Author(s):Christof Nägele (presenting), Patsawee Rodcharoen

Conference:ECER 2017

Network:02. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)


Session Information

02 SES 09 B, Learning and Adaptation of Students and Apprentices

Paper Session



Chair:Johanna Lahja Lasonen


How Apprentices Adapt to the Work Group in a Training Company: An In-Depth Study on the Social Integration of Apprentices and the Role of Their Social Competences

After school, most adolescents continue their education and training on the upper secondary level in a company-based apprenticeship program (SBFI, 2013). This school-to-work transition entails a significant change in an adolescent’s life, as they start working in a training company as newcomers. Like any newcomer, they are required to adapt to regulations and norms of the company and meet existing expectations. To gain access to the various resources of the company which will ensure successful learning and development, it is crucial for the apprentices to become socially integrated into the work group. This progress relies to a considerable extend on the adolescent’s social competences (Nägele & Neuenschwander, 2016). In this paper, we report on a study that looks at the process of social integration within the first weeks of an apprenticeship, based on weekly self-report surveys.

A key point to be considered is the role of an apprentice that is different from the role of an adult working person. Apprentices have no prior work experience and their social experiences vary from that of an adult. This new situational context they strive to adapt to is characterized by hierarchical structures with age and power structures that are different from the situation they’ve known from school. The apprentices as part of this system can only succeed if they learn how all the business works by gaining access to the work group. Several studies have shown that companies and adolescents are aware of this important situation. There are suggestions available on how to welcome and integrate an apprentice. In a previous study, we also found that the transition from school to the upper secondary education and training in an apprenticeship is a rather smooth process for the vast majority of adolescents (Nägele & Neuenschwander, 2015). Nevertheless, contract changes or cancellations occur, either due to an insufficient performance at the vocational school or by struggling to successfully integrate into the training company (Stalder & Schmid, 2016). It’s also noted that if social difficulties occur and the social integration goes off poorly, this seems to be a process that unfolds within the first months in apprenticeship (Berweger, Krattenmacher, Salzmann, & Schönenberger, 2013). This is in line with research on adult newcomer integration (Kammeyer-Mueller, Wanberg, Rubenstein, & Song, 2013). This being said, we ought not assume that social competences can be simply transferred from school to work as the social situation changes crucially. Social competence is heavily dependent on the current social situation (Nägele & Stalder, 2017).

The purpose of this paper is to gain insight into the adaptation process of adolescents during the first six months within the apprenticeship on a weekly basis and to describe relevant dimensions of the apprentice’s interaction with both their supervisors and trainers as well as working colleagues. 


Our data stems from a study in which 31 adolescent apprentices were asked to report on their social integration in the training company on a regular basis, starting from a weekly basis, then biweekly and finally every three weeks between August 2016 to March 2017. Further the apprentices were asked to fill out two additional questionnaires preceding the first weekly report and after the last, assessing primarily the apprentice’s own perception of their social competences. The extended questionnaires took about 30 minutes each while the weekly reports were designed to require only 5-10 minutes to complete. Every survey could be filled out on a computer but also on mobile devices while commuting or during a break for example. This study provides both quantitative data as well as qualitative data, as the apprentices were asked to value their experiences on a scale but also to take notes on their adaptation process. The participation was voluntary for the apprentices; however, the company offers to compensate for the time used to take part in this study in form of time credit. The trainers were not included in this study, which is however planned for a follow-up study.
The training company offers apprenticeship programs in the technical area with the group of track layers and production mechanics being the largest groups in this sample (account for 29% and 25% respectively). All the participants are male with an average age of 16.29 (SD = 1.07).
The content of the study was presented directly to the participants in a presentation order to engage as many as possible for the weekly reports over 6 months. Also, we agreed on having a follow-up presentation to report to the participants the outcome of this study.

Expected Outcomes

We are going to present results from the first questionnaire. The variables in this questionnaire serve as predictors of the adjustment process and the outcome measures (questionnaire in March). Additionally, we will report on the reflection of the apprentices and how they describe their adjustment process. This study delivers an insight into micro-processes during organizational entry of apprentices from the perspective of the apprentices. This study helps, to identifying important events that can cause a good or poor social integration. And the study can help to further adapt theories on adult newcomer adjustment to the adjustment of apprentices in the school-to-work transition.


Berweger, S., Krattenmacher, S., Salzmann, P., & Schönenberger, S. (2013). LiSa. Lernende im Spannungsfeld von Ausbildungserwartungen, Ausbildungsrealität und erfolgreicher Erstausbildung. St. Gallen, CH: Pädagogische Hochschule St. Gallen, Institut Professionsforschung und Kompetenzentwicklung.
Kammeyer-Mueller, J. D., Wanberg, C. R., Rubenstein, A., & Song, Z. (2013). Support, undermining, and newcomer socialization: Fitting in during the first 90 days. Academy of Management Journal, 56(4), 1104–1124.
Nägele, C., & Neuenschwander, M. P. (2015). Passt der Beruf zu mir? Determinanten und Konsequenzen wahrgenommener Passung mit dem Lehrberuf beim Übergang in die Berufsbildung. In K. Häfeli, M. P. Neuenschwander, & S. Schumann (Eds.), Berufliche Passagen im Lebenslauf (pp. 49–74). Wiesbaden, D: Springer Fachmedien.
Nägele, C., & Neuenschwander, M. P. (2016). Apprentice–trainer relationship and work group integration in the first months of an apprenticeship. Empirical Research in Vocational Education and Training, 8(1), 4.
Nägele, C., & Stalder, B. E. (2017). Competence and the need for transferable skills. In M. Mulder (Ed.), Competence-based vocational and professional education. Bridging the worlds of work and education (pp. 739–753). Cham, CH: Springer International Publishing.
SBFI. (2013). Facts and figures. Vocational and professional education and training in Switzerland 2011. Bern, CH: Staatssekretariat für Bildung, Forschung und Innovation SBFI.
Stalder, B. E., & Schmid, E. (2016). Lehrvertragsauflösung und Ausbildungserfolg - kein Widerspruch. Bern, CH: hep verlag.

Author Information

Christof Nägele (presenting)
University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland, Switzerland
Patsawee Rodcharoen
University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland, Switzerland