This paper is based on a study of the relationship between Swedish Vocational Education and Training (VET) in general and vocational construction education in particular, as well as the implications of the fact that Vocational Education and Training is carried out on two arenas: in school and in working life.
Vocational construction education in Sweden is starting within the scope of the upper secondary Construction Programme. Already in upper secondary school, the responsibility for the education is shared between school (school based education) and companies within the trade (work based education). Immediately after graduation, a two-three year period of apprenticeship in the construction industry begins. Thereby the upper secondary education is closely integrated with the building trade’s apprenticeship system, which is additionally backed up by the widely spread practice of having many of the upper secondary courses held at the building sites of the construction industry partners who often play the role of future employers of apprentices.
One issue is to explore what is made available for students to learn in school and work based education respectively. What conclusions can we draw regarding theory, practice and becoming qualified within this particular vocational area?
The choice of Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) as theoretical framework was determined by its fundamental principle of regarding the activity system as the smallest analysis unit in respect of studies of human actions. Thus, CHAT well suits analyses and descriptions of VET in that it functions as a tool with which bridging between the dichotomous pair of concepts, “theory” and “practice”, is made possible. CHAT focuses on human activity in relation to personal development. An individual’s thinking and acting is formed by and in relation to the activities (s)he is part of, but individuals also contribute to forming and reforming these activities – the transformation is therefore mutual. Our way of acting and thinking is thus, to some degree, historically and culturally determined. Mainly based on Leontiev’s structure of activity system (Leontiev 1978), the presented case study centres in particular the observed actions and interaction between these in order to identify any possible patterns that contribute to implications of the motive for vocational construction education.
Being part of the praxis community of construction workers, vocational teachers take the conditions of the construction industry for granted and consequently regards them as mandatory guidelines for how the content of education should be designed. It seems that their educational activity is propelled by the motive to accommodate students to the building trade’s apprenticeship system and teamwork. In the case study, the students are enculturated (Roth et al 2005) into the construction industry's specific, culturally and historically developed conditions: teamwork, piecework and masculinity as both an ideal and a norm.