Disadvantaged Young People Accessing the New Urban Economies of the Post-Industrial City

An article by Carl Raffo, Journal of Education Policy, 21(1), pp.75-94

Raffo seeks to explain the growing polarization between an emerging post-industrial service base and high skill city economy, and the continuing educational and socio-economic underachievement of marginalised urban young people who struggle to access these changing labour markets.

Raffo pulls together findings from four research projects: Cultural Industries and the City, Young People and Transition, MPower Evaluation, and Mobchester Youth and Creative Arts Training, and identifies a number of emergent themes. The research shows that, particularly with regards to creative industries, training and support were abstracted and decontextualized, offering little practical knowledge. Workers within the creative/cultural knowledge sector identified informal learning as important: the opportunity to experiment with ideas, learning by doing and making mistakes, the opportunity to network, and work with mentors who have an understanding for the socio-economic and cultural context of the industry. Young people in the other research projects also identified the importance of gaining informal, practical knowledge through networks, or mentoring from accessible others. Raffo suggests his research supports the notion of skills formation being more about the development of social capacity for learning in formal and informal contexts, innovation and productivity than developing purely technical skills. The ability of individuals to meet the demands of the new urban economies of the post-industrial city seem dependent on the quantity and quality of access to appropriate culturally embedded material and symbolic resources and information.

The Careers Education and Guidance in England 11-19 National Framework focuses on developing in young people reflexivity and rational decision-making skills that will help them with their own individual self development, career exploration and career management. They focus on an individual’s capacity to acquire information and make appropriate decisions. Connexions provides access to information, advice and guidance on issues that can enable young people to reflect, make decisions and progress, and provides one-on-one support to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people to help them remove barriers and develop resilience and agency. Raffo’s research suggests however that the ‘real life experiences’ of disadvantaged young people are potentially more important in informing agency and transition choices. He believes that this realisation could highlight potential problems with orthodox views of guidance and progression, and help generate ideas about how policy could be enhanced by incorporating an understanding of how various structures, contexts and cultures guide the transition choices made by marginalized young people.

Raffo concludes by suggesting a model to explain school-to-work transition which recognizes the importance of informal learning and of social and cultural capital opportunities for explaining people’s decisions and actions. He sees the main challenge for policy makers as working out how institutions and services, such as schools and Connexions, can develop practice that is sensitive to how structure and agency combine to influence the way young people develop their various ‘capitals’ and how these then influence particular transition choices. He emphasises that the need for creating opportunities for enhanced social and cultural capital development is crucial.

Disadvantaged young people accessing the new urban economies of the post-industrial city – full report