Mirte M.M. Scholten, Nicole Tieben
Vocational qualification as safety-net? Education-to-work transitions of higher education dropouts in Germany

Empirical Research in Vocational Education and Training, 2017: 9, issue 7, pp. 1-17
ISSN: 1877-6337 (print); 1877-6345 (online)

Background In Germany, almost 15 per cent of all first-year students leave higher education without obtaining a degree. The German post-secondary educational system is tracked however, and many dropouts enter the labour market with pre-tertiary vocational training certificates. We therefore examine if higher education dropouts benefit from these vocational qualifications obtained outside higher education and use vocational credentials as a safety net. Methods Using data from the German National Educational Panel Study (NEPS Starting Cohort 6), this study employs Cox and OLS regression models to examine the labour market transition of higher education dropouts. We distinguish the actual transitions (finding a job) from the occupational status of the first job. Results Our results suggest that higher education dropouts without pre-tertiary vocational qualifications have more difficulties finding a job, compared to dropouts with pre-tertiary vocational qualifications. Comparing the occupational status of dropouts with and without pre-tertiary vocational qualifications, we find that these are not associated with a higher occupational status. Conclusions We conclude that pre-tertiary vocational qualifications do serve as a safety net in case of drop out, because they protect from protracted pathways into the labour market. Apart from this we do not find evidence for additional returns of vocational certificates in terms of occupational status.