Persistent Disadvantages or New Opportunities? The Role of Agency and Structural Constraints for Low-Achieving Adolescents’ School-to-Work Transitions

  • Anne Christine Holtmann
  • Laura Menze
  • Heike Solga
Empirical Research

Abstract

School leavers with low educational attainment face great difficulties in their school-to-work transitions. They are, however, quite heterogeneous in terms of their personal and social resources. These within-group differences may influence who shows initiative during the school-to-work transition period and thereby helps employers recognize their learning potential at labor market entry. Yet this recognition also depends on the ways employers select applicants, which may prevent them from discovering such within-group differences. We therefore investigate the interplay between agency and its constraints, that is, whether higher cognitive and noncognitive skills and more parental resources provide low-achieving school leavers with new opportunities in the school-to-work transition period or whether their low school attainment causes the persistency of their disadvantages. We use panel data from the German National Educational Panel Study (NEPS), which started in grade 9. The NEPS also includes school leavers from special-needs schools. Our sample consists of 3417 low-achieving adolescents (42% female), defined as adolescents who leave school with no or only a lower secondary school-leaving certificate. Their average school-leaving age is 16 to 17 years. Our key findings are that the transition period opens up new opportunities only for those low-achieving adolescents with better vocational orientation and higher career aspirations, leading them to make stronger application efforts. The success of youth’s initiative varies considerably by school-leaving certificate and school type but not by competences, noncognitive characteristics, and parental background. Thus, the label of “having low qualifications” is a major obstacle in this transition period—especially for the least educated subgroup. Their poor school attainment strongly disadvantages them when accessing the required training to become economically independent and hence in their general transition to adulthood. Our results are also of interest internationally, because participation in firm-based training programs functions as the entry labor market in Germany. Thus, similar explanations may apply to low-achieving adolescents’ difficulties in finding a job.

Keywords

Agency Low-achieving adolescents Competencies Vocational education and training Entry into the labor market Germany 

