VET students: Optimistic, happy and less stressed

Optimistic, happy and less stressed. This is how young VET students appear in the snapshot taken by ENGIM Foundation’s survey among over 4.000 of ENGIM italian teenager students, and a control sample of 400 peers from high schools. The research responds to ENGIM’s desire to understand how new generations relate to work, what their expectations are, and the importance attributed to it in a future perspective. We discovered that the vision of future or core values of VET students does not differ significantly from those of their high school peers. And it is not the only “surprise” we encountered.

The research, directed by Prof. Daniele Marini (Community Research&Analysis) and elaborated in the report “Young people in training: different similarities”, first of all challenges the typically-Italian stereotype of VET learners coming exclusively from marginal social classes. The socio-cultural background of students’ parents shows the 66.7% coming from upper-middle class families, while the other third (33.3%) from lower classes. For those attending secondary schools, 86.6% come from upper-middle class families, 13.4% from lower classes. There are, therefore, some objective differences, but not such as to suggest a radical differentiation in the social composition of students as the collective imagination would have us suppose. Secondly, as also previously conducted researches testify, younger generations have an increasingly different approach to work and “traditional values” from elder ones. However, work has still a high importance, and it is considered sort of an anchor, among Italian VET students (71.8%), while the consideration is lower among their high-school peers (59.8%) and 18-34 young adults (68.6%). The 64.4% of VET students interviewed consider work a “pathway”, their experiences are a sort of “navigation” on the market. This means that the “subjective” dimension of the work is central, and it is characterised by a focus on the “possibility to express oneself” (37.0%) through work, rather than the more classic “instrumental” aspect of it (31.0%). VET learners look to the future with a higher level of hope and have well-defined dreams in their drawer, one can see confidence and, in particular, optimism in the future of work among VET students. Reference values are instead somewhat “blurred”: most of the young people interviewed are neither ‘traditionalist’ (referring to values of family, work and faith), nor ‘committed’ (culturally or politically), nor ‘fun-oriented’ (incline to leisure and friends). Italian young teenagers today are above all ‘relativists’: everything (including work) is relatively important, and becomes a lead to follow depending on the specific situation they are in at that particular moment, in a logic of adaptation. Finally, although as many as two-thirds of ENGIM students state that VET was their first choice, certainly a proportionally larger part of them (than their peers in high schools) arrive at VET with the ‘wound’ of a school failure. This makes the approach to education more complicated and challenging, for them and for teachers as well. But this confirms the role of vocational training organisations: give dignity and nurture responsible citizens among those people who would risk remaining on the margins of work and society. And one of ENGIM best tools is the work-based learning approach, which appears to make the hours spent at school less stressful for the students, which consider the training to be more valuable. It is reasonable to assume that, on one hand, there is an element of fulfilment and “redemption”, the possibility of proving oneself, and on the other hand, it is the proximity to work, learning in a working context that makes the training path more attractive. By listening to the needs and dreams our students expressed, ENGIM wants to continue on the path of going beyond merely instilling students with basic technical skills, instead we try to give them tools to feel empowered and a sense of interconnectedness. Our educational objectives have to include supporting efficiently younger generations in the work transition, not only from a professional point of view, but also in preserving their ideal dimension of work and its value, encouraging the change of the ‘relativist’ approach, and build conscious and self-confident young citizens. Finally we have been challenged generally as VET institution, we have seen the need to be highly adaptive for new generations that manifest a different approach to work and life, and to commit for VET to be agile, flexible, attractive and inclusive.


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