupational fields, such as craft, industry, commercial trade, information technology, office and medicine. Positivist philosophy and methodology is unable to explain relations between events and to explain, why things do not happen (Archer 1995), for example, why young people do not stay in the occupation they had been trained in. Instead, the theoretical framework is a social-realist one, the models and concepts developed by Basil Bernstein (1977, 1990, 2000).
Generally speaking, Bernstein formulates the relation between what individals acquire in education and the social structuring of education as follows: „With respect to acquisition, if we are unable to specify the rules regulating the construction, representation, and contextualizing of the ‚privileging text‘ …, – that is, specifying ‚relations within‘ [here: within in-company VET in the dual system; GH] – then we cannot know what has been acquired, either positively or negatively. And if we do not know this, how can we know the relationship between the ‚privileging text‘ and the consciousness of the pedagogic subject? And if we do not know that, then in what sense can we talk about reproduction, resistance, transformation? (Bernstein 1990, p. 178)
The rules regulating the construction, representation and contextualising of the privileging text are the classificatory and framing rules (Bernstein 1977, 1990, 2000). Orientation to meaning is embedded, according to Bernstein, in interaction (framings) within a socially structured context (classifications), that is, in his famous code. This is even consonant with interpretive research: for example, Lueger (2010: 18, translation GH) points out, „as a rule, meaning attributions … depend, among other things, from experiences in interactional contexts and their underlying circumstances“.
Hence, a socially structured conception of meaning of VET experiences can be found in answers to the research question: What interactions in what socially structured contexts of VET do graduates with non-linear trajectories talk about? This presentation shows the instruments for data generation and for data evaluation which were developed to excavate from retrospective interviews the so defined meaning of in-company vocational education. Meaning is reflected in narratives generated with problemcentered interviews.
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