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Placement of Youth in the Labour Market

Lourenço Frazão

Teresa Oliveira

Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia
Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal

Paper Presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Lahti, Finland 22 - 25 September 1999

This paper was based on the research carried out within the project DUOQUAL network co-ordinated by Sabine Manning, from WIFO, Germany.


Within the framework of the challenging society of modern Europe and based on an anthropocentric perspective we present some theoretical perspectives on youth placement. An empirical study was carried out in Portugal centred on the importance of placement of youth and the factors, which affect it. In it, the problem of placement, the results, the conclusions and the recommendations are presented. The present study is part of a broader study, which is being carried out.


The internationalisation of enterprises, the globalisation of the markets, the worldwide expansion, the rapid economic changes and the abolition of geographical and customs borders make the theory of human capital devoid of any meaning. As the result of these economic changes, there has been a rise in competitiveness, innovation, and the striving for quality in products and services. New organisational models are beginning to emerge, calling for new skills such as flexibility, multiple abilities, teamwork, creativity and autonomy.

This situation points to the importance of Human Resources as factors of investment, economic development, and as key elements of competitiveness. Thus, from an anthropocentric perspective they must be perceived as factors of social development, and, consequently, as development of the organisations.

The demands of the labour market reinforce the importance of development of new competencies as a facilitator of professional placement. Given the implications involved in the social placement of the youth in the labour market this issue increasingly assumes primary importance to research and to reflective thinking.

Professional placement cannot be disconnected from social placement, which means that placement is a socio-professional process. Placement, as a factor of social cohesion, is a very important aspect, for it can help reduce the social imbalances, and attenuate social exclusion.

The significance of this exploratory study on the problems that affect placement is important to evaluate VET so that the placement process and the training process can be adequately co-ordinated.

Given the social implications involved in the placement of the youth in the labour market, this issue increasingly assumes primary importance to research and to reflective thinking on the part of all those involved in the education/training of youth.

Conceptual Framework

The problem of professional placement is associated with the different aspects of unemployment (Schwartz, 1981; Vernières, 1993; Granget, 1995; Alaluf, 1995; Groupe "Missile", 1996), which assumed alarming proportions as of the decade of the 80’s.

From this standpoint a job assumes paramount importance to the individual who is able to see the former as a self expression, that is, where the individual "alone or in a group can do things, while finding expression and projection in reality" (Granget, 1995:46). In other words, having a job and earning money can mean for the individual "the projection of self in the present, and the translation of his concrete value in reality" (Ibid). This perspective leads us to the existence of a close relationship between placement and employment.

We may say that professional placement represents the entry of the youth in the labour market, and that includes a whole set of training and integration mechanisms which enable a person who has just come out from the education-training system to hold a stabilised position within the labour market (Vernières, 1993:91). That is, placement "is a process whereby an individual or a group of individuals who never belonged to the active population desires a stabilised position in the employment system" (Id.,p. 94). According to this author if the complexity of the placement process in the 90’s in itself alters the concept of placement, this is because professional placement has been turning into a period, which tends to increase in the course of time and to the measure in which unemployment continues to rise.

The meaning that we attribute to the concept of placement is centred in a perspective that professional placement cannot be disconnected from social placement, which means that placement according to Schwartz (1981), Azevedo (1994), Massimeli (1994), Groupe "Missile" (1996), is a socio-professional process. Indeed, an individual, when placed in a social or professional group does not blend with this social body, whereas the latter, for its part maintains its integrity.

As of the mid-70´s, placement ceased to be "a moment" of transition between the education/training system and the employment system, and was regarded with calmly and normally, and became a "complex process" (Vernières,1993:92). In the present situation placement is characterised by "instability, no longer a specific attribute of the youth and no longed places training and employment in a sequenced time frame (...) but rather alternates moments of training, on-the-job training, precarious labour and unemployment" (Correia, 1994:18). Whence arises the question of placement with the implications, which we know.

