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How would you symbolize a career trajectory?

Maybe you’re thinking about a ladder – the climb up, within a firm or from one firm to the next. Or a staircase, with different pathways that intersect. Sociologically speaking, however, a career is not necessarily an upward movement. It captures a person’s labor market-history: the individual stations, turbulences, and moments of unemployment. These histories have been found to systematically differ between people with general and vocational degrees.

Our logo captures this difference. The two curves symbolize the career paths of two types of workers, those with vocational and those with general training. The horizontal dimension represents age while the vertical dimension corresponds to workers’ employment rates. The crossing of the lines shows then, that the employment chances for workers with specific degrees are higher at the beginning of the career, but that, later in life, workers with general degrees have a relative advantage: they are more likely to be employed. This point, where the lines cross, is the crucial turning point that makes up the late career penalty.

The late-career penalty has been found in different countries. A common explanation for the pattern is that in the beginning of the career, vocational graduates have skills that can be applied right when entering the labour market, while the entrance of general graduates originally requires more training. Later on, however, as labour markets change and skills outdate, the general degree allows one to be more flexible and to adapt more easily. 

Learning more about how education plays out over the course of worker’s lives lies at the core of this project. What skills are required in changing labour markets and how are these requirements changing? How are differently educated workers affected by these changes? Where and how do careers differ – for example, is one type of worker more mobile than the other? How do employers evaluate general and vocational graduates? These are some of the questions we will investigate in the five coming years!