Work experience in transition year: a mixed methods study of subject and career choices

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Moynihan, Joseph Anthony Gerard
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University College Cork
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Transition Year (TY) has been a feature of the Irish Education landscape for 39 years. Work experience (WE) has become a key component of TY. WE is defined as a module of between five and fifteen days duration where students engage in a work placement in the broader community. It places a major emphasis on building relationships between schools and their external communities and concomitantly between students and their potential future employers. Yet, the idea that participation in a TY work experience programme could facilitate an increased awareness of potential careers has drawn little attention from the research community. This research examines the influence WE has on the subsequent subjects choices made by students along with the effects of that experience on the students’ identities and emerging vocational identities. Socio-cultural Learning Theory and Occupational Choice Theory frame the overall study. A mixed methods approach to data collection was adopted through the administration of 323 quantitative questionnaires and 32 individual semi-structured interviews in three secondary schools. The analysis of the data was conducted using a grounded theory approach. The findings from the research show that WE makes a significant contribution to the students’ sense of agency in their own lives. It facilitates the otherwise complex process of subject choice, motivates students to work harder in their senior cycle, introduces them to the concepts of active, experience-based and self-directed learning, while boosting their self-confidence and nurturing the emergence of their personal and vocational identities. This research is a gateway to further study in this field. It also has wide reaching implications for students, teachers, school authorities, parents and policy makers regarding teaching and learning in our schools and the value of learning beyond the walls of the classroom.
Identity , Work experience , Transition year , Vocational identity , Irish education system
Moynihan, J. A. G. 2013. Work experience in transition year: a mixed methods study of subject and career choices. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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