References

  1. Aguilera, M. B. (2002). The impact of social capital on labor force participation. Social Science Quarterly, 83(3), 853–874.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alexander, K. L., Entwisle, D. R., & Kabbani, N. S. (2001). The dropout process in life course perspective. Teachers College Record, 103, 760–822.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Allmendinger, J. (1989). Educational systems and labor market outcomes. European Sociological Review, 5(3), 231–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Almlund, M., Duckworth, A. L., Heckman, J., & Kautz, T. (2011). Personality psychology and economics. In E. Hanushek, S. Machin & L. Woessman (Eds.), Handbook of the economics of education (Vol 4, pp. 1–181). Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  5. Bayer, P., Ross, S. L., & Topa, G. (2008). Place of work and place of residence: Informal hiring networks and labor market outcomes. Journal of Political Economy, 116(6), 1150–1196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Becker, G. S. (1964). Human capital. New York: National Bureau of Economic Research.Google Scholar
  7. Beicht, U., & Granato, M. (2010). Ausbildungsplatzsuche: Geringe Chancen für junge Frauen und Männer mit Migrationshintergrund. BIBB Report 15/2010. Bonn: Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung.Google Scholar
  8. Blossfeld, H. P., Roßbach, H. G. & von Maurice, J. (Eds.) (2011). Education as a lifelong process. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.Google Scholar
  9. Bol, T., & van de Werfhorst, H. G. (2011). Signals and closure by degrees. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 29, 119–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bol, T., & van de Werfhorst, H. G. (2013). Educational systems and the trade-off between labor market allocation and equality of educational opportunity. Comparative Education Review, 57(2), 285–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Breen, R. (2005). Explaining cross-national variation in youth unemployment. European Sociological Review, 21(2), 125–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brzinsky-Fay, C., & Solga, H. (2016). Compressed, postponed, or disadvantaged? School-to-work-transition patterns and early occupational attainment in West Germany. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 46, 21–36. December, part A.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Buchmann, M., & Kriesi, I. (2011). Transition to adulthood in Europe. Annual Review of Sociology, 37, 481–503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bynner, J., & Parsons, S. (2002). Social exclusion and the transition from school to work. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 60, 289–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Canny, A. (2004). What employers want and what employers do. Journal of Education and Work, 17(4), 495–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Carneiro, P., Crawford, C., & Goodman, A. (2007). The impact of early cognitive and non-cognitive skills on later outcomes. CEE Discussion Papers 92. London: LSE, Centre for the Economics of Education.Google Scholar
  17. Caspi, A., Wright, B. R. E., Moffitt, T. E., & Silva, P. A. (1998). Early failure in the labor market: Childhood and adolescents predictions of unemployment in the transition to adulthood. American Sociological Review, 63, 424–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. von Collani, G., & Herzberg, P. Y. (2003). Eine revidierte Fassung der deutschsprachigen Skala zum Selbstwertgefühl von Rosenberg. Zeitschrift für Differentielle und Diagnostische Psychologie, 24(1), 3–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Diewald, M., & Mayer, K. U. (2009). The sociology of the life course and life span psychology. Advances in Life Course Research, 14(1-2), 5–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. DiPrete, T. A., & McManus, P. A. (1996). Education, earnings gain, and earnings loss in loosely and tightly structured labor markets. In A. C. Kerckhoff (Ed.), Generating social stratification (pp. 201–221). New York: Westview.Google Scholar
  21. Dumont, H., Protsch, P., Jansen, M., & Becker, M. (2017). Fish swimming into the ocean: How tracking relates to students’ self-beliefs and school disengagement at the end of schooling. Journal of Educational Psychology, Advance online publication (7-13-2017). http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000175.Google Scholar
  22. Eberhard, V. (2006). Das Konzept der Ausbildungsreife. Bonn: Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung.Google Scholar
  23. Elffers, L. (2011). The transition to post-secondary vocational education. Enschede: Ipskamp drukkers.Google Scholar
  24. Elffers, L. (2013). Staying on track: Behavioral engagement ofat-risk and non-at-risk students in post-secondary vocational education. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 28(2), 545–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. European Commission (2013). Launch of European Alliance for Apprenticeships. Brussels, 2 July 2013. Available at: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-13-634_en.htm. Accessed 19 Mar 2017. Brussels/Leipzig.Google Scholar
  26. Fiske, S. T. (1998). Stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (pp. 357–411). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  27. Fitzenberger, B., & Licklederer, S. (2015). Career planning, school grades, and transitions. Journal of Economics and Statistics, 235(4-5), 433–458.Google Scholar
  28. Fletcher, J. M. (2013). The effects of personality traits on adult labor market outcomes. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 89, 122–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Franzen, A., & Hangartner, D. (2006). Social networks and labour market outcomes. European Sociological Review, 22(4), 353–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ganzeboom, H. B. G., De Graaf, P. M., & Treiman, D. J. (1992). A standard international socio-economic index of occupational status. Social Science Research, 21(1), 1–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gasquet, C. (2004). Young people with ‘no qualification’. Céreq no., 58, 1–4.Google Scholar
