Potentials of participation and informal learning in young people's transitions to the labour market.

A comparative analysis in ten European regions.

National Report Transitions to Work, Youth Policies and 'Participation' in Germany


By Andreas Walther, Barbara Stauber, Axel Pohl, Holger Seifert IRIS e.V. T ?bingen/ University of Technology Dresden



The changes in the German Youth transitional system and in particular the one year basis of the new programme do nothing to address the normative assumptions and objectives which appear to underpin the German system. First, the German transition system can be characterised as strongly normalising in nature.
It is structured by powerful assumptions about the normality of work and of gendered life-courses. With regard to work this means the hegemony of work as 'vocation' ('Beruf'). The system places a strong emphasis on an extended commitment to training and to the acquisition of an occupational identity. Apart from that other forms of work than standard work arrangements (dependent, full-time, life-long) lack institutional support. The assumption of such work as 'normal' is a highly male-oriented one, and exacerbates a situation in which new training opportunities towards employment in the service economy are precluded (Paul-Kohlhoff 1998; Baethge 1999).

This leads to a situation in which,


young peoples' transition problems are dealt with on an individual basis. The concept of „disadvantage“ is a powerful notion in the German transition system, serving as a rationale for funding procedures. In the German context it is important to consider that 'disadvantage' refers to the individual circumstances behind unemployment and not to the consequences of unemployment (e.g. poverty). Therefore support mainly consists of compensatory education and training, which is based on the assumption that higher qualification lowers the risk of unemployment. This system therefore appears to address the symptoms rather than the cause of unemployment in the sense of legitimising selection by cooling out individual aspirations.


policies are increasingly predetermined by a discourse of individual 'rights and responsibilities'. Recipients of unemployment and social benefit are under pressure to accept 'any' job, apprenticeship or scheme. If not their benefits are liable to be cut.

In a recent comparative study on youth policies in Europe the German model has been situated between the two youth policy concepts „youth as a problem“ and „youth as a resource“
and its objectives have been categorised as protective/ preventive (IARD, 2001). It has to be noted that youth assistance for decades has been influenced by social pedagogy
being the professional background of the majority of most pers
ons working in the field (which accounts for the field of vocational youth assistance as well) although the terms social work and social pedagogy are used more or less synonymously.
Yet, social pedagogy stands for the educational approach of social services in Germany since the 1920ies not only to regulate socialisation processes or social conflicts but to educate addressees for a 'better' (or normal) life. The tension between "help and control" or "system and life-world" arising from this orientation has become constitutive for professional and scientific discourses and identities.

The discourse of participation in Germany is characterised by a dominance of system integration. This system is based on a youth concept related to the standard normal biography -  „learn now, participate later!“ - and on a deficit-oriented
concept of disadvantage denying young people without training or job the competencies and the right to participate in shaping their transitions and defining their problems and
objectives. Limitations of participation also structured by social inequality. Due to their lower 'visibility' needs of girls and young women are less referred to in processes of policy planning (Bitzan & Daigler 2001).

As well participatory processes often reproduce norms of 'appropriate' forms of expression thus excluding youth from ethnic minorities or from more striking youth cultures. Youth work where participatory approaches are most developed is strictly separated from the transition system and lacks resources and recognition. To some extent youth workers also refuse to engage in transition issues in order to save their participatory islands (and the motivation of the young people) and not to get spoiled by the alienating administrative or economic principles governing youth transitions. In fact, scopes for participation are largest for those with very high qualifications as they are free to chose between a variety of
training options with good prospects of social integration in systemic and subjective terms. They are lowest for those in vocational youth assistance or social youth work for reintegration in regular training though later prospects are limited. And they are higher again for those perceived as "not to be reached" by the employment service - or the"superfluous rest" - however without contributing significantly in reducing risks of social exclusion (see figure 1).

Favourable Constellations For Participation

We have outlined the transition system in Germany as selective, standardised and deficitoriented. The system of youth policy only partly is concerned with transitions to work but to a large extent it shares the 'youth as a problem' -approach dominant in the policies for disadvantaged; however, this is less so in youth and community work.
Favourable contexts of participation in youth transitions therefore might be

- youth work engaged in transition to work issues but eventually also
- youth work not explicitly concerned with transitions to work but empowering young people by „secondary learning effects“ of youth work experiences (Banha et al. 2000)
- settings of local community work in which social youth work is embedded
- social youth work or vocational youth assistance that succeed in broadening funding guidelines in order to provide young people options for choice and individual trajectories
- education policies that flexibly overcome the selective structure of school.
- measures addressing particular target groups (e.g. youth from ethnic minorities, young women) that on the one hand recognise their ways to construct and protect their identities
and on the other hand do not contribute to their stigmatisation and 'ghettoisation'.