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CATEWE - A Comparative Analysis of Transitions from Education to Work in Europe

Markus Gangl, Damian Hannan, David Raffe, Emer Smyth

The transition from education to work is one of the most crucial phases in the life-cycle of individuals because it often channels and shapes individual careers and life chances. These transitions differ between European countries due to different educational systems, labour markets, and organization of societal work.

1. Objectives and Approach

CATEWE aims at analysing the transition from education to work in a comparative European perspective. The research is conducted to develop a more satisfactory framework for understanding transitions in different European systems and to use this framework to analyse the factors affecting success and failure in education/training outcomes and labour market integration. The main objective of this study is to describe and explain differences amongst individuals, and differences in patterns amongst countries, in the nature and "success" of young people’s transitions from full-time education into the labour market.

Our analyses of these transitions are based on cross-sectional analyses at the individual level, using Labour Force Surveys and national school leavers’ surveys, as well as on longitudinal surveys of young people during their initial years in the labour market. In addition, analyses will take into account changes over time in the pattern of education to work transitions.

The explanatory framework starts from the proposition that (macro) national institutional differences in educational and training systems, and corresponding varying relationships to labour market entry processes, constitute some of the most important influences on individual (micro) level transitions. At the macro level, our interest is in those institutionalised processes - including market processes - which structure or mediate individuals’ education/training outcomes and subsequent entry into the labour market, and the effects of these institutionalised processes on individual level transitions. At the individual level, our interest is in socially structured differences in processes or outcomes by social category - gender, age, social class and ethnicity; and the way in which this social differentiation relates to institutional differences. In addition, however, we will attempt to assess the varying extent to which pathways and transition processes have become more individualised and less structured over time, as well as national similarities and differences in these respects.

2. Key Research Questions

Our central research questions refer to the nature of education-to-work transitions in specific EU countries: particularly the way in which national institutional arrangements in education and training (ET) systems and related modes of labour market (LM) integration affect the nature of the transition process, in terms of employment returns to education/training, "success" in transition, and the length, sequencing and "turbulence" of transition patterns.

Five basic research questions structure our research:

1. What is the nature and extent of similarities and differences in education/training systems in the EU countries studied, and in the associated type and level of education and training achieved by current school/college leavers entering the labour market?

2. What is the relationship between differences in education/training outcomes and the social background (ascriptive) characteristics of school leavers: gender, social class, ethnic origin? Do such social differences vary systematically across national systems?

3. How do transition (particularly school-to-work) processes vary systematically across countries (e.g. in terms of their length, complexity, and process of "sett-ling down" in the labour market)? To what extent are these differences related to differences in education/training and labour market structures?

4. What is the nature and extent of the relationship between level and type of educational achievements of school/college leavers and (the success of) their transition processes and outcomes? How do these relationships vary by type of system?

5. What is the relationship between social background characteristics and labour market outcomes? To what extent is this mediated by education?

3. A Conceptual Framework of Transitions in Europe

The conceptual framework takes account of three interrelated elements:

(a) the demographic, economic and labour market context within which transitions occur;

(b) the dimensions of the education/ training system;

(c) the nature of the transition process.

Since the focus of the project is specifically on comparative perspectives on youth transitions rather than cross-national variation in overall labour market characteristics, the focus will be on developing elements (b) and (c). The framework will deal with contextual issues only in so far as they influence the nature of the education/training system and its relationship with labour market outcomes, since they primarily apply to the state of the business cycle, structural changes in the economy or the demographic and family structure at the national level (cf. Figure 1). With respect to these former aspects, the concept of transitions is crucial to the study as features of transition processes are thought to be dependent on the institutional structure of education/training systems.

Figure 1: A Comparative framework for analysing transitions from education to work

Concept of Transition

For the purposes of this study, the concept of transition is seen as referring to a sequence of statuses or positions achieved over a period of time from a point in full-time education (or at the "end point" of such education) to a point some years later when the majority of such "school leavers" have reached a "stable" adult status. The traditional sequence in times of low unemployment was from full-time education into the labour market, either directly or indirectly through an apprenticeship. In this case, most young people experienced only a short period of job search and job changing before obtaining secure employment. However, the growth of youth unemployment has been associated with a number of changes in the nature of this transition process. Firstly, the number and complexity of status changes has increased in most countries, particularly in the context of the expansion of youth training and employment schemes. Secondly, the time taken to "complete" the transition has increased significantly, due to delayed entry into the labour market, greater "turbulence" in job trajectories and the expansion of training/ employment schemes. Thirdly, a number of researchers have argued that there has been greater individualisation, encouraging young people to plan and negotiate their "careers" within the context of existing opportunities and resources; with some research even suggesting that the influence of social characteristics on educational and occupational achievement have become less pronounced over time. Important features of the transition process, therefore, include

1. The number of transition stages: the number of changes in status or position experienced by a young person in a specified period.

