< Back to Project Results

D: 514 / 02 ONLINE 26 A: 1
02. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)
Research Workshop
Alternative EERA Network: 05. Children and Youth at Risk and Urban Education
Topics: NW 02: Social issues in VET and social impact of VET provisions
Keywords: At risk youth, resiliency, vocational education and training, educational strategies, Baltic States, Norway

Resiliency strategies of at-risk VET students in Norway and the Baltic States

Vidmantas Tūtlys1Tarja Tikkanen2Marieke Bruin2Biruta Sloka3Krista Loogma4Meril Umarik4

1Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania; 2University of Stavanger, Norway; 3University of Latvia, Latvia; 4Tallinn University, EstoniaPresenting Author:Tūtlys, Vidmantas; Tikkanen, Tarja; Bruin, Marieke; Sloka, Biruta; Loogma, Krista; Umarik, Meril

The research focuses on young people at risk of social exclusion and the role of vocational education and training as part of the ecosystem supporting inclusion in the Baltic states and Norway. The potential of vocational education and training to deal with the problems of social exclusion, inequalities and polarization in the globalised and digitalised economies is recognised by many scholars and experts (Piketty, 2013, 2019; Tirole, 2016; Banerjee, Duflo, 2019). Young people across Europe face labour market exclusion in terms of long unemployment periods and nonparticipation in employment, education or training (NEET youth) or being at risk of exclusion.

Education is a significant factor affecting the labour market prospects of young people (Kazjulja & Roosmaa, 2016). At the same time, initial VET may become the source of social exclusion, due to the mismatches of provided skills and competencies and changing labour market needs and other problems of the quality of VET provision. Recent comparative studies have found that especially young people with lower educational level (basic education) graduated up to five years are in most vulnerable labor market situation (Rokicka, Unt, Täht, & Nizalova, 2018) as well as those with immigrant backgrounds.

One indicator of social exclusion of youth has been considered to be the status of the young people, aged under 30 (15-29) years, who are not in education, employment, or training (NEET). However, the problems with the NEET indicator are widely recognized, including the fact that not all NEET youth are excluded, and that not all socially excluded young people are revealed by the indicator (Bacher et al., 2013). Nevertheless, the proportion of NEET is alarmingly high and has been increasing since 2008 (OECD, 2018).

In this study we have chosen the context of VET to investigate the situation of the at-risk young people as they experience it and understand themselves in it, and to explore innovative solutions to address their challenges in collaboration between themselves, their teachers and other community actors and stakeholders.

The proposed study is guided by two main theoretical frameworks: socio-ecological approach (Evans, Waite, Kersh, 2010) and the resiliency or protective process approach (Zimmermann, 2013). The project uses the “social ecology“ approach as umbrella for theoretical framework applied in the project. The more institutionally oriented social ecology framework is complemented by Brofenbrenner’s (1979, cited in Evans et al., 2011) individual perspective on development and learning, as well as human agency. Agency implies a sense of responsibility to influence people, events and circumstances for the better (Giddens, 1984; Biesta & Tedder, 2007). The social ecology approach enables understanding of the role (e.g restrictive and enabling) of various social environments that young people at risk have been involved in, their learning and development paths, as well as identifying the factors enabling the development of their competences and exercising of their agency.

The socio-ecological approach is aligned with resiliency or protective process approach. The resiliency approach emphasizes positive factors in young people’s lives as the basis for positive change strategies (Zimmermann, 2013). Resilience theory “focuses attention on positive contextual, social, and individual variables that interfere or disrupt developmental trajectories” (ibid: 381). These positive factors, also considered as “promotive factors”, help to overcome the negative effects of the factors usually related to high risk exposure (Fergus & Zimmerman, 2005). In our study the focus is on identifying and promoting the positive personal strategies and factors supporting the strengths of young people. Our aim is to provide better understanding on the transitions between different levels of schooling as presenting possibilities for change and transformation in terms of young people’s self-understanding regarding educational trajectories.

Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used

To address the complex and multifaceted research goals of the study, the research is designed as a mixed-method study. There is applied a complementary qualitative and a quantitative methodology. A qualitative, narrative interview study approach (Thomson, 2009) is  applied to study at-risk youth in VET schools. There have been carried out 20-25 narrative interviews in each of the four countries, i.e. a total of 80-100. Parallel to it, there are utilized international (OECDs PIAAC) and national quantitative data and studies on the development of key and vocational skills, as well as on an individual’s skill use and background. The data is used to carry out statistical analyses on the skills and competences of young adults (16-25 years), also related to various background factors. These two types of data and analyses complement each other. The patterns and factors of inclusion/exclusion are compared across the four countries – Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Norway by taking into account broader European context.

Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or Findings

The research has revealed that the development pathways in the skill formation and vocational education of at-risk youth in the Baltic countries are characterized by the the market-oriented approach based on fostering immediate employability based on the momentary skills needs in the economy and the state-assistance  approach based on ensuring equal access to the VET and employment services by the state; whereas in Norway there can be noticed more systemic approach to support to socially disadvantaged or at-risk young people in developing their capabilities.
VET teachers and auxiliary pedagogical staff are the key actors in the ecosystems of skill formation enabling and supporting the resilience of at-risk VET students in the all countries. This circumstance significantly contributes to the “emancipatory” and “enabling” effects of the VET schools for the socio-professional development of at-risk youth in the countries of study. However, there are noticed important risks to the potential of  VET schools to empower at -risk young people related to the lack of attention of policy makers to and investments in the development of human resources (especially in the preparation of auxiliary pedagogical staff) and to the provision of pedagogical and psychological support to the at-risk VET students.
These gaps are currently compensated by the efforts and initiatives of the VET teachers and trainers, what raises questions and doubts about the sustainability of such support in the long term perspective (especially in the Baltic countries).  


Bronfenbrenner, U. (1974). “Developmental research, public policy, and the ecology of childhood”,  Child development, Vol. 45 No. 1, pp 1-5.
Bruin, M., & Nevøy, A. (2014). Exploring the Discourse on Communication Modality after Cochlear Implantation – A Foucauldian Analysis of Parents’ Narratives. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 19(3), 385-399.
Buchanan, J., Anderson, P., Power, G. (2017), “Skill ecosystems”, Warhurst, C., Mayhew, K., Finegold, D., Buchanan, J. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Skills and Training, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 511-529.  
Chapple, A., & Ziebland, S. (2018). Methodological and Practical Issues in Cross-National Qualitative Research: Lessons From the Literature and a Comparative Study of the Experiences of People Receiving a Diagnosis of Cancer. Qualitative Health Research, 28(5), 789-799. doi:10.1177/1049732317736284
Hiim, H. (2020). The quality and standing of school-based Norwegian VET. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 72(2), 228-249, DOI: 10.1080/13636820.2020.1734062
Lőrinc, M., Ryan, L., D’Angelo, A., and Kaye, N. (2020), “De-individualising the ‘NEET problem’: An ecological systems analysis”, European Educational Research Journal, Vol. 19 No. 5,  pp. 412–427.  
Kvale, S., & Brinkmann, S. (2015). Interviews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Tūtlys, V., Vaitkutė, L., Bukantaitė D. (2021). Development of Competencies and Qualifications of the VET Teachers and Trainers in Lithuania. In: Technical and Vocational Teacher Education and Training in International and Development Co-Operation. Springer Nature. DOI : 10.1007/978-981-16-6474-8555.