Educational time-out between a rock and a hard place: Vocational students in search of coherent life narratives


  • Kaja Reegård Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research



Vocational students, gap year, coherent narratives, individualisation, youth


This article analyses students in upper secondary vocational education and training (VET) for retail and office work in Norway who deploy gap year justification in search of an educational time-out. The international literature on gap year, emphasises that this is a way for privileged students of getting ahead in the competition for access to elite universities. Based on qualitative interviews of VET students, the article finds that this perspective is, however, very different from the (un)planned ‘gapping’ reality of the working-class students of the study. The findings show that the students have worked out neither activities for the gap year nor what they plan to do after their time off. Rather, the findings reveal gapping to be a strategy to postpone essential choices of what and who to become. By examining the ways in which VET students in weakly established vocational trades make meaning of their seemingly open-ended educational journeys, the article explores how their interpretations of the opportunities they face are informed by legitimising individualised gapping discourses.


Bagnoli, A. (2009). On an ‘introspective journey’: Identities and travel in young people’s lives. European Societies, 11(3), 325–345.

Bauman, Z. (2000). Liquid modernity. Cambridge: Policy Press.

Beck, U. (1992). Risk society: Towards a new modernity. London: Sage.

Birch, E., & Miller, P. (2007). The characteristics of ‘gap-year’ students and their tertiary academic outcomes. The Economic Record, 83(262), 329–344.

Bratsberg, B., Nyen, T., & Raaum, O. (2017). Fagbrev i voksen alder [Vocational qualifications in adulthood]. Søkelys på arbeidslivet, 34(1–2), 24–43.

Côté, J., & Bynner, J.M. (2008). Changes in the transition to adulthood in the UK and Canada: The role of structure and agency in emerging adulthood. Journal of Youth Studies, 11(3), 251–268.

Curtis, D.D. (2014). The ‘gap year’ in Australia: Incidence, participant characteristics and outcomes. The Australian Economic Review, 47(1), 107–114.

Devadason, R. (2007). Constructing coherence? Young adults’ pursuit of meaning through multiple transitions between work, education and unemployment. Journal of Youth Studies, 10(2), 203–221.

Du Bois-Reymond, M. (1998). ‘I don’t want to commit myself yet’: Young people’s life concepts, Journal of Youth Studies, 1(1), 63–79.

Evans, K. (2007). Concepts of bounded agency in education, work, and the personal lives of young adults. International Journal of Psychology, 42(7), 85–93.

Furlong, A., Woodman, D., & Wyn, J. (2011). Changing times, changing perspectives: Reconciling ‘transition’ and ‘cultural’ perspectives on youth and young adulthood. Journal of Sociology, 47(4), 355‒370.

Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and self-identity: Self and society in the late modern age. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Grytnes, R. (2011). Making the right choice! Inquiries into the reasoning behind young people's decisions about education. Young, 19(3), 333‒351.

Hamilton, S.F., & Hurrelmann, K. (1994). The school-to-career transition in Germany and the United States. Teachers College Record. 96(2), 329‒344.

Heath, S. (2007). Widening the gap: Pre-university gap years and the ‘economy of experience’. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 28(1), 89–103.

Heinz, W. R. (2009). Structure and agency in transition research. Journal of Education and Work, 22(5), 391–404.

Hjort, J.L. (2016). Oslo youth between individualization and class: A study of orientations towards the future. (Published doctoral dissertation.) Oslo: University of Oslo.

Høst, H., Reegård, K., Reiling, R.B., Skålholt, A., & Tønder, A.H. (2015). Yrkesutdanninger med svak forankring i arbeidslivet: En kunnskapsoppsummering [Vocational educations with a weak position in the labour market: A review]. Rapport 16/2015. Oslo: NIFU.

Høst, H., Seland, I., & Skålholt, A. (2013). Yrkesfagelevers ulike tilpasninger til fagopplæring: En undersøkelse av elever i tre yrkesfaglige utdanningsprogram i videregående skole [Vocational students’ various adaptions to vocational education and training: A study of students in three upper secondary vocational programmes]. Rapport 16/2013. Oslo: NIFU.

Jordfald, B., & Mühlbradt, M. (2015). Arbeidskraftbehov ved søndagsåpne butikker [Labour needs with shops open on Sundays]. Fafo-notat 2015:03. Oslo: Fafo.

Jørgensen, C.H., & Tønder, A.H. (2018). Transitions from vocational education to employment in the Nordic countries. In C. Jørgensen, C., O-J. Olsen, & D. Persson Thunqvist (Eds.), Vocational Education in the Nordic Countries: Learning from diversity (pp. 29–50). Cambridge: Routledge.

