This report presents the comparative overview of the school-to-work (STW) transition pathways, structures and related effectiveness in eight countries : Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the UK. In addition, France was reviewed where possible as representing a particular Continental STW transition model. We have applied the Pohl and Walther’s typology of STW transitions to the comparative review, which distinguishes between five main types of youth transition regimes: (i) Universalistic (SE); (ii) Liberal (UK); (iii) Employment-centred (DE, FR, NL); (iv) Mediterranean (ES, TR); and (v) Post- Socialist/Transitional (EE, PL).
Across the EU, VET, including apprenticeships, is considered key to lowering youth unemployment and facilitating the school-to-work (STW) transition transitions of young people and policy makers across Europe have been attempting to improve VET in order to provide an attractive alternative to general upper secondary and tertiary education and in order to better meet the skill requirements of the labour market. Overall, VET/apprenticeships still play a critical role in facilitating fast and smooth transitions, albeit to varying degrees and depending on the path-dependent institutional and cultural context. It has proved to be a key STW transition mechanism in the employment-centred cluster, notably Germany and the Netherlands, but less so in the Mediterranean (ES, TR) and liberal clusters (UK), while its take-up is decreasing in the universalistic cluster (SE). Not surprisingly, we found that VET participation was much higher than the EU average in the employment- centred regimes and much lower in the Mediterranean and the post-Socialist clusters. These differences in the participation rates in VET across the EU countries can be attributed in part to the differing perceptions of VET and its centrality in the STW transition process.
Overall, although with some notable exceptions, such as Germany and the Netherlands, VET is generally associated with a lower status and quality than general/academic education, meaning that fewer students voluntarily choose the VET track and, in many instances, VET is seen as a ‘second best’ option destined for students with lower educational attainment. In contrast, in countries characterised by the employment-centred STW transitions model (e.g. DE, NL), VET is perceived as a core instrument ‘for sustaining the competitiveness of the economy’ and in these countries, VET in its various forms, such as dual apprenticeships and school-based VET has long been established and represents the main STW transition mechanism.
Crucially, there has been a convergence in policy across all clusters, in that apprenticeships are now being promoted as a high quality route to achieving improved outcomes for young people in all clusters. However, the success of this policy shift is dependent on the specific structural and institutional frameworks in place to support this agenda, which varies greatly between clusters.
Consistently shown to be key to the success of particular VET schemes, notably apprenticeships, is the extent, type and nature of social partner involvement. However, this involvement varies considerably between Member States and VET programmes. In general, the role of social partners is clearly prescribed in highly regulated VET/apprenticeship systems with a corporatist form of governance such as Germany and Sweden which, in turn, leads to very strong and active social partner involvement. In contrast, in market-led systems such as the UK, social partner involvement is rather uneven. Likewise, social partner involvement in school-based VET systems tends to be less extensive than in work-based VET systems.
Dual (work-based/apprenticeships) or school-based VET systems, the strong involvement of all relevant stakeholders and a co-operative institutional framework ensures that the employment-centred regimes have a strong STW transition model – for example, Germany and the Netherlands, particularly, have below average youth unemployment rates and STW transition duration. On the other hand, France is characterised by lengthier STW transitions and diverse labour market inclusion instruments ranging from a variety of subsidised employment contracts to an array of VET placements, each with varying degrees of effectiveness. The STW transitions under the UK’s liberal regime are fast but unstable, with a focus on youth employability and the promotion of young people’s economic independence as quickly as possible. Within the Mediterranean cluster, characterised by high youth unemployment, STW transitions are lengthier, unstable and complex. In Turkey, for example, STW transitions tend to be slow although there have been numerous attempts to improve their speed and quality, particularly for disadvantaged youth. Similarly, in Spain, STW transitions are protracted and fragmented while the prevalence of temporary, short-term employment contracts among young people reflects the fact that this type of employment has traditionally been a key (but controversial) STW transition instrument.
The Estonian STW transition model is focused more on a general education (school-based) pathway, while its work-based VET in the form of apprenticeships is relatively underdeveloped. In Poland, youth unemployment has been a key policy issue for the past decade, but it is also characterised by a high degree of labour market dualism with the highest share of fixed-term contracts in the EU and a low (20%) transition rate from temporary to permanent employment. This has clear and negative implications for the STW transitions of Polish youth.
The Swedish model has historically been associated with a high quality and effective education and training system, including VET, producing well-educated youth able to make fast and successful STW transitions. Similar to Germany and the Netherlands, it has been argued that these smooth STW transitions can be attributed to a high share of students combining work and study, a proportion well above the EU average. However, as in other countries, these smooth STW transitions do not hold for all young people; with those who have not completed secondary education, or young migrants and refugees or those with disabilities, facing particular barriers to their labour market entry.
The countries also varied in their EPL as well as the focus of their ALMPs. Differences in ALMPs between France, Germany and the Netherlands are driven by the highly different educational systems and the general economic performance of these countries. Whereas dual vocational training is one important pillar of the German educational system, it is less important in the Netherlands and even still less in France. In this case, wage subsidies play a crucial role in France and the Netherlands to facilitate the acquisition of work experience and/or first job by young people. In the UK, ALMPs are not specifically targeted at young people, although there have been some flagship initiatives such as the Youth Contract as well as some youth specific support targeted at disadvantaged youth, including NEETs. Likewise, although Swedish ALMPs are often aimed at all age groups, programmes like the Job Guarantee focus on young people. ALMPs in Spain often seek to improve young people’s skills, both theoretical and practical and/or to provide them with work experience. In the post-socialist cluster (EE, PL) labour market policy is less differentiated compared to employment-centred countries like Germany. This is also true for ALMPs where there little focus on youth in both countries, although recently some projects/programmes do focus on the specific needs of young people. In both countries, ALMPs that are used to support the STW transition of young people include training and/or employment subsidies to increase the supply of work experience placements.
Our analysis has also highlighted that, especially as a result of the Great Recession of the late 2000s, some of the characteristics of each of the Pohl and Walther’s STW transition regimes are in a state of flux. For example, VET (and apprenticeships) are becoming more important STW transition mechanisms even in clusters such as the liberal (UK) and the Mediterranean (ES, TR) clusters. On the other hand, in the universalistic cluster the quality and effectiveness of the Swedish education and training system, including VET which, in the past, produced well-educated young people who could make fast and successful STW transitions is currently under-performing, with obvious implications for these transitions. At the same time, VET take-up is falling. That said, it is still early to assess whether such changes represent paradigmatic shifts in the key STW transitions mechanisms, especially in view of the path dependency and cultural and institutional specificity of STW transitions.
A requirement highlighted by our review is the need for the Pohl and Walther’s typology of STW transitions to be updated and further refined on the basis of the developments that have occurred during and after the recent crisis and which have led to an ongoing reconfiguration of education and training systems, labour market policies and institutional arrangements which are pertinent to young people’s successful entry to sustained employment. Linked to this is the need for further differentiation within the clusters themselves since there is variation in a number of institutional arrangements and this leads to variation in the STW transition outcomes as is, for example, the case of the employment centred cluster (DE, FR, NL). The above discussion notwithstanding, our analysis did not really change the way STW transitions in each cluster have been traditionally regarded, especially in relation to their length, quality and sustainability.