Structure and Agency: Exploring Aspirations of Youth Trainees
This case study explores the aspirations of young people in a youth training programme and how structure and agency shape their aspirations. Transition policy is currently based on the pathways framework which provides many different educational and training ‘pathways’ to assist young people to move from school to work. The pathways framework uses the ‘pathways metaphor’ as a response to the knowledge-wave economy where the individual is responsible for creating their own ‘pathway’ in a flexible and complex labour market. For youth in Youth Training their ‘pathway’ is often non-linear and complex; not having followed conventional or mainstream transitional markers they are easily labelled problem-youth and ‘at-risk’ or vulnerable to failure. This study endeavoured to move beyond the labels of young in Youth Training to explore their stories in the context of the lived-experiences. It gave them the opportunity to voice their aspirations for the future and considered the structure or societal constraints associated with their transitional experience. A case study was undertaken with a group young people in Youth Training aged between 16 and 17 years old. Eight semi-structured interviews and two focus groups were held with four male and four female participants, of which the interview questions gave the opportunity to explore how young people felt about their future aspirations, the relevance of their training to their aspirations and how the students exercise their agency during training. Themes were drawn from the data and interpreted using choice biography, youth agency frameworks and discourse theory. The discussion of the data also explored the structural constraints within which the data sits. Findings showed that the future aspirations of young people in youth training are shaped by their lived-experiences. These lived-experiences are mediated by structural constraints and their ability to use agency. Structural constraints negatively affected their lived-experiences; and therefore, at times impacted on their future aspirations. The young people in this study described many complex and unique stories that exhibited the use of agency. Agency was exercised in the context of their lived-experiences to move beyond structural constraints and pursue their future aspirations. This study recommends the use of the contextual research approach when exploring youth transition research.