Jørgensen, C., Olsen, O-J., & Persson Thunqvist, D. (2018). Vocational Education in the Nordic Countries: Learning from diversity. Cambridge: Routledge.

King, A. (2011). Minding the gap? Young people’s accounts of taking a gap year as a form of identity work in higher education. Journal of Youth Studies, 14(3), 341–357.

Leccardi, C. (2008). New biographies in the ‘risk society’? About future and planning: Twenty-first century society. Journal of the Academy of Social Sciences, 3(2), 119–129.

Lillejord, S., Halvorsrud, K., Ruud, E., Morgan, K., Freyr, T., Fischer-Griffiths, P., Eikeland, O.J., Hague, T.E., Homme, A.D., & Manger, T. (2015). Frafall i videregående opplæring: En systematisk kunnskapsoversikt [Drop out from upper secondary education: A systematic review]. Oslo: Kunnskapssenter for utdanning.

Linde, C. (1993). Life stories: The creation of coherence. New York: Oxford University Press Inc.

Mead, G.H. ([1932]1959). The philosophy of the present. La Salle, IL: Open Court.

Olsen, O.J., Reegård, K., Seland, I., & Skålholt, A. (2015). Læringsmiljø og gjennomføring [Learning environment and completion]. In H. Høst (Ed.), Kvalitet i fagopplæringen: Sluttrapport [Quality in vocational education: Final report] (pp. 83–144). Oslo/Bergen: NIFU, Fafo, HiOA, University of Bergen.

Reegård, K. (2016). Creating coherence: A longitudinal study of students traversing vocational education for office work in Norway. Young, 25(2), 1–16.

Reegård, K. (2017a). Vague orientations and weak institutions: A study of students and apprentices in vocational education and training or retail and office work in Norway. (Published doctoral dissertation.) Bergen: Department of Sociology, University of Bergen.

Reegård, K. (2017b). Contrasting prospects: The institutionalisation of VET for retail and office work in Norway. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 69(4), 558–575.

Reegård, K., & Rogstad, J. (2016). Introduksjon [Introduction]. In K. Reegård, & J. Rogstad (Eds.), De frafalne: Om frafall i videregående opplæring [Those who dropped out: On dropout in upper secondary education] (pp. 9–21). Oslo: Gyldendal Akademisk.

Simpson, K. (2005a). Broad horizons: Geographies and pedagogies of the gap year. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation.) Newcastle, UK: University of Newcastle.

Simpson, K. (2005b). Dropping out or signing up? The professionalization of youth travel. Antipode, 37(3), 447–469.

Snee, H. (2014a). A cosmopolitan journey? Difference, distinction and identity work in gap year travel. London: Routledge.

Snee, H. (2014b). Doing something ‘worthwhile’: Intersubjectivity and morality in gap year narratives. The Sociological Review, 62(4), 843–861.

Statistics Norway. (2015). Completion rates of students in higher education, 2013/2014. Retrieved 3. June, 2019, from:

Stehlik, T. (2010). Mind the gap: School leaver aspirations and delayed pathways to further and higher education. Journal of Education and Work, 23(4), 363–376.

Thornton, P.H., Ocasio, W., & Lounsbury, M. (2012). The institutional logics perspective: A new approach to culture, structure, and process. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Vogt, K.C. (2018). The timing of a time out: The gap year in life course context. Journal of Education and Work, 31(1), 47–58.

Vogt, K.C. (2016). Men in manual occupations: Changing lives in times of change. Oslo: Open Access, Cappelen Damm Akademisk.

Wahlgren, B., Aarkrog, V., Mariager-Anderson, K., Gottlieb, S., & Larsen, C.H. (2018). Unge voksnes beslutningsprocesser i relation til frafald: En empirisk undersøgelse blandt unge voksne i erhvervs- og almen voksenuddannelse [Young adults’ decision processes in relation to drop out: An empirical study among young adults in vocational education and training and basic general adult education]. Nordic Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 8(1), 98–113.

Walther, A. (2006). Regimes of youth transitions: Choice, flexibility and security in young people’s experiences across different European contexts. Young, 14(2), 119–139.

Wollebæk, D., & Segaard, S.B. (Eds.) (2011). Sosial kapital i Norge [Social capital in Norway]. Oslo: Cappelen Damm Akademisk




How to Cite

Reegård, K. (2019). Educational time-out between a rock and a hard place: Vocational students in search of coherent life narratives. Nordic Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 9(1), 129–143.



Peer-reviewed research articles