This study looks at the long-term effects of pupils’ choices between academic and vocational tracks at age 14. It finds that while there is no difference in employability between the two groups, those on the academic track gain advantages even if they do not go on to gain a degree.
The analysis is based on results of a nationally representative study carried out in Italy in 2014, in which respondents were asked about social background, educational choices and careers. The sample was restricted to those aged between 30 and 45.
Among this sample 35 per cent did not complete high school, 24 per cent completed an academic track, 29 per cent completed technical school and around 11 per cent obtained a vocational qualification. Half those who completed the academic track went on to gain degrees compared to just 16 per cent from technical schools and 8 per cent on the vocational track.
Those who completed the vocational track faced a small disadvantage in the labour market, but this was explained by their prior attainment. Those who completed high school on an academic track were much more likely to go into salaried jobs, even if they did not attend university – and this remained true even after taking into account social class and prior attainment.
The study concludes that while students and parents tend to believe an academic secondary education will mean university while a vocational choice will mean a smoother transition into work, this trade-off does not really exist in Italy. The academic route brings advantages which include both access to white-collar jobs and protection from demotion into manual work.
For students who are likely to succeed in them, academic programmes are a win-win option. More information for families could help encourage uptake and could contribute to the alleviation of social inequalities.
This is part of a special issue prepared by the LIFETRACK project. Other articles of this special issue can be found here.