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Students Who Make Untraditional Career Choices Will Receive Better Support

Many efforts are being made to encourage young people to break gender norms through their educational choices, but once they have made their choices, they are often left to fend for themselves. What additional support can schools and the actors in the labour market provide? This issue was the central theme of a recent Nordic conference in Stockholm.

’There is a lot of talk about encouraging young people to make untraditional career choices. There have for example been numerous projects to make girls more interested in fields like science and technology, but I think there is a need for other approaches as well. If these people start working and don’t feel comfortable in the work environment, they won’t stick around,’ says Gunilla Rooke at the Swedish National Agency for Education.
She is the Swedish coordinator of a project titled ’Gender equality in workplace-based learning in the Nordic countries’. The project involves various actors from Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Åland and has received funding from the Nordic Gender Equality Fund. The goal is to identify which methods are being used to support students, and to provide tools that can be implemented in the gender equality work carried out in upper secondary vocational education.

Gunilla Rooke, Swedish National Agency for Education.

How was the conference?
’It was great! There were lots of people there from both schools and various other sectors, so I’m happy.’

The project focuses on how students can be supported when they do their workplace training. Why is the support so important at that particular point?
’The first experience in an actual workplace can be a bit shocking. They perceive the school environment as fairly permissive, but some sectors really have a long way to go when it comes to attitudes and the work environment. Girls may start working at a construction site where changing rooms are either lacking or decorated with pictures of naked women. And boys pursuing a career in health care or preschool education may encounter a culture where they are marginalised and treated with suspicion. If these students are important to us, we need to find ways to support them so that they don’t give up. This is a challenge to both schools and employers.’

What can teachers and other school staff do?
‘When teachers contact employers to plan the workplace training, it is important to discuss whether the work environment is characterised by a certain culture or jargon, as well as what the school expects. As a vocational teacher, you also need to prepare the students for what they may come across in the workplace and give them strategies to handle it. You need to be there so that they feel they have somebody to talk to if there are problems.’

Do we know at this point which methods are effective?
’We know that there is a need for student support, but there is no coherent knowledge about the best way to do it. We hope that the project will fill this gap. Unfortunately, not much is being done to deal with this issue in a systematic way, but some sectors and schools are actually doing a good job. For example, the transport sector has a Vocational Training and Working Environment Council, which works actively with attitudes related to how employers in the sector host students.’

Are there any differences among the Nordic countries in terms of the support students receive?
’Yes, I believe there are. At least there are some important structural differences. In Sweden and Finland, the schools are responsible for the students when they do their workplace training. In Iceland and Norway, this responsibility lies with the employers, which makes it more difficult for authorities to demand things.’

What will happen next in the project?
’This conference was held in Stockholm, and we will arrange another three conferences focusing on the other countries. We’ll be in Oslo next month and in Åland in September.’

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Updated 10 December 2019