Research Paper 52: Vocational Education and Training as a career path for young people: making choices in England and Denmark

Authors: Natasha Kersh and Ida Juul


This paper aims to contribute to a better understanding of the issues of perceptions and motivations of young people towards Vocational Education and Training (VET) in England and Denmark.  It specifically focuses on factors that facilitate their either positive or negative attitudes. Complex interdependencies between the labour market, young people’s occupational choices, and career routes have been a focus of policy concern, discussions and research across European countries. VET, as a pathway for young people to a career, has been and continues to be open to wide interpretation and debate. The situation in most European countries is being characterised by a lack of parity of esteem, which relates to the perceptions of VET systems as the second-best choice, compared to academic routes. Enhancing the status and profile of the VET system is therefore a concern that has received much recognition in literature and policy papers on both national and European levels. This research paper draws on the findings from the ‘Experiencing Inequalities’ project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) carried out under the auspices of the ESRC Research Centre: Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES).

As noted, the paper compares two different contexts, England and Denmark, which enabled the researchers to reflect on the issues of perceptions and motivations of young people towards VET, specifically focusing on factors that contribute to their either positive or negative attitudes. The study compares the status and reputation of the VET systems in these two countries which, in the discussions about varieties of capitalism, represent two poles (Thelen, 2004):  the paper focuses on England, which belongs to the so-called liberal market economies, and Denmark, which belongs to the coordinated market economies, indicating that coordination in the English labour market is secured mainly by market forces, whereas coordination in Denmark is based on cooperative structures involving the state and social partners. The analysis of the data has demonstrated that individual attitudes and perceptions need to be considered in the context of the policy debate and government policies in the area of VET. This research discusses the way young people frame and connect issues of participation, life chances and career choices and concludes that the problem of the parity of esteem exists in both countries in spite of the different national contexts in which the two VET systems are embedded.