  32. Gericke, N., Krupp, T., & Troltsch, K. (2009). Unbesetzte Ausbildungsplätze: Warum Betriebe erfolglos bleiben. BIBB Report 10/09. Bonn: Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung.Google Scholar
  33. Gesthuizen, M., Solga, H., & Künster, R. (2011). Context matters: Economic marginalisation of low-educated workers in cross-national perspective. European Sociological Review, 27(2), 264–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  35. Granovetter, M. (1974). Getting a job. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Gutman, L., & Schoon, I. (2013). The impact of non-cognitive skills on outcomes for young people. London: Education Endowment Foundation. http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/uploads/pdf/Non-cognitive_skills_literature_review.pdf. Accessed 26 May 2017.Google Scholar
  37. Heckman, J. J., Stixrud, J., & Urzua, S. (2006). The effects of cognitive and noncognitive abilities on labor market outcomes and social behavior. Journal of Labor Economics, 24, 411–482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Heisig, J. P., & Solga, H. (2015). Secondary education systems and the general skills of less- and intermediate-educated adults. Sociology of Education, 88(3), 202–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hogan, D. P., & Astone, N. M. (1986). The Transition to Adulthood. Annual Review of Sociology, 12, 109–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Jaik, K., & Wolter, S.C. (2016). Lost in transition: The influence of locus of control on delaying educational decisions. IZA Discussion Paper No. 10191. Bonn: IZA.Google Scholar
  41. John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. (1999). The big five taxonomy. In L. A. Pervin & O. P. John (Eds.), Handbook of personality (pp. 102–138). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  42. Jones, E. E., Farina, A., Hastorf, A. H., Markus, H., Miller, D. T., & Scott, R. (1984). Social stigma. New York: Freeman.Google Scholar
  43. Kerckhoff, A. C. (1993). Diverging pathways: Social structure and career deflections. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Kleinert, C., & Jacob, M. (2012). Strukturwandel des Übergangs in eine Ausbildung. In R. Becker & H. Solga (Eds.), Soziologische Bildungsforschung (pp. 211–233). Wiesbaden: Springer VS.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Klemm, K. (2015). Inklusion in Deutschland. Gütersloh: Bertelsmann Stiftung.Google Scholar
  46. Kohlrausch, B., & Solga, H. (2012). Übergänge in die Ausbildung: Welche Rolle spielt die ‘Ausbildungsreife’? Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft, 15(4), 753–773.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kreuter, F., & Valliant, R. (2007). A survey on survey statistics: What is done and can be done in Stata. The Stata Journal, 7(1), 1–21.Google Scholar
  48. Leuze, K., Ludwig-Mayerhofer, W., & Solga, H. (2011). The German National Educational Panel Study. Longitudinal and Life Course Studies, 2(3), 346–355.Google Scholar
  49. Lin, N. (1999). Social networks and status attainment. Annual Review of Sociology, 25(1), 467–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lindqvist, E., & Vestman, R. (2011). The labor market returns to cognitive and noncognitive ability. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 3(1), 101–128.Google Scholar
  51. Lleras, C. (2008). Do skills and behaviors in high school matter? Social Science Research, 37(3), 888–902.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. McCrae, R., & Costa, Jr., P. T. (1991). The NEO personality inventory. Journal of Counseling and Development, 6, 587–597.Google Scholar
  53. Miller, S. R., & Rosenbaum, J. E. (1997). Hiring in a Hobbesian world: Social infrastructure and employers’ use of information. Work and Occupations, 24, 498–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Mood, C. (2010). Logistic regression: Why we cannot do what we think we can do, and what we can do about it. European Sociological Review, 26(1), 67–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Mortimer, J. T., Oesterle, S., & Krüger, H. (2005). Age norms, institutional structures, and the timing of markers of transition to adulthood. Advances in Life Course Research, 9, 175–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Mueller, B., & Wolter, S. C. (2014). The role of hard-to-obtain information on ability for the school-to-work transition. Empirical Economics, 46(4), 1447–1471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Müller, W., & Shavit, Y. (1998). The institutional embeddedness of the stratification process. In Y. Shavit & W. Müller (Eds.), From school-to-work (pp. 1–48). Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  58. Murnane, R., & Levy, F. (1996). Teaching the new basic skills. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  59. National Education Report (Autorengruppe Bildungsberichterstattung) (2014). Bildung in Deutschland 2014. Bielefeld: Bertelsmann. .Google Scholar
  60. Newton, B., Hurstfield, J., Miller, L., Page, R., & Akroyd, K. (2005). What employers look for when recruiting the unemployed and inactive: Skills, characteristics and qualifications. Research Report No 295. London: Department for Work and Pensions.Google Scholar
  61. Pohl, S., & Carstensen, C. H. (2012). NEPS Technical Report – Scaling the data of the competence tests. NEPS Working Paper No. 14. Bamberg: Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories.Google Scholar
  62. Protsch, P. (2014). Segmentierte Arbeitsmärkte. Opladen: Budrich UniPress.Google Scholar
