Down, Barry and Smyth, John (2012) ‘Getting a job’: vocationalism, identity formation, and critical ethnographic inquiry. Journal of Educational Administration and History, 44 (3). pp. 203-219. ISSN 0022-0620

This article examines the highly disputed policy nexus around what on the surface appears to be the helpful field of vocational education and training. Despite the promises of vocational education and training to deliver individual labour market success and global competitiveness, the reality is that it serves to residualise unacceptably large numbers of young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, by reinforcing the myth that it is acceptable to have the bifurcation in which some young people work with their hands and not their minds. Furthermore, vocational education and training by itself cannot resolve the fundamental causes of poverty, unemployment, and economic inequality. This article draws on Australian research to describe the insights from a critical ethnographic inquiry in which young people themselves are key informants in making sense of ‘getting a job’; how they regard the labour market; the kind of work they find desirable/undesirable; the spaces in which they can see themselves forging an identity as future citizens/workers – and how answers to these questions frame and shape viable, sustainable, and rewarding futures for all young people, not just the privileged few.

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