Placement, as a factor of social cohesion, is a very important aspect, for it can help reduce not only the social imbalances, but at the same time attenuate social exclusion. In this sense, we may say that the concept of placement is a new notion which is characterised by the "adoption of new practices in social action" (Granget, 1995:42), and which in the present context may be inserted as "a characteriser of an evolution in the social thinking on the conservation of social cohesion" (Id., p.43).

The fact that an individual has a job may not mean to him more that a matter of survival, and may not comprise a factor of social integration and recognition, this being the reason why it is easy to find individuals who are excluded and marginalised. Indeed, integration is an important issue that helps us to understand the socio-professional placement of individuals, for, as we have already mentioned, professional placement cannot be disconnected from social placement.

Thus, it is important that the institutional mechanisms of professional and social placement see these aspects as relevant and pertinent, not only with the view to meeting the needs of the youth, but at the same time, supporting them in their difficulties in a crucial phase of their life such as that of their transition to an active life. In this sense, Schwartz, (1981:91-123) refers must be made to the need for the existence of housing, free time, health care, justice, and the fight against delinquency and the generally negative image of the youth projected by the media, as the main factors which can contribute to the socio-professional placement of the youth. This idea reinforces the socio-professional dimension of placement, and we may therefore stress that for there to be professional placement there must also be the "integration of the norms of the prevailing social system, updated by social practices which enable these persons to live in interaction with their environment without major obstacles" (Groupe "Missile", 1996:110).

Professional placement cannot be considered merely as a close relationship between training and employment, but rather that it presupposes that the respective person has a personal and professional project which takes into account "the family and community life and the activities relating to the development and the expression of the person" (Massimelli, 1994:28). We may therefore say that professional placement signifies for the individual not only a process in which he can develop a professional identity, but also a period of personal transformation and a change in his very identity (Hardy, 1994:47).

From this standpoint, employment takes on a decisive importance for the individual as this employment can became self-expression, that is to say, on in which the person "alone or in group may do thinks, find self-expression and projection in the real" (Granget, 1995:46). In other words, having a job and making money means for the individual "a self-projection in the present, it is the translating of his concrete value, not though speeches, or dreams, but in reality" (Ibid.). This view takes us to the existence of a close relationship between placement and the materialisation of his personal and professional projects.

The development of new professional skills appears to be, in our view, a predominant factor in the professional placement of the youth, to the measure in which the learning process in a context of change that requires new professional skills, enables them to develop their capacities and abilities that can prepare them to face the challenges of this change.

Professional experience is only acquired by "doing" and by a personal, on-a-job experience. This experience is important to enable the youth to compare their school knowledge with the on-the-job experience. This will permit them to gain the professional experience capable of valorising their initial training and thereby enriching their professional competencies. However, if the problems of placement worsen the longer the youth "delay their comparison between the school knowledge and on-the-job experience" (Vernières,1993:94), we may say that the period of placement "can be an occasion for gaining indispensable minimum experience needed for the valorisation of the initial training" (Id., p.96).

In order to attenuate these problems of initial training, a very important contribution can be made by the mechanisms of placement such us alternate training, apprenticeship, and community service, which, with or without remuneration, comprise life and work experiences which can valorise the placement process of persons in the job market.

In this context, the concerns resulting from the social and professional implications that emanate from a job shortage, call for reflective thinking on the initial education/training, not only on the level of the learning processes but basically, on the level of the mechanisms which promote the gaining of experience through work, such as training in formal or informal job context by alternate means of learning and training.

Empirical Study

An empirical study was carried out in Portugal, with the purpose of shedding light on the importance of placement for youth and the factors, which affect their placement. Our field of analysis is a professional school on the outskirts of Lisbon.

Data was generated from the answers given to a questionnaire administrated by mail to 24 youth, 18 boys and 6 girls (18 to 27 years old), in their first year of work in the transports sector spread out in 14 companies. In order to undertake an in-dept study of the results obtained from the questionnaire, we selected 3 respondents with whom conducted a semi-structured interview.


The results highlight that for the youth coping with their first job, placement represents a personal and professional fulfilment (49.3%) and a challenge to their capacities (39.3%). Professional placement in the job market represents for these youth the possibility of becoming economically independent (11.4%).

The factors which facilitated the placement are clustered in three main categories each one divided in three sub categories: i) the importance given by the enterprises to the new job skills such as: facility for personal relationships (41.2%); ability to learn how to think (30.8%); ability to cope in team work (28.0%); ii) the participation in the organisation's activities such as: motivation (45.5%); autonomy (34.5%); experience on the job training (20.0%); iii) technical competencies such as: quality of technical performance (48.6%); efficient interpretation of instructions (30.8%); rigor of the work activity related to the task evaluation (20.6%).

The obstacles for placement are, again, clustered in three main categories each one clustered in three main categories: i) organisation of the enterprises such as: repetitive tasks (41.6%); formal and closed environment (31.6%); lack of recognition of creativity and initiative of the workers (26.8%); ii) level of development new job skills such as: difficulties for communication (58.3%); lack of cooperation among peers (31.7%); low flexibility for change in professional functions (20.0%); iii) initial training such as: inadequacy for the specific professional work (42.6%); inability to connect between theoretical and practical knowledge (40.7%); insufficient know-how (16.7%).


The development of new professional skills is considered to be important in order to prepare the youth to face realities of the labour market, to facilitate their social and professional placement and to help them prepare in the transition from the school to the realities of the labour market. The major conclusion we may draw is that lack of practical, job-related experience is a global obstacle to professional placement. This fact derives from the gap existing between the school and the labour market. There being no relationship between school knowledge and the experience gained at work. Thus there arises the risk the youth losing their skills developed during the initial training process, and their failure to potentialise the development of the qualification earned. The central question for this lack of participation appears to lie in a difficulty of conciliating the material interests of production with the non-material investments in persons.


Based on these results and conclusions, we may draw some ideas about the system of education/training, to be able to contribute to the professional placement of youth. Thus new learning processes should be developed leading to the acquisition of knowledge, know-how and the development of individuals as persons.

The School as an Educational and Training Community

to appeal to the educational community for a learning method oriented towards discovery and research in real situations;

to promote the development of individual capacities so that the individual may feel professionally and socially recognised;

to encourage extra-curricular activities to foster the interests of the students in order to develop leadership, autonomy, cooperation and responsibility, as well as the development of the ability for solving problems, making decisions, etc.

to promote closer cooperation between the teaching of scientific and technical areas communities;

to promote interdisciplinary relationship through work projects;

to develop learning based on techniques and methods that promote the development of transferable skills required for different jobs;

to give priority the use of ICT (Information Communication Technologies);

to establish partnerships not only as means of facilitating access to the labour market, but also in order to fight social exclusion.

The School/Company Relationship

To propose partnership which combine models of learning, between schools and companies to encourage:

study visits to companies according to the subject studied;

training in a job situation (1-2 weeks per year) throughout the plan of studies;

workshops in the educational community (involving school, students, parents, employers, local government, unions, etc.) in order to develop in the students suitable social and job skills;

to create a climate of trust and cooperation to enable schools to promote pedagogical training of the technicians responsible for training in the companies (tutors); and companies to give a better understanding of the labour market and technical training to teachers who have scientific, and pedagogical training;

to create mechanisms to encourage employers to facilitate initial training of youth (in a job situation.

The school-enterprise partnership should be able to produce a qualifying education/training. The result of this complementary relationship is an experiential learning rich in methods and techniques, as well as personal and professional experiences developed both in the context of the school and of the production.

Socio-professional placement is a complex and increasingly long-drawn out process. This placement involves getting acquainted with the profession and with the different types of work, as well as fostering relationships among the workers themselves. As we mentioned earlier, all this can be developed within an alternating education/training process. This will give the youth, especially those from the less favoured social strata, the possibility to obtain information and to create links that will permit them to cope with the difficulties of placement.


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This document was added to the Education-line database 22 September 1999