Why place matters. Understanding VET/FE graduates’ career choices.

why place mattersThe gap in the economic fortunes between regions within many EU member states has been growing. The latest European Jobs Monitor (Eurofound,2019) describes a landscape of growing inequality between EU regions.  Patterns of population and employment growth vary across regions within the same country. Capital city regions and more generally highly urbanised areas benefit disproportionately from growth in well-paid, high-skilled employment whereas post-industrial, peripheral and rural areas lag behind.

The mobility of graduates is commonly seen as an antidote to unbalanced regional growth. The accompanying rethoric tends to describe “the global graduate” as an individual making rational decisions, moving around and thriving in “the global marketplace”.  But this fictional account has been busted with graduate tracking data. In a recent article, Charlie Ball, Head of Higher Education Intelligence at Prospects, highlighted the strong influence of place in the career decisions of UK Higher Education graduates. Destination data shows graduates tend to work in the region they studied in (58 per cent) or in the region they were orginally domiciled (69%).

Does place also matter for VET/FE students and graduates?

TRACKTION has asked over 600 VET/FE students in their final year where they want to live and work, and how confident they are about getting there.  Our data indicates geographical mobility is largely absent in the future plans for much of our VET/FE student sample. Most of them expect to find a job and make a living in the region where they live and/or study. Six out of ten respondents indicated they would like to work in the region they studied in. This pattern is consistent across the four regions involved in the pilot survey (1). 

Of course, there may be a gap between intentions and reality. We will know for sure in January 2020 when we will contact the same batch of students 6 months after graduation. Would they eventually find a job in the region? Would they have to go to work somewhere else? Why?  The bond between person and place is largely an emotional matter and for the VET/FE students in our sample mobility is not a popular choice.

Student’s expectations about the likelihood of finding a job in the region, whether aligned with reality or not, may exert some sort of influence on the decision to stay or leave.  Hence, our pre-graduation survey also asked how confident they were about the opportunities in the geographical area they planned to live in. More than half of the respondents reported being confident (56 %) or even very confident (10%) in finding a job in the place where they want to live.

Differences regarding employment prospects among final year students can be accounted for by factors such as gender or field of study/vocational track. In Asturias (Spain) for example we’ve noticed female students were far more pessimistic than their male counterparts. More than half of female respondents (58%) were not confident in finding a job in the region, whereas less than 25 % of male respondents shared this pessimistic view. Is gender the only factor behind this perception or is it simply a symptom of the lower employment prospects of fields of studies with higher share of women graduates?

How realistic are these beliefs though? Mueller, Spinnewijn and Topa (2018) found “reported beliefs have strong predictive power of actual job finding” but at the same time job seekers are over-optimistic in their beliefs”. Triangulation with tracking data after graduation and updated labour market intelligence is absolutely crucial here in order to get a fuller and contextualised picture of regional labour markets and how they impact on VET graduates career choices. This can then improve employability and career guidance services in FE/VET institutions.

(1) Survey participants lived and studied in four regions:  Asturias (Spain), Groningen (Netherlands), Lombardy (Italy) and Pärnu (Estonia)

Further reading

Ball, C. (2019, October 13) There’s not such thing as the national graduate labour market. [Blog post] Retrieved from https://wonkhe.com/blogs/theres-no-such-thing-as-the-national-graduate-labour-market/

Eurofound (2019) European Jobs Monitor 2019: Shifts in the employment structure at regional level. https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/sites/default/files/ef_publication/field_ef_document/ef19036en.pdf

Mueller, A. I., Spinnewijn, J., & Topa, G. (2018). Job Seekers’ Perceptions and Employment Prospects: Heterogeneity, Duration Dependence and Bias (No. w25294). National Bureau of Economic Research. http://personal.lse.ac.uk/spinnewi/MST_draft.pdf

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