  63. Protsch, P., & Dieckhoff, M. (2011). What matters in the transition from school to vocational training in Germany. European Societies, 13(1), 69–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Protsch, P., & Solga, H. (2015). How employers use signals of cognitive and noncognitive skills at labor market entry. European Sociological Review, 31(5), 521–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Protsch, P., & Solga, H. (2016). The social stratification of the German VET system. Journal of Education and Work, 29(2), 637–661.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. De Raad, B., & Schouwenburg, H. C. (1996). Personality in learning and education. European Journal of Personality, 10, 303–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Rammstedt, B., & John, O. P. (2007). Measuring personality in one minute or less. Journal of Research in Personality, 41, 203–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Richardson, J. G., & Powell, J. J. W. (2011). Comparing special education. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Rosenbaum, J. E., & Binder, A. (1997). Do employers really need more educated youth? Sociology of Education, 70(1), 68–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Rumberger, R. W., & Lim, S. A. (2008). Why students drop out of school: A review of 25 years of research. California Dropout Research Project, Policy Brief 15. UC Santa Barbara.Google Scholar
  71. Ryan, P. (2001). The school-to-work transition. Journal of Economic Literature, 39(1), 34–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Sacker, A., & Schoon, I. (2007). Educational resilience in later life: Resources and assets in adolescence and return to education after leaving school at age 16. Social Science Research, 36, 873–896.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Schoon, I., & Duckworth, K. (2010). Leaving school early – and making it! Evidence from two British birth cohorts. European Psychologist, 15(4), 283–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Schoon, I., & Lyons-Amos, M. (2016). Diverse pathways in becoming an adult. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 46, 11–20. December, part A.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Sehringer, R. (1989). Betriebliche Strategien der Personalrekrutierung. Frankfurt: Campus.Google Scholar
  76. Seibert, H., Hupka-Brunner, S., & Imdorf, C. (2009). Wie Ausbildungssysteme Chancen verteilen. Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, 61(4), 595–620.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Settersten, Jr., R. A., & Ray, B. (2010). What’s going on with young people today? The long and twisting path to adulthood. The Future of Children, 20(1), 19–41.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  78. Seyfried, B. (2006). Berufsausbildungsvorbereitung aus betrieblicher Sicht. Bonn: Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung.Google Scholar
  79. Shanahan, M. J. (2000). Pathways to adulthood in changing societies: Variability and mechanisms in life course perspective. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 667–692.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Skrobanek, J., Reissig, B., & Müller, M. (2011). Successful placement or displacement in the transition from school to vocational training. Journal of Youth Studies, 14(7), 811–836.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Solga, H. (2002). ‘Stigmatization by negative selection’: Explaining less-educated persons’ decreasing employment opportunities. European Sociological Review, 18(2), 159–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Solga, H. (2004). Increasing risks of stigmatization. Yale Journal of Sociology, 4(1), 99–129.Google Scholar
  83. Solga, H. (2008). Lack of training – the employment opportunities of low-skilled persons from a sociological and micro-economic perspective. In K. U. Mayer & H. Solga (Eds.), Skill formation (pp. 173–204). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Solga, H., & Kohlrausch, B. (2013). How low-achieving German youth beat the odds and gain access to vocational training. European Sociological Review, 29(5), 1068–1082.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Solga, H., & Konietzka, D. (1999). Occupational matching and social stratification. European Sociological Review, 15(1), 25–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Sørensen, A. B., & Kalleberg, A. L. (1981). An outline of a theory of matching persons to jobs. In I. Berg (Ed.), Sociological perspectives on labor markets (pp. 49–74). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  87. Spence, M. A. (1974). Market signaling. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  88. Steedman, H. (2004). The low-achieving school-leavers in UK. Céreq no, 58, 5–6.Google Scholar
  89. Steedman, H. (2012). Overview of apprenticeship systems and issues. Geneva: International Labour Organization.Google Scholar
  90. Steinhauer, H. W., & Zinn, S. (2016). NEPS Technical Report for Weighting: Weighting the sample of Starting Cohort 4 of the National Educational Panel Study (Wave 1 to 7). NEPS Survey Paper No. 2. Bamberg: Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories.Google Scholar
  91. Sweeting, H., & West, P. (1994). The patterning of life events in mid- to late adolescence: Markers for the future? Journal of Adolescence, 17(3), 283–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Thurow, L. C. (1975). Generating inequality. New York: Basic Books.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Uhlig, J., Solga, H., Schupp, J. (2009). Bildungsungleichheiten und blockierte Lernpotenziale. Zeitschrift für Soziologie, 37(5), 418–441.Google Scholar
  94. Walther, A. (2015). The struggle for ‘realistic’ career perspectives: Cooling-out versus recognition of aspirations in school-to-work-transitions. Italian Journal of Sociology of Education, 7(2), 18–42.Google Scholar
  95. van de Werfhorst, H., & Mijs, J. (2010). Achievement inequality and the institutional structure of educational systems. Annual Review of Sociology, 36(1), 407–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Wial, H. (1991). Getting a good job. Industrial Relations, 30(3), 396–416.Google Scholar
  97. Wiggins, J. S., & Pincus, A. L. (1989). Conceptions of personality disorders and dimensions of personality. Psychological Assessment, 1(4), 305–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.WZB Berlin Social Science Center, research unit “Skill Formation and Labor Markets”BerlinGermany
  2. 2.Freie Universitaet Berlin, Institute of SociologyBerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations