Peer Influence on School-to-Work Transitions: An Agency-Guided Perspective

Wednesday, 18 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Birgit REISSIG, German Youth Institute, Germany
Tabea SCHLIMBACH, German Youth Institute, Germany
Transitions from school to employment are biographical key passages that decisively shape further life courses. However, today´s youth lack a stable orientation system with predictable pathways and clear educational requirements when undergoing these transitions (Furlong/Cartmel 1997). Against this backdrop, social networks outside the family setting gain importance, among them especially peers as symmetrical socialization agents (Youniss 1994, Fend 1998) and as reference points for vocational orientation (Allensbach survey 2014). While peer influences in adolescence are a long standing matter of research, little is known on how young people approach peers in the context of vocational transitions.

Starting from a dynamic agency understanding which suggests that the role of accompanying actors is crucially influenced by the way these actors are used by individuals (Walther 2013, Pohl 2011), this work examines how young people embed peers in their transitional acting, which functions they ascribe to them in these periods and how peer roles change over time. Moreover, starting from Putnams concept, we look at peers as bridging and bonding capital (Putnam 1995). This work builds on the empirical basis of interviews with secondary school leavers which were conducted in three waves between 2011 and 2014 (n=92, 55 and 33) within the frame of a qualitative longitudinal study funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Results show that school leavers assign a complex set of roles to their peers in school-to-work transitions. They rely on friends as arenas of comfort (Simmons et al. 1987) in times that produce increased insecurity and anxiety. Moreover, assuming a similar positioning, they make use of peer transitions as orientation systems for their own career related decisions. However, longitudinal analysis reveals that with increased transitional competency, but also when the adopted strategies fail, they tend to refrain from them in favor of more proactive approaches.