Author(s):Markus P. Neuenschwander (presenting), Christof Nägele, Simone Frey

Conference:ECER 2016, Leading Education: The Distinct Contributions of Educational Research and Researchers

Network:02. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)


Session Information

02 SES 11 A, Motivation and Career Decisions in VET

Paper Session


Room:Vet-Theatre 116

Chair:Barbara E. Stalder


Motivation to Participate in Formal Education during the School to Work Transition

In many European countries, lifelong learning is getting more attention. Formal education reduces the risk of unemployment and enhances the chance for a job on a high level. Formal education enhances the employability of young adults after the school to work transition. Prior research confirmed motivational determinants of educational attainment: Expectancies and values predict the decision for high school or VET (Becker & Hecken, 2009a), and college enrolment (Eccles, Vida, Barber, 2004). The expectancy-value model is well established to predict educational choices in primary and secondary school (Maaz, Hause, McElvany, Baumert, 2006). But we have less knowledge if this model equally well predicts the choice of continuing education and higher education on tertiary level after professional graduation. Especially, we have little knowledge how choice situations during the school to work transition moderate the effect of attainment expectations and values on intention for formal education and the participation in formal education. Do attainment expectations and values predict the intention and participation of formal education during the transition to upper secondary education and to continuing education?

Eccles et al. (1983) define educational attainment expectations as believes to fulfil the demands of a level of educational attainment. They assume that adolescents from high social-economic status families (SES) have higher educational attainment expectations. Values indicate the subjective evaluation of educational programs (e.g. attainment value, interest value, utility value, cost value). Eccles et al. (1983) propose that educational attainment expectations and attainment values predict the intention for formal education.

Intention for formal education or work is not always turned into action (Heckhausen, 1989). In career decision situations, students may choose an educational program, but they do not participate because of obstacles or insufficient motivation (Cross, 1981). Instead, they take the work pathway. Therefore, it might be useful to distinguish between intention for formal education (or work) and participation in formal education (or work). We hypothesize that intention for formal education predicts participation in formal education.

The available choice options depend on the institutional opportunities. Generally, after lower secondary education and after upper secondary education, students choose between an educational pathway and a work pathway. The educational pathway includes a formal educational program and allows students to receive higher educational attainment that lead them in long term to higher work positions, salary and status. The work pathway consists of an employment in a company that offers practical work experience and an immediate regular salary. We assume that high educational attainment expectations and high attainment values predict the intention for formal education instead of work.


Sample: The hypotheses are tested with data from the Swiss study Professional Career Choice. Standardized online questionnaires were administered to adolescents in summer 2012 from three cohorts.
In cohort 1, 237 female and 234 male ninth graders (mean age 16.0 years, SD=.58) in 12 schools with 42 classes participated in the study. In cohort 2, students from twelve schools (26%) were surveyed one month before their final apprenticeship exams. Random samples of students were drawn from the 20 most commonly chosen company-based apprenticeship programs. The sample comprised 363 female and 352 male apprentices between 17 and 42 years of age (mean age 20.5 years, SD=2.8). This sample consisted of 9% foreign adolescents. In cohort 3, 4000 companies in German speaking Switzerland were asked to nominate collaborators with a VET diploma in age 20 to 30 to participate in our study. This strategy resulted in 93 participants. Then, 2450 persons, who graduated two years earlier from VET were sent letters to participate in the study. From this group, 250 adults agreed to participate. The total sample of adults who filled out the questionnaire consisted of 152 female and 141 male adults with a mean age 24.2 (SD=5.1) years.
The students in the three cohorts were contacted again 2 years later with a new online questionnaire (cohort sequence design). The response rate was 65.1% for cohort 1, 55.6% for cohort 2 and 71.8% for cohort 3 and consisted of 752 persons in total.
Instruments: Students of all three cohorts and both waves filled out questionnaires. Socio-economic background was determined based on information about the occupations of the adolescents’ most important male and female caregivers (ISCO 07). This code was transformed into International Socio-Economic Index of Occupational Status (ISEI). The higher ISEI value from the parents was used.
The adolescents’ educational expectations were surveyed using one item: "What is the highest level of education you will attain later in your life?“ The response categories provided comprise the most important qualifications attainable in the Swiss education system. The attainment value was measured with the single item "I consider a continuing education for me … as important" (Eccles et al., 2004).
The adolescents from all three cohorts were asked about their career pathway after completion of their education or apprenticeship program. Students were grouped into those who plan a formal education vs. those who work in a company.

Expected Outcomes

The hypotheses were transferred into a path model for all three cohorts. The path coefficients were compared between the cohorts by comparing fit indices of the model with free parameters between cohorts with those of the model with fixed parameters between the cohorts. The results showed that educational attainment expectation and attainment values predicted intention for formal education vs work significantly and equally well in the three cohorts. Then, educational attainment expectation is significantly and equally well predicted by students' socio-economic background in all three cohorts. The effect of social background on educational attainment expectation is equally strong in all three cohorts. Intention for formal education strongly and significantly predicted participation in formal education. This path differed between the cohorts: The prediction was significantly higher in the institutionally strongly regulated transition from lower secondary school to upper secondary school than in the less regulated transition to higher or continuing education on tertiary level.
The results show in line with the Eccles-model that educational attainment expectation and attainment values predict intention for formal education vs work equally well in all three different life situations (cohorts). The assumption was confirmed that expectancy -value theory is general. These results were even more interesting because they were the same on the construct level even though the items slightly differed between the cohorts. The prediction to participate in formal education is stronger in the institutionally strictly regulated transition from lower secondary school to upper secondary school than in the less regulated transition to higher or continuing education on tertiary level. On a European level, the question is discussed if these results are universal and can be replicated in transition systems of varying European countries.


Becker, R. & Hecken, A. E. (2009). Higher education or vocational training? Empirical test of the relational action model of educational choices suggested by Breen and Goldthorpe and Esser. Acta Sociologica, 52(1), 25-45.
Cross, K. P. (1981). Adults as learners. Increasing participation and facilitating learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Eccles, J., Adler, T. F., Futterman, R., Goff, S. B., Kaczala, C. M., Meece, J. L. & Midgley, C. (1983). Expectancies, values, and academic behaviours. In J. T. Spence (Ed.), Achievement and Achievement Motives (pp. 75-146). San Francisco: Freeman.
Eccles, J. S., Vida, M. N., & Barber, B. (2004). The Relation of Early Adolescents’ College Plans and Both Academic Ability and Task-Value Beliefs to Subsequent College Enrollment. Journal of Early Adolescence, 24(1), 63-77. doi:10.1177/0272431603260919
Heckhausen, H. (1989). Motivation und Handeln. Berlin: Springer.
Maaz, K., Hausen, C., McElvany, N., & Baumert, J. (2006). Stichwort: Übergänge im Bildungssystem - Theoretische Konzepte und ihre Anwendung in der empirischen Forschung beim Übergang in die Sekundarschule. Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft, 9(3), 299-327.

Author Information

Markus P. Neuenschwander (presenting)
University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland, Switzerland
Christof Nägele
University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland, Switzerland
Simone Frey
University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland