Transition from education and initial training to the labor market

     Rapid economic and social changes (1) during the last decades had an impact on employment stability for workers. The consequences of these changes were much more obvious in the employment status of young people, whose full integration to adult society became more difficult and prolonged. The process of full integration to working life for most young people is no longer the crossing of a small bridge between education and a stable full-time job, but a continuous journey that starts inside the school and certainly does not end with graduation.

     Accordingly, the term "transition", that used to express the traditional movement from school or apprenticeship directly into the world of work, nowadays became broader, meaning the various pathways that young people take inside educational and occupational structures (2). More spesifically, the term "transition from education/initial training to working life" refers to "the period of time during which young people move from their principal activity of full-time schooling (or its vocational equivalent) to that in which their principal activity is work" (3). Thus, the transition period starts at the first years of lower secondary schooling and lasts up to an age of late twenties. According to another definition, "transition starts in the first year of that age, at which fewer than 75 per cent of the population are in education, and is ending in the first year of age, at which 50 per cent of the population are in work but not in education" (4).

     Certainly the process of moving from initial education to work, namely the first transition, is only one of many transitions that young people will need to make throughout their adult lives (5). However it is the most critical, because it may influence crucially the span of opportunities for education, training and work for the rest of their lives.

     The "transition debate" started in the 1970's, together with the increased youth unemployment, and was focused initially on particular problems that early school leavers and young people with limited skills face, when trying to enter the work force. The debate also explored the effectiveness of vocational and technical education. However, nowadays, it is widely recognized that the first transition can pose problems for most school leavers; those who enter the labor market directly from secondary school or apprenticeship, as well as those who enter further education and training pathways before seeking employment or those who combine education and work in various ways. All young people need to develop skills and competences that enhance their employability; to acquire those qualifications that will secure not only a first job early after graduation but also will help them avoid exclusion from the labor market on a long-term basis and help them cope with unforseen changes and become effective learners throughout their adult lives. These have also been the stated objectives of OECD's thematic review on the "transition" educational policy (6).

     Issues related directly or indirectly to the concept of transition, like: eliminating barriers for entering tertiary education, structure and content of education, modernisation of curricula, extent of acquiring work-qualifications during education and initial training, etc., which usually stand in the foreground of the education debate, forming the cornerstones of almost every educational reform, are on focus nowadays as never before.

     However "transition" is - appart from being the focus for the Ministry of Education - an issue which interests other institutions as well, which formulate and wield education or employment policy directly or indirectly: Ministry of Labor, local authorities, social partners organizations, research institutes, etc. All these institutions need reliable, well documented information in order to be able to contribute with their policy to the improvement of the transition process. But also the students themselves need information on labor market developments, training and employment opportunities, working life consequences of different education and professional options etc., in order to identify in due time those criteria that will enable them to make autonomous, conscious and realistic educational and vocational choices. Finally, reliable transition information is useful also for teachers and parents, so that they may be well informed to advise young people effectively.

Mechanisms for collecting, analyzing and disseminating data concerning youth transition - Observatories

     In most developed countries, data needed for policy making in education/ initial training and employment areas are being collected through "Graduate surveys". Some of these surveys are carried out by National Statistical Services in the framework of population censuses or by Statistical Services of the Education- and Labor- Ministries, in the form of school-population and labor force surveys (Belgium, Denmark, Scandinavian countries, Germany) and usually provide general data on the labor market performance of graduates. Most of the graduate surveys are carried out systematically and on a continuous basis using structured mechanisms, called "observatories". These "school-to-work transition observatories" aim mainly at monitoring initial education and training pathways leading to working life, qualification changes and relationships between supply and demand in various economic sectors and for various professions at both a national and regional level. The surveys include objectives such as to analyze collected statistical data, to compare them with relevant data generated with different methods by other services and to generate useful outcomes.

     Transition observatories are found either incorporated in the Education- and Labor ministries or they are set up as independent research institutes, or even located in universities and other research institutions. Depending on their scope, they are classified relative to the research design (objectives, population and sample size, methodology, ways of disseminating findings etc.).

     Graduate surveys are conducted by observatories, are conducted on a regular basis (mostly annually), on representative samples of graduate cohorts of different school types and education levels, 1-3 years after graduation, usually using mail questionnaires. They include a number of quantitative and qualitative variables such as: socioeconomic background, school achievement, pathways through initial education and training leading to working life, retrospective -monthly or semi annually - mapping of professional status, professional and geographical mobility, attitudes towards education and work, income, job satisfaction, employment stability, participation in continuing education and training courses, strategies for seeking and finding work, employment aspirations etc. In many cases a cross sectional survey following graduation is complemented by a longitudinal study aiming to explore the same variables in the course of time.

The following Observatories in Europe are worth mentioning:

     Some of the above observatories have a long tradition (e.g. ESRI/Ireland, 1980s), others were established recently (Portugal). Outside Europe significant observatories function for many years in North America (USA, Canada), Japan and Australia.

     Comparative data on education, training and employment in different European countries can be found in EUROSTAT and OECD publications. These data, however, are not sufficient, because they are very general and besides not easily comparable, since different countries adopt different semantic frameworks and methodologies. Nevertheless, with the support of European institutions like CEDEFOP, European Research Foundation, etc., transparency of data among European countries grows ever greater and researchers are given more and more opportunities for exchanging new knowledge and experience. Transition networks are set up and comparative research projects are undertaken. Typical examples of such networks are the "European Transitions in Youth" and the program CATEWE    (7).

