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Continuity and change in the experiences of transition from school to work

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Using previously unanalysed data from Norbert Elias's lost study of young workers in Leicester - the Adjustment of Young Workers to Work Situations and Adult Roles (1962-1964), and data from a subsequent restudy of the same respondents in 2003-2005, this paper focuses on three main themes. First, we critically examine the concept of transition as it is currently used in education and youth research. We argue that the vast majority of what is written about the transition process focuses upon how the process has changed over time. However such approaches, whilst clearly documenting important aspects of social change, ignore and underestimate continuities and similarities in the young people's experiences of transition, regardless of their spatial and temporal location. For example, despite significant labour market changes in the UK, young people still have to make the transition from full-time education to whatever follows next, be it employment, unemployment or further and higher education. Second, we examine the young workers' experiences and perceptions of the transition process in the 1960s. Building upon analyses offered elsewhere the data suggests that the young person's experiences of school to work transitions in the 1960s had many similarities to the transitional experience today - namely that, as now, the transition process was characterised by complexity, uncertainty and risk. Finally, the impact of these early transition experiences on subsequent careers are also examined as revealed in the life history interviews of the restudy. Despite a drastically changing local labour market, and the fact that most of the workers were no longer working in the industries of their youth, the analysis reveals the sample retained a strong sense of occupational identity based on their initial transition experiences. The paper concludes by highlighting the significance of the findings of this particular data set. The data is unique because it provides a rare insight of the outcomes of decisions made by school leavers some forty years ago on their experiences of the labour market. As such it provides an invaluable glimpse of the lasting impact of the school to work transition on individual working lives.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Leicester, UK

Publication date: September 1, 2007

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