This paper explores the nexus between the concepts of vocation and of occupational identity and their links to the training system. Vocational education and training (VET), and apprenticeship systems in particular, have grown from concepts of occupation. It is self-evident that VET prepares, or upskills, people for work, and therefore the training must relate to job roles, whether broadly or narrowly defined. However, the processes by which students receive training that is high quality, rigorous and government-funded are not clearly defined. One yardstick that can be applied is that training is much more likely to be privileged (in terms of training provision, rigorous curriculum and government funding) when a job is considered to be an ‘occupation’. The development of occupational identity is taken for granted, for example in traditional ‘trade’ apprenticeships in Australia or the UK trainers and teachers, employers, trade unions and policy makers share a commitment to the apprenticed trades as distinct and valuable occupations. What are the implications of these issues for the training system as a whole? In Australia, as in the UK, the availability of qualifications has kept pace with the structural changes in the economy as a whole (i.e. with the relative shift to service industries), yet some occupations and some qualifications are less respected than others. This paper uses recent research carried out in Australia to show the potential effects on workers and their access to training of conceptions of ‘worth’ in work.
In Australia, as in many other countries, initiatives are constantly being developed which aim to assist school students’ transition into work. One such initiative, which was introduced towards the end of the 1990s, was the introduction of school-based apprenticeships and traineeships, often referred to by the umbrella term “school-based new apprenticeships” (SBNAs). Students taking part in these programs, normally in the final two years of schooling (Years 11 and 12), combine part-time work, study towards a vocational education and training (VET) qualification, and normal attendance at school. This paper reports on the first large-scale research study of school-based apprentices and trainees, which was carried out in late 2001 through a survey of students involved in the programs. The survey was carried out in the three Australian States with the highest numbers of school-based apprentices and trainees, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia. The paper commences with a description of the nature of school-based apprenticeships and a description of their introduction and rapid growth. It then gives an overview of the young people’s jobs, their learning and training, and concludes by discussing four problematic areas.