Meaningful transitions: how education shapes young working class individuals’ perceptions of work in austerity Scotland

Duffy, Seán (2019) Meaningful transitions: how education shapes young working class individuals’ perceptions of work in austerity Scotland. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The study detailed in the thesis Meaningful Transitions: How education shapes young working class individuals’ perceptions of work in austerity Scotland critically explores education to work transitions among young working class individuals in the city of Glasgow during the period of relative economic decline that followed the 2008 financial crisis. It seeks to understand how those ending their education and entering the labour market at 16/17 years old experience work and how far those experiences may have implications for formal education and the way we shape youth transitions. By focusing on the group most likely to experience sustained unemployment it is hoped a broad understanding of how education constructs expectations of work can be identified.

The following sociological study analyses whether the contemporary definition of work passed on to young people via education serves to reinforce their social position, thereby contributing to their relative failure to combat austerity and unwillingness to consider alternative work forms. By situating the research in the city of Glasgow a proposal for identifying broader trends across the UK and beyond within similar post-industrial working class environments is presented. The thesis specifically considers perceptions of work among final year secondary school pupils in an attempt to highlight not only how the reality of austerity is affecting school leavers’ aspirations but how it alters the way in which they perceive what work is.

The ongoing economic difficulties encountered in Scotland as a result of austerity has seen the country suffer a marked decline in youth employment during and after the financial crisis of 2008 with 26.4% of 16-19 year olds experiencing unemployment in 2010/11, an increase from 17.9% in 2007/8 (Anderson & Dowling, 2012). The reality that arises from the significant fiscal cuts associated with austerity is not only an economic consideration but a fundamental question of identity. The important role employment plays in shaping our identity within a community cannot be understated, or as Hughes (1975:209) puts it ‘there is something irrevocable about a choice of occupation’. Included within the social and economic capital we derive from our occupations are a number of other forms of capital which stem from culture to education (Stevenson, 2003). It is the hypothetical contention of the study that young people in Glasgow since the onset of the 2008 financial crisis are considerably deprived of many essential forms of capital and as such will be further disadvantaged going into an adulthood which is equally insecure.

In seeking to understand what constitutes work for those rapidly approaching the reality of having to find their first full time job arguments will be made to reconsider the theoretical foundations upon which we view youth transitions and reform careers advice post adolescence to further reflect the needs of those least likely to benefit from continued education. On a theoretical level, the research attempts to reconceptualise the ideas of André Gorz (1999) in relation to the new economic climate born out of the global financial crisis and seeks to understand them in terms of youth and young adulthood within Scotland and the wider UK. More generally, the research endeavours to inform policy debates on class, education and social mobility, specifically as a critique of the social consequences of fiscal austerity in communities already suffering from a sustained lack of investment. The analysis of young people’s transitional narratives after one year in the labour market presented herein will in turn inform a comprehensive understanding of how education prepares such individuals for the world of work.

Drawing on 230 detailed survey questionnaires and 30 in depth interviews with working class participants the following sociological study constitutes a unique research project based on a mixed-method design complemented by secondary sources leading to the following conclusions. There was little to suggest in either of the data collection stages that the young people who took part in this study have been exposed to or are cognisant of alternative work forms beyond the classic liberal model of employment and social security. Further, it would seem that young people opting for transitions directly from school to work actively embrace the precarious nature of this process, finding some element of pride in having opted for an ostensibly more difficult path. Many participants were largely hostile to narratives of welfare or social security and when radical alternatives such as Universal Basic Income were discussed there was a common tendency expressed to be dismissive of it. Further, there was a generally high prevalence of socially conservative attitudes regarding place, community, and identity evidenced throughout. Participants who had left education to pursue work immediately after school had by and large struggled in their year in the labour market with most reporting transitions fraught with difficulty and precarity framed by individualisation and alienation. Allied to this was a strong perception that this was a generation that had received a difficult hand in the economy, with accounts of resentment clear presenting evidence that the period of economic austerity from 2008 onwards has had a marked effect on how young people think about work.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Prof Andy Furlong and Fred Cartmel unfortunately passed away before the completion of this thesis.
Keywords: Young people; unemployment; long-term unemployment; worklessness; wage labour; economic inactivity; inequality; education; class; educational transitions; social mobility; precariousness.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
L Education > L Education (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Funder's Name: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Supervisor's Name: Furlong, Prof. Andy and Cartmel, Fred and Houston, Dr. Muir
Date of Award: 2019
Depositing User: Dr Seán Duffy
Unique ID: glathesis:2019-81524
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 29 Jul 2020 07:34
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2022 15:03

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