The research project focused on upper secondary school students enrolled in the industrial program, more precisely on the students’ learning and development of a vocational identity as future industrial workers. A special focus was on how the students experienced workplace-based learning at workplaces outside the school, which was part of their vocational education. The empirical material consisted of interviews with 44 second- and third-year students (11 girls and 33 boys), in six schools, all enrolled in the industrial program. All students had experienced workplace-based learning.
The results show that the students considered workplace-based learning important to learn the vocation, to become part of the work community in a workplace and to form a vocational identity as an industrial worker. In addition, the results show that students utilised a number of learning strategies for vocational learning in workplaces. These strategies were: taking a large amount of individual responsibility for their learning, asking questions actively, seeking acceptance and good role models among more experienced workers, positioning themselves as resources in the workplace, and being able to manage jokes or pranks from others, in order to become a member of the work community.
With regards to the students’ development of a vocational identity as an industrial worker and how they saw their future within the vocation, three student groups were identified, which corresponded to three different learning pathways. In one group students strongly identified themselves with the vocation and were dedicated to a future as an industrial worker. In another group students had a more flexible attitude to their future career and was open to working in the industry for a period and later change path. The students in the third group were ambivalent and did not identify themselves as industrial workers. Overall, the students’ social background, their experiences of the work and whether they saw a hopeful future in the industry or not was important for their development of a vocational identity as industrial workers.
Furthermore, the results show that both school and workplace-related conditions enabled the students’ learning in workplaces. Several school-related conditions served as a bridge for preparing the students’ entrance to the workplace and could later support their learning in workplace settings. The workplace environment was highly important for the students’ vocational learning because it allowed them to gain specific industrial “know-how” during workplace-based learning. However, opportunities to participate in work activities and to interact with experienced co-workers depended on whether the workplace learning environment provided good or poor conditions for learning and developing vocational skills. Hence, the school- and workplace-related conditions for vocational learning were shaped between the logic of the school and the workplace. To gain a deeper analysis of vocational learning and vocational education in-between school and workplace, we developed a theoretical model that considers how the school and workplace contexts interplay in vocational education when vocational students alternate between the school and workplace contexts and handle everyday tasks and challenges. The model is presented to an international audience in a chapter, included in an international handbook addressing vocational education (Gustavsson & Persson Thunqvist, 2018), and a translated version can be found in the Swedish book Gustavsson & Köpsén (2018).