Educational Plans Of 15-Year-Old Pupils: To What Extent And Why Do They Change Over Time?
Entering Vocational Education and Training used to be the educational pathway of choice for the majority of German adolescents after finishing compulsory education (cf. Dionisius et al., 2015). However, recently more and more young people turn to other educational alternatives like continuing school in order to achieve a university entrance certificate (ibid.). Against this background, employers offering apprenticeships increasingly face difficulties when recruiting applicants. In this context it is unfortunate if pupils who are initially interested in beginning an apprenticeship right after finishing compulsory education change their mind and are, for the time being, lost for the VET market as prospective apprentices. Hence, it is important for employers to know which factors are responsible for the adolescents’ change of mind to take these into account when recruiting applicants for their apprenticeship places. Therefore this contribution seeks to identify characteristics of adolescents at the end of compulsory education who plan to begin an apprenticeship and additionally to uncover variables that distinguish between those that stick with this educational plan and those that change their mind in the course of their last school year and instead continue with school.
Ample theoretical work and research exist on factors affecting educational and vocational choices. This contribution assumes that these factors also have an influence on whether a pupil modifies his educational plans in the course of his vocational orientation process. One line of research focuses on young people’s interests (e.g. Holland, 1997), values, expectations and self-concepts (cf. Leung, 2008). Sociological research examines social influences like expectations of the social environment towards appropriate behaviours and choices of young people socialised in that environment (cf. Bourdieu 1987). Parents’ ambitions for their children to achieve at least the same social status that they hold also influences young people’s educational decisions (cf. Boudon 1974), for example in the form of striving for a higher school leaving certificate. However, in a market-based VET system like Germany, the choice for an apprenticeship is not independent of (anticipated) institutional restrictions like the lack of supply of available apprenticeship places (cf. Heinz & Krüger, 1985). Despite a less tight apprenticeship market in recent years young people still face difficulties in transitioning into apprenticeships immediately after finishing compulsory education. Employers tend to be picky when selecting their future apprentices in spite of the recruiting problems mentioned above. Pupils who are aware of these difficulties might reconsider their intentions to search for an apprenticeship and instead continue their education at school to improve their chances for an apprenticeship place later on. Career orientation measures might also affect the adolescent’s expectancy for success regarding his educational pathway of choice. According to expectancy-value theory (e.g. Wigfield & Eccles, 2000), both the value of an option and the expectancy for success a person holds regarding this option determine whether it is chosen. Educational choices thus often represent a compromise between aspirations and genuine options, entailing young people to changing their intentions over the course of time. Furthermore, intentions are not always automatically turned into action (Heckhausen & Heckhausen, 2010). This contribution therefore not only focuses on the change of educational plans in the course of the last schoolyear, but takes a longitudinal perspective by relating it to the actual educational choice made after that schoolyear.
It is expected that the plan of beginning an apprenticeship as well as a change of this plan in the course of time are related to 1) sociodemographic variables, 2) personal factors (e.g. school performance, self-concepts), 3) aspects of the social environment, and 4) variables pertaining to the vocational orientation process, including perceptions of chances of success in the apprenticeship market.
The analyses are based on data from the German National Educational Panel Study (NEPS) from 2010 and 2011 (cf. Blossfeld, Roßbach & von Maurice, 2011). This panel study seeks “to study the acquisition of education in Germany, to assess the consequences of education for life courses, and to describe central educational processes and trajectories across the entire life span” (Blossfeld, von Maurice & Schneider, 2011, p.7). Amongst others, pupils in grade nine from a representative stratified cluster sampling are surveyed with regard to their educational and vocational plans. The survey instrument captures sociodemographic variables, various aspects of the self-concept and career planning activities. It includes questions on vocational orientation and choice, on interests and professional experience and on support from parents, peers and institutions in the process of vocational orientation.
The analyses presented here only include pupils from basic secondary schools, intermediate secondary schools and comprehensive schools, as pupils enrolled in upper secondary schools rarely leave school after grade nine. The target sample are those N=5.294 participating pupils who at the beginning of grade nine named either beginning a dual apprenticeship or continuing with school as their educational plan for the next year.
Variables included in the data set that are relevant for the research focus are 1) sociodemographic variables like gender and migrant background, 2) personal factors including attitudes, aspects of the self-concept and estimated as well as actual school performance, 3) information on the social environment like parents’ educational level and their aspirations for their child’s education as well as aspirations of peers and other social resources important for vocational orientation, and 4) variables concerning the intention to apply for apprenticeships, related beliefs about the feasibility of these intentions, and the state of the vocational orientation process.
Between-group comparisons were conducted to a) detect whether pupils who plan to begin an apprenticeship differ from those that plan to continue with school and b) whether those changing their educational plan differ from those who stick with their plan of beginning an apprenticeship throughout 9th grade, regarding the four categories of variables mentioned above. Subsequently a hierarchic logistic regression was conducted to explore the combined influence of those variables on the likelihood of a change of plan. Further analyses will show which pupils with plans for beginning an apprenticeship actually leave school after grade nine and which pupils continue with school despite their intentions for beginning an apprenticeship.
In compliance with the suppositions presented above, variables of influence in educational and vocational choice also prove useful for characterizing pupils who plan to begin an apprenticeship after finishing compulsory education and also for identifying those pupils that give up this plan in the course of grade nine and rather continue with school. Effects were found for all categories of variables described above. For example, pupils planning to begin an apprenticeship are more frequently enrolled in basic secondary schools, show lower school performance, have a less ambitious social environment and are more advanced in their vocational orientation process than pupils planning to continue with school. Concerning the change of plans (which is the case for more than one third of the sample), a logistic regression revealed that perceptions of chances of success and practical experience show the most distinct influence on the probability to give up plans of beginning an apprenticeship.
The next step will be to focus on the implementation of intentions and to use the four categories of variables to differentiate between pupils that actually leave school after grade nine to enter vocational training and those that despite their initial intentions stay at school to continue their general education.
The results of this contribution are important for understanding the processes influencing pupils in making and also changing educational plans. Specifically the results provide an insight into the question why so many pupils intending to begin an apprenticeship straight after finishing compulsory education set aside their plans when the time for implementing these plans draws near. This is relevant not only for Germany, but also for other market-based VET systems across Europe. Employers wanting to recruit apprentices can draw on these findings to adjust their approach towards their target group by taking additional factors of influence into account.
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