Education to Work Transitions: How the Old Middle Went Missing and Why the New Middle Remains Elusive (University of Liverpool)

by Kenneth Roberts

University of Liverpool



Middling youth were centre stage in research on school-to-work transitions from the early-20th century up to and throughout the 1980s. Since then they have been overshadowed by sociological attention to the young unemployed/NEETs on the one side, and university students and graduates on the other. Simultaneously, economists have been crowding out sociologists in the study of education-to-work transitions, especially in the middle ground. However, this paper argues that this is not just a case of the sociological gaze missing the middle. It is argued that old middling labour market destinations have diminished in number, and the new middle remains elusive because the employment tends to be precarious. Thus today’s middling groups of school-leavers must either try to move-up or face career-long threats of descent to the bottom.


Roberts states that researchers often ‘overlook’ then ‘discover’ a ‘missing middle’. This ‘missing middle’ refers to those young people who are neither NEET nor university educated. This paper covers the state of research on young people, both in education and beyond. The work covers government programmes explicitly established to tackle youth unemployment and assesses their success.

Roberts concludes with a discussion covering the ‘middle’ labour market, ‘middling jobs for the middle bands of school-leavers’ which were secure, skilled and relatively prestigious. Now, however, the number of such jobs is being squeezed as well the security of these jobs and the financial security of those who hold them.


Read the full work here.