02 SES 16 B, VET, Socialization and Critical Thinking
Compared to other countries, VET has a good social standing within Switzerland’s post-compulsory educational landscape. Two-thirds of young people go into VET programs. However, young people’s educational pathways are strongly influenced by social origin. Early streaming during compulsory school regulates access to academic or general post-compulsory education and more intellectually demanding VET programs (Hupka-Brunner et al. 2010). As a consequence, there is a social cleavage between VET programs with basic/medium and advanced intellectual prerequisites, a cleavage informing the occupational prestige of the various apprenticeship programs (Abrassart and Wolter 2019). This contribution is based on a qualitative study interested in the training and work experiences and occupational identities of retail clerk and bricklaying apprentices pursuing VET programs, which have basic/medium intellectual requirements. The inductive analysis of qualitative interviews and focus groups shows that the low social prestige of these apprentices’ vocational training threatens their social recognition and leads to the construction of ambivalent occupational identities. These young people are confronted by the belief that their apprenticeship is for people with low intellectual abilities who performed poorly in school and thus have no other option. Retail work is perceived as unskilled and doable by anyone without a diploma. Bricklaying is perceived as low-skilled, dirty and dangerous manual labor. Building on theory that understands identity and prestige as dynamically and relationally constructed (Jenkins 2008, Kreiner et al. 2006), this study focuses on how the apprentices critically confront the misrecognition of their apprenticeship and social position by developing interpretative strategies to construct valuable occupational identities (Simpson et al. 2012). These strategies are not developed arbitrarily or individually, but instead deeply embedded in the training and work context. More specifically, the apprentices value the occupational skills required by their apprenticeships, thus rejecting the view of their professions as low skilled. Bricklaying apprentices can build on a proud collective occupational identity among their work community. This option does not exist for retail apprentices, who value instead the prestige of shops or products. Because the apprentices face difficult work conditions, they adopt ‘not forever talk’ and anticipate leaving their occupation (Shigihara 2018) or to be promoted in the future. They employ these identity strategies to engage with their training and in an attempt to emancipate themselves from their low-status position. At the same time, however, because these strategies involve rejecting the possibility of solidarity with unqualified workers in their sector, they reproduce other social inequalities.
Abrassart, A. and S. C. Wolter (2019). "Investigating the image deficit of vocational education and training: Occupational prestige ranking depending on the educational requirements and the skill content of occupations." Journal of European Social Policy 0(0): 0958928719855298. Hupka-Brunner, S., S. Sacchi and B. E. Stalder (2010). "Social Origin and Access to Upper Secondary Education in Switzerland: A Comparison of Company-Based Apprenticeship and Exclusively School-Based Programmes." Swiss Journal of Sociology 36(1): 11-31. Jenkins, R. (2008). Social Identity. London: Routledge. Kreiner, G. E., Ashforth, B. E., & Sluss, D. M. (2006). Identity Dynamics in Occupational Dirty Work: Integrating Social Identity and System Justification Perspectives. Organization Science, 17(5), 619-636, doi:doi:10.1287/orsc.1060.0208. Shigihara, A. M. (2018). “(Not) forever talk”: restaurant employees managing occupational stigma consciousness. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal, 13(4), 384–402. Simpson, R., N. Slutskaya, P. Lewis and H. Höpf (2012). Introducing Dirty Work, Concepts and Identities. Dirty Work, Concepts and Identities. R. Simpson, N. Slutskaya, P. Lewis and H. Höpf. London, Palgrave Macmillan: 1-18.
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