2. The length of the individual transition period: the time from leaving the education/training system to attaining a "stable" labour market position.

3. Differentiation between transition statuses: including the distinction between different transitory statuses (such as schemes, supported employment, "first job") as well as the extent of overlap between statuses.

4. The nature of trajectories in terms of trajectory types: particularly the ways in which education, training, qualification outcomes and employment/unemployment are interrelated in the initial transition period.

5. The extent of individualisation: this concept has tended to be used in two separate senses: (i) a growth in the number and complexity of transitions (which relates to (1) above); (ii) a reduction in the correlation between transition processes and background characteristics such as gender and social class.

6. Transition "outcomes" in terms of specific labour market states at an arbitrarily defined point in or at the "end" of the transition sequence. The main outcomes to be addressed by CATEWE are principal economic activity, occupational status, industrial allocation, wages, content congruence, that is, matching between type of education and type of occupation, and "level congruence", or the extent of "matching" between level of education and occupational status amongst others.

Dimensions of Education and Training Systems

Education and training systems in Europe differ along a number of

dimensions which affect the nature of education/training received by young people and which have clear implications for their subsequent transitions into work and the positions attained in the labour market. The following dimensions appear to be the most important sources of variability for the purposes of our project:

  • Standardisation

refers to the extent to which curricula, examinations and certification are standardised and "quality assurance standards are ensured" on a national or regional basis. Standardisation is relevant because it enables employers to assess job candidates in terms of their education/training qualifications. These can be taken as a direct indicator of particular skills or proficiency in certain areas or as a proxy for more diffuse characteristics, such as underlying ability, motivation, punctuality, obedience etc. While all of the study countries can be seen as quite highly standardised in terms of their initial education systems, greater variation is apparent between countries in the degree to which vocational training is nationally standardised and the way in which this relates to educational standardisation.

  • Differentiation

There are three senses in which education/training systems differentiate between young people:

  1. Differentiation between institutions or curricular programmes at the same stage

    This "track differentiation", mainly between academic and vocational routes, may involve students attending different institutions or may occur within the same establishment. Systems differ in the timing of this differentiation, the degree of "track differentiation", the boundaries between tracks and the potential for movement between tracks at the same stage. ET systems also differ in relation to the extent to which vocational options are occupationally specific.

  2. The extent and nature of formal differentiation at the end of each stage

    In addition to considering the difference between academic and vocational tracks, it is necessary to assess the way in which the education/training system "ranks" or "sorts" individuals at the end of each stage. We use this dimension to refer to differentiation in terms of awards such as grades. The main comparative dimension to such outcome differentiation, therefore, is the degree to which qualifications indicate performance level of students at the final examination taken.

  3. The relationship between differentiation and progression into the next stage. The nature of differentiation in particular systems may affect whether young people can progress to the next stage, whether they can move between different routes or tracks and the type of further education and training to which they have access. In addition, those who have taken vocational tracks may not have access to higher education on the same basis as those who have taken academic routes.

These three dimensions reflect the way in which education/training systems differentiate among their students. Differentiation is likely to have an impact on transition processes as it implies an institutionally defined structure of the value of qualifications, which in turn is likely to be adhered to in recruitment decisions. These macro-level dimensions also shape the nature of the decisions made by young people (and their families) in terms of participation in education and training. Cross-national analyses will allow us to investigate variation in the relative importance of these dimensions.

  • School-to-work linkages: the role of employers in the education/ training system

Countries vary in the extent to, and way in, which employers are involved in the education/training system. This is likely to have important consequences for the nature of the transition process among young people, e.g. in terms of occupational matching of qualifications and jobs but also in patterns of job attainment. Employer involvement can be considered along a dimension ranging from a direct role in training provision, influence in curricular specifications and decisions, direct school placement functions to little direct involvement in the educational system.

  • Youth training

The nature of state provision for youth training relates both to the education/training system and to the labour market. There appears to be cross-national variation in the level of youth training provision, the extent of formal differentiation between tracks of youth training and the extent of inclusion of youth training into the education and training system. As "trainees" occupy an ambiguous position in their national labour markets in general, these cross-national differences are expected to translate into a respective shaping of the transitions observed.

