This chapter reports the findings of a project, funded by the United Kingdom’s Economic and Social Research Council, that explored the influence of basic skills (literacy, numeracy and oracy skills) on school-to-work transitions of young people growing up in the North East of England. A sample of 55 adults aged between 20 and 30 was interviewed between April of 2003 and July of 2004. These sample members had undertaken basic-skills learning in a community, college or work setting. This either had been ‘embedded’ in training such as New Deal or was dedicated basic-skills provision. In total 24 men and 31 women were interviewed, and all live in the North East of England in disadvantaged communities. In-depth, qualitative life-history interviews were used (Bertaux and Thompson, 1997; Hubbard, 2001) to construct biographical ‘life grids’ (Webster et al., 2004) that charted the transition experiences of each individual, including school-to-work, domestic and housing transitions. A central aim of the research was to investigate how basic skills competencies might be implicated in the conditioning of transitions into adulthood – including transitions between education and work. The chapter begins with a short discussion of current explanations for transitions from education to work and moves on to outline the basic-skills context in the United Kingdom (UK). We then briefly review the transition experiences of our sample members before introducing some key explanatory concepts that help us make sense of the role basic skills plays in the transitions into adulthood of the sample we interviewed, including the notion of basic-skills events, basic-skills practices and reflexive individualism. Finally, we outline some important strategies used by individuals we interviewed when making transitions. Discussion of the latter illustrates how our research – though modest – has a wider significance for policy and practice as it demonstrates how individuals with serious skill problems manage in their daily lives. In some cases they were relatively successful in making key transitions to adulthood, yet, paradoxically, they often avoided the sorts of formal learning opportunities that might have assisted them at these key points in their life. Our research therefore provides an insight into the construction of the demand for learning and the problems that any new skills agenda, such as current Skills-for-Life initiative (Department for Education and Skills, 2003) in the United Kingdom, will face to improve basic skills.
|Title of host publication
|Transitions from education to work : new perspectives from Europe and beyond
|Place of Publication
|Published - 2009