Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Vocational identity among at-risk adolescents. Effectiveness of programs at lower VET aiming at continuing education or work

The overall aim of the project is to investigate effective ways to strengthen vocational identity of at-risk adolescents in order to contribute to a successful transition from late secondary to post secondary lower vocational education or to work.

2012 - 2019
Wilfried Admiraal
Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and its Knowledge Center Talent Development.


Project description

Special curricula and rebound programs for at-risk adolescents are implemented  in order to enhance chances of social inclusion. A key component of such programs is vocational identity. This research project concentrates on the extent to which individual student characteristics relate to vocational identity and which of these can contribute to evidence-based improvements in practice for this specific target group.

Social relevance

At-risk adolescents (15-25 years) form a diverse group of young people who have in common that they need to cope with one or more severe problems. These obstacles may lead to school dropout, failure to graduate and eventually to social exclusion. To avoid such outcomes, special programs and projects are developed. They share sincere intentions, but lack theoretical grounds and evaluations. This project strives to fill that gap by investigating how vocational identity can contribute to the ‘right’ at-risk adolescent in the ‘right’ (school or work) place.

Scientific relevance

Though vocational identity is intensively studied, not much is known yet about at-risk adolescents’ vocational identity and how it is best incorporated in special curricula and rebound programs. Vocational identity is operationalized into three aspects: vocational self-image, vocational future image, and vocational self-efficacy.

Research questions

  1. To what extent do individual characteristics explain differences between at-risk adolescents in their vocational identity?
  2. To what extent do student characteristics moderate the relationship between personal and social resilience, on the one hand, and vocational identity, on the other hand?
  3. To what extent do student characteristics moderate the relationship between sense of belonging at school and valuing school outcome, on the one hand, and vocational identity, on the other hand?
  4. How does at-risk adolescents’ vocational identity develop over time and how does this relate to individual characteristics?

Material and method

A questionnaire was developed to meet cognitive and literacy levels of the respondents. They were administered shortly after the start of the program and shortly before finishing it. During implementation of the program and mentors were interviewed


A total of 996 at-risk adolescents participated, from eleven locations of four institutions in the metropolitan area of Rotterdam (the Netherlands).

Results and conclusions

  1. Many individual characteristics related one-by-one to one or more of the aspects of vocational identity. Malleable characteristics such as resilience and valuing school outcome, showed to be potentially effective to improve vocational and rebound programs. Personality traits accounted for the highest proportion of explained variance.
  2. Many individual student characteristics significantly moderated the relationship between resilience and vocational identity, though effect sizes were generally low. Both strength and direction of the relationship could differ dependent on the characteristic.


Foto: JIM VARNEY / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Universal Images Group​

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