Models of Education to Work Transitions

We readily acknowledge that many of the above dimensions of education and training systems are correlated at the national level. In this sense, it might be beneficial to think in terms of different national models of labour market integration. Such clusters of institutional arrangements are preliminarily defined according to two of the most important dimensions of ET systems (standardisation and curricular differentiation) and their possible relationships (linkages) to labour market entry processes (cf. Table 1). Notions of integration regime types may serve to illustrate the likely type of relationships between ideal type models of macro to micro level relationships and give a kind of holistic overview on the stratification achievements of different sets of institutions shaping labour market entry. At one extreme of the continuum of European states, one might place the German "dual system" which institutionally constructs, supports and potentially constrains individual trajectories. At the other end of the continuum there is the "open market" model (perhaps typified by Ireland) where there are much fewer institutionalised connections between education, training and the labour market, and potentially more open competition between those with different levels and types of educational qualification for the same occupational positions. By taking this kind of abstract perspective on transitions from education to work we intend to arrive at a broad overview on the institutionally induced variation in transition processes in Europe.

Table 1: A typology of ET systems and labour market linkages

Source: Damian Hannan, David Raffe and Emer Smyth 1997: Cross-National Research on School to Work Transitions: An Analytic Framework, 409-42 In Patrick Werquin, Richard Breen and Jordi Planas (eds.), Youth Transitions in Europe: Theories and Evidence. Third ESF Workshop of the Network on Transitions in Youth. La Ciotat, September 1996. Marseille: CEREQ.

  • Project Context and Expected Outputs

CATEWE is a research network established to address issues in comparative research on youth integration into the labour market on the basis of the above framework. The network is funded by the European Commission under the Targeted Socio-Economic Research (TSER) programme for the period December 1997-December 2000. Research is co-ordinated by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), Dublin, and the full network comprises the Centre for Educational Sociology (CES), Edinburgh, DESAN Market Research, Amsterdam, the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA), Maastricht, the Centre d'Études et de Recherches sur les Qualifications (CEREQ), Marseille, as well as the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research. Additionally, the Hoger instituut voor de arbeid (HIVA), Leuven, and the Instituto para a Inovação na Formação (INOFOR), Lisbon, take part in the research as subcontractors to the original CATEWE partners, while the Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI), Stockholm, is associated to the network based on own funds. Within the CATEWE project, the MZES co-ordinates empirical analyses of the European and national Labour Force Surveys.

Under the CATEWE research period it is hoped to achieve the following tasks:

1. to formulate a refined conceptual framework for comparative analysis of transitions from education to work, esp. highlighting their institutional embeddedness;

2. to arrive at an exploration of national similarities and differences in education and training systems and their outcomes;

3. to arrive at an identification of the main factors influencing successful labour market entry in conjunction with an attempt to explain similarities and differences in the observed patterns. Comparative explanations will be based on institutional hypotheses referring to the structure of education and training systems respectively labour market integration regimes as detailed above.

4. the development of proposals to harmonize existing school leaver surveys, and the provision of advice and encouragement to research teams and countries planning to establish such surveys Project results are to be published and disseminated through reports, working papers, conference presentations, and publications in scientific journals. Specifically, the project will directly contribute to the OECD’s current Thematic Review of the Transition from Initial Education to Working Life, and is integrated into other policy relevant channes through national or EU-level networks.

The CATEWE Network

  • Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), Ireland (Project Coordinator)
  • Mannheimer Zentrum für Europäische Sozialforschung (MZES), Germany (LFS coordinator)
  • Centre for Educational Sociology (CES), Scotland
  • DESAN Market Research, The Netherlands
  • Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA), The Netherlands
  • Centre d'Études et de Recherches sur les Qualifications (CEREQ), France
  • Hoger instituut voor de arbeid (HIVA), Belgium (sub-contractor)
  • Instituto para a Inovação na Formação (INOFOR), Portugal (sub-contractor)
  • Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI), Sweden (associated partner)

CATEWE Contact

Professor Damian F. Hannan
Dr Emer Smyth
Economic and Social Research Institute
4 Burlington Road, Dublin 4

Phone: + 353.1.667 1525
Fax: + 353.1.668 6231
E-mail: or or CATEWE Group e-mail address:


Contact at the MZES

Professor Dr. Walter Müller
Markus Gangl
MZES, University of Mannheim
D-68131 Mannheim, Germany
Phone: + 49.621.292.1889 or + 49.621.292.1708
Fax: + 49.621.292.1714
E-mail: or markus.gangl@mzes.

Markus Gangl is sociologist at the MZES, Research department I; Damian Hannan is Professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin, and co-ordinator of the CATEWE network; Emer Smyth works as a sociologist at the Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin, and coordinates the analyses of school leaver surveys within CATEWE; David Raffe is Professor of Sociology of Education and Director of the Centre for Educational Sociology, Edinburgh.