The situation in Greece

     Greece, till recently, had not been participating in the European transition debate. It generally lacked the necessary valid quantitative and qualitative data that could allow its participation and facilitate the analysis of the complex relationships between the education system and the labor market, as well as the adjustment of the related work and education national policies (8). Only recently the significant rise of unemployment, underemployment and mismatch of graduates of all education levels, ignited the transition debate also in Greece. However, the studies conducted are confined only to pointing out the problem and reviewing related issues in the international literature and experience (9). A serious effort on the mappping of employment is made by the National Observatory of Employment (EPA).

The National Observatory of Employment: It is an institute supervised by the Greek Manpower Employment Organization (OAED), with administrative and operational autonomy, aiming at recording and analyzing the basic indicators of the labor market and employment. It has designed and applied a model of registration and medium-term forecasting of vocational training needs. It also applies a model of identifying specialties and skills in demand for all professions. Its documentation is based on: a) data originally generated in other services with expertise in labor market issues (ESYE, employers and labor union surveys) and b) primary empirical data generated from surveys conducted by EPA itself, mainly in geographical areas that face demographic problems, problems of restructuring the production system, pockets of unemployment, etc.

EPA's activities are oriented exclusively to the labor market and do not overlap into educational policy issues such as transition of school leavers from education to work or relationships between curricula contents and employers' requirements. This deficit is covered by the Transition Observatory, which deals with transition more as an individual-centered than an economy-centered process.

"Transition" Observatory of the Pedagogical Institute (P.I.): The project "Development of an Observatory of secondary education graduates in the labor market" was carried out in the period 1997-1999 by a research team of the P.I. and was funded by the B' European Community Support Framework. Central component of the project was a feasibility study, which included a pilot survey of secondary education graduates, who did not enroll in tertiary education. This survey produced significant evidence on youth establishment in the labor market, but also provided the opportunity for testing different alternative research methods and approaches, and for exploring parameters relevant to the development of the observatory. The following issues were explored:

- Scope and objectives of the observatory, organizational structure, surveys on focus
- Identification of critical target groups (age of young people, ways of locating them)
- Sampling methods
- Selecting proper interviewers
- Clarity and validity of questionnaire
- Frequency of surveys
- Possibilities for comparing and correlating with other findings
- Ways of classifying occupations
- Assignment of data entry and statistical analysis
- Ways of disseminating outputs and products

     Some of the above issues were explored with another survey (Interviewers' survey), which was in fact a parallel evaluation of the Graduates' survey, since the interviewers were asked to report their experience from the field study and to evaluate the questionnaire and the whole procedure followed. Decisive for the successful realization of the overall project was a formative and summative evaluation by Greek and foreign external evaluators.

     The project resulted in a comprehensive, well documented proposal for the establishment of the Transition Observatory (10). The term "Transition" was considered to cover the whole range of activities of an Observatory, which approaches for the first time the student before leaving compulsory education and monitors him periodically until his establishment and stabilization in the labor market.

     According to the research team's proposal, the Transition Observatory, through monitoring and mapping the educational/vocational choices of young people and exploring their career patterns, aims at examining the accountability of the education system, supporting the related educational policy and improving Careers Education. These objectives would be pursued through regular and occasional studies, large scale surveys but also through Ad Hoc case studies, at national or/and regional level. The following four surveys which will be repeated in regular time periods at national level, are intended to be the centrum of the Observatory's activities:

  •   Educational and occupational pathways of Greek Youth (longitudinal survey)
  •   The School-to-Work transition of Vocational Education Students (longitudinal survey)
  •   Dropout study in compulsory education (census)
  •   Identification of basic occupational skills (Ad Hoc Committees)

     Depending on regional needs, occasional graduates surveys may be carried out, as well as surveys on issues concerning the social partners etc.






(1)Globalization, information revolution, economic restructuring as a result of market globalization and of advanced technology, structural transformation of public and private domain, increased non formal employment, new skills and knowledge requirements, changes in qualification requirements for various jobs etc.


(3)This definition was formulated in the program "The transition from initial education to working life", which is a comparative analysis among European countries in the framework of OECD. OECD "Thematic Review: The transition from initial education to working life" Interim comparative report, 1998, p.8.

(4)OECD "Thematic Review: "The transition from initial education to working life" Interim comparative report, 1998, p. 115

(5)In the foreign literature the term "transitions" is used to convey the number and the variety of movements from education and training into working life. See OECD "Thematic Review: "The transition from initial education to working life" Interim comparative report, 1998, p.8 and

(6)OECD "Thematic Review: "The transition from initial education to working life" Interim comparative report, 1998, p.8

(7)The program CATEWE, in which 7 countries participate (Ireland, Holland, Scotland, France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal), aims at analyzing the transition from education to work in a comparative European perspective. Using data derived from school leavers' surveys and Labor Force Surveys, both cross sectional and longitudinal, it aims to develop a more satisfactory framework for understanding transitions in different European systems and to use this framework to analyze the factors affecting success and failure in education/training outcomes and labor market integration. Other programs are: IDARESA (Hannan, Lamb et all, 1994), CASMIN (Mueller & Shavit, 1997), LIRHE (Beduwe & Espinasse, 1977) etc.

(8)The lack of these data is also affecting the Careers Education program. Students experience Careers Education as a "subject" concerning choice of studies according to their interests and abilities and do not associate it with future profession and career planning.

(9)E.g. see OEEK: "Study of methods mapping labor market needs and exploring a system for monitoring vocational education" Evaluation, 1994

(10)The proposal was exposed for discussion with stake-holders of the Ministry of Education, the Pedagogical Institute and the National Observatory of Employment, in the framework of a summative external evaluation. Moreover two external evaluators, both university professors, were contracted for a summative evaluation of the proposal.