Author(s):Martina Wyszynska Johansson (presenting), Gun-Britt Wärvik (presenting)

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

Network:02. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)


Session Information

02 SES 06 B, Workplace Learning: development of identity

Paper Session


Room:Vet-Theatre 115

Chair:Marianne Teräs


On VET Students´ Ways of Discerning Vocational Knowing as Specialized

This paper focuses on formation of students´ vocational identity, here seen as an integral aspect of a process whereby the students gradually learn to value and discern vocational knowing as specialized knowing of their future occupation. We thus acknowledge that the students thereby become participants of a workplace curriculum, forming and transforming the space for agency of their experi­enced curriculum (Billett, 2002, 2006) in both school and in a workplace.  Seeing vocational knowing as specialized pertains to discerning its value as knowledge worth knowing and cultivating.

The study concerns vocational education and training (VET) as integrated in the upper secondary school, and specifically, students from the Child and Recreation Programme. The programme trains students for work in child care, the leisure and sports sector as well as assisting the disabled. These occupations are strongly people-oriented and relational, and somewhat fuzzily defined. Therefore it can be sometimes difficult for students to see vocational knowing as separate from everyday knowledge and “school knowledge”.

VET in Sweden is organizationally integrated with the general upper secondary education. According to the latest upper-secondary school reform of 2011 (GY11) the national 3-year vocational programmes in Sweden lead to specific occupations as opposed to (formerly) being generally preparatory for occupations. Workplace-based education is now even more emphasized as a necessary condition for the development of a vocational identity, further enhancing job-readiness and employability.

A point of departure in this paper is that school-based, upper secondary VET in the case of Sweden is still only augmented and enriched by workplace-based education as compared to a more general pattern in Europe whereby VET is constituted and defined by workplace-based education. In countries with strong traditions of apprenticeship such as Germany, formation of vocational identity seems more naturally fused with vocational education comparing with more school-based education in e.g.  Sweden (CEDEFOP, 2015). Comparing with the apprentice way of being enculturated in a community of practice (cf. Lave & Wenger, 1991), a vocational identity formation in school-based vocational education is thus somewhat different. Hence, we regard the school and the workplace as two different practices. We can assume that the students are enculturated in the practice of attending school and being a pupil since young age. However, a condition for the development of a vocational identity is that the students gradually become aware of, acknowledge and value the vocational knowing of work practice, expanding their student identity. In this case, the students have very limited experiences of the work practice. Thus, the interest in this paper is directed to what happens when the young VET students, enculturated in the practice of school encountered the practice of working life (cf. Lave & Wenger, 1991; Chan, 2013).

This paper builds on three suppositions. Firstly, vocational knowing originates in both academic disciplines as well as occupational practices (Shay, 2013; Shay & Steyn, 2016). Secondly, vocational knowing is oriented towards as well as knowledge practices and/or social relations (Maton, 2014). Thirdly, vocational knowing is rich in meanings as it is principled by occupational practices as well as academic disciplines (Maton, 2016). Thus the study this paper is based on deals with how the students talked about the tasks they were afforded in school in workplaces.

The purpose of this paper is to investigate the students´ vocational identity formation as an integral part of the development of specific vocational knowing. What tasks do the students perceive they are afforded in order to develop vocational knowing? On what grounds do the students discern and acknowledge the vocational knowing they are developing as specialized?


This paper builds on a focus group study of 70 students in the 2nd grade of the Child and Rec-reation programme, 54 girls and 16 boys in total coming from ten upper-secondary schools in Sweden. The students were roughly 17 years old and halfway through their education at the time of the interview, which is important to stress as this paper deals with an ongoing process of developing a vocational identity. They had then around 7-8 weeks of workplace experience (see also Wyszynska Johansson, 2015).
The interviews focused generally on the students´ experiences of the assessment of vocational knowing. However, the interviews thereby also generated descriptions of a number of different assignments or tasks. The students ascribed significance to these tasks and assignments. Their appreciation of the vocational tasks as contributing to the growth of knowledge worth knowing also enhanced a vocational identity formation. The analysis here has had a focus on how the students construed the tasks afforded within a space of agency “provided” by student´s experienced curriculum (Billett, 2006).
The first step of analysis was to identify vocational tasks, as described by the students in the interviews. The second step was to group all the tasks mentioned in categories. The third step was guided by the idea of tuning in to the students´ description of the tasks mentioned in order to specify the meanings they attached to the vocational tasks they elected to talk about in the first place. The final step investigated how the students´ vocational knowing expressed through the tasks mentioned related to social relations and vocational principles.
The boundary between different subjects taught in the Child and Recreation programme were not always clear-cut for the students. Certain subjects were sometimes fused or overlapped such as Swedish being a core as well as a general programme specific subject. The analysis though has focused on tasks limited to programme specific and vocational programme specialization modules.

Expected Outcomes

The preliminary results show that seeing vocational knowing in the Child and Recreation programme as specialized is for the students hardly a straightforward matter. They work hard, based on their limited experience of workplaces, on seeing vocational knowing as separate from other kinds of knowledge. Tentatively, vocational knowing appears, from the students´ point of view, strongly oriented towards social relations. The students appreciated the value of personal insight as a necessary springboard for the development of vocational skills. It seems as if the students legitimized vocational knowing they were developing by construing it as a means for fulfilling one´s needs and the needs of others. The urge to help others to grow was conflated with self-growth. The vocational knowing in the Child and Recreation programme also afforded the students an opportunity for investment in one´s well-being as a personal asset in the present moment and for an unspecified future as it gave a justified entry to pursuing desired lifestyles, hobbies and passion for health, sport and training.
During the interviews the students were working out the meaning of professional conduct as a vocational skill (as opposed to an inborn trait) which seemed to shape their vocational identity.


Billett, S. (2002). Workplace Pedagogic Practice . British Journal of Educational Studies Vol.50, 457-481.
Billett, S. (2006). Constituting the workplace curriculum. Curriculum Studies Vol.38, 31-48.
Cedefop. (2015). Vocational pedagogies and benefits for learners: practices and challenges in Europe. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
Chan, S. (2013). Learning trough apprenticeship: belonging to a workplace, becoming and being. Vocations and Learning, 6, 367-383.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Maton, K. (2014). Knowledge and knowers: towards a realist sociology of education. London: Routledge.
Maton, K. (2016). Legitimation Code Theory: building knowledge about knowledge-building. i K. Maton, S. Hood, & S. Shay (Red.), Knowledge-building: educational studies in Legitimation Code Theory (ss. 1-23). London: Routledge.
Shay, S. (2013). Conceptualising curriculum differentiation in higher education: a sociology of knowledge point of view. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 34(4), 563-582.
Shay, S., & Steyn, D. (2016). Enabling knowledge progression in vocational curricula: design as a case study. i K. Maton, S. Hood, & S. Shay (Red.), Knowledge-building: educational studies in Legitimation Code Theory (ss. 138-157). London: Routledge.
Wyszynska Johansson, M. (2015). Gymnasieungdomars erfarenheter av hur yrkeslärande bedöms. Lic.-avh. Göteborg: Göteborgs universitet.

This proposal is part of a master or doctoral thesis.

Author Information

Martina Wyszynska Johansson (presenting)
Göteborgs universitet
Institutionen för pedagogik och specialpedagogik
Gun-Britt Wärvik (presenting)
University of Gothenburg