It is numerically impossible; they cannot employ anyone’: a study of VET students’ capabilities in Spain.

Lopez Fogues, Aurora (2014). ''It is numerically impossible; they cannot employ anyone': a study of VET students' capabilities in Spain.' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

The aim of this paper is to provide a critical outlook on the economic crisis and the repercussions of it on European educational strategies. Focusing specifically in Vocational Education and Training (VET) in Spain, it centres on how the discourses about crisis legitimize the undertaking of neoliberal policies that prioritize financial interests to human one. The contribution use the capability approach developed by Sen (1980, 1997, 1999) as a main normative framework for understanding the individual and particular values as well as for portraying students as transformative and active agents. The framework is complemented by the concept of social justice provided by Young (1990, 2001) to understand the collective freedoms of the subjects under scope, and how these are constrained in face of external factors. Taking vulnerability as an inherent human condition (Finemann, 2008, Misztal, 2011) the paper move beyond responsibilization discourses (Kelly, 2001; Gray, 2005; Sultana, 2011) and refers to the individual not as an isolated agent but as part of a community and society which influences her space of freedom and choices. The theoretical framework, hence, becomes in itself a methodology that uncovers individual assumptions and expectations and allows exploring the experiences of VET students and their transitions to the labour market.

The results and discussions presented along the paper account for a four years doctoral research lead by two core aims:

-          Theoretically examine how VET is understood and valued by practitioners and compare this with the existing literature.

-          Operationalize the CA by putting into practice the theoretical framework developed to empirically explore the dimensions of vulnerability and well-being on VET.

The sample was composed by 15 VET students from four different disciplines (Marketing, Administration, IT and Social Care) who volunteered to the study. 8 practitioners who were chosen by the students on the basis of being 'good teachers' and 6 in-company training tutors who were selected by the College on the basis of being 'good employers'. The qualitative analysis of the semi-structured interviews carried with each of them illustrates how financial cuts, educational changes and austerity measures negatively impact the quality of work experience of teachers and hence of VET students in and outside the College. The analysis reveals big shortages during the in-company training and a direct impact of that on their final aspirations, life-plans and well-being. The paper closes with a series of recommendations for the College to addressing structural deficiencies in terms of study and placement enrolment but concludes that although human vulnerability can be enhanced or reduced by the action of the College, the main factors influencing students work experiences and transitions are specificities of the precarious labour conditions, cultural environment, structural inequalities, limited economic resources and fragile welfare policies.

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