Results of screening and quality appraisal

Of the 15,386 peer-reviewed journal articles, reports and doctoral dissertations identified from all sources, 413 publications were included for full text screening based on the title and abstract. Thirty-four publications meeting the eligibility criteria were further identified and subject to quality appraisal, the results of which were presented in Table 1. Thirty-one publications were included for evidence synthesis with 10 marked as high quality and 21 marked as medium quality. Three publications marked with low quality were excluded mainly due to the limited depth and breadth of their findings. The included publications represented the existing quality qualitative evidence that was most relevant to answer the review questions. The complete process of selection was detailed in Fig. 1.

Table 1 Quality appraisal results
Fig. 1
figure 1

PRISMA Flow Diagram of the Study Selection Process

Study description

The publications included for synthesis investigated 30 unique TVET interventions. Table 2 describes these publications in terms of settings, methodology, intervention characteristics, and domains of reported experiences. Geographically, over half of the studies were located in Africa, with 11 in Asia, two in South America, and three in Europe. A total of 17 countries were covered, including 12 middle-income countries and five low-income countries. Two-thirds of the studies employed qualitative study designs, while few adopted a mixed-methods approach. Most studies used purposive sampling methods to collect data from young people who had rich knowledge and experiences of TVET participation. The sample size of youth participants ranged from two (Nagamuthu et al. 2019) to 130 (Lefebvre et al. 2018). While several studies reported a majority of study participants between 15 and 35 years old, the rest did not specify the age range. Interviews were the mostly used data collection method. Most data were subject to thematic analysis or content analysis.

Table 2 A description of the included studies

A wide range of TVET interventions were reported in terms of type, business sector, duration, format, provider, and target participant. Among the four TVET types, vocational education and training was prevalent in nearly all interventions. The majority of interventions (73%) contained a combination of several TVET types. While over half of the interventions consisted of technical activities only, 14 included non-technical components, such as life skillsFootnote 1 training, entrepreneurship education and labor intermediation services. Included interventions were offered in multiple business sectors or trades, including agriculture, construction, business process outsourcing, information and communication technology (ICT), hospitality, art and crafts, automobile repair, tailoring and hairdressing. Half of the interventions offered participants short-term skills training, most of which were implemented by third sector organizations. Twelve interventions provided long-term education and training at secondary or post-secondary level, which were mainly provided by the public sector. Three interventions had fewer formal arrangements either through apprenticeship with trade masters or on-the-job training with private employers. All interventions targeted young people as participants, the majority of which recruited both male and female participants. Over 70 per cent of the interventions targeted disadvantaged and marginalized young people who mainly fell into two groups, those requiring special needs and those from poor socio-economic background, though the two groups sometimes overlapped with each other.

The reported qualitative evidence of young people’s TVET experiences was categorized into two major groups: process experiences and outcome experiences. The former emphasized on young people’s “user” experiences and feedbacks on intervention design and implementation. The latter focused on the impact of young people’s TVET participation on their personal life and wellbeing. Over half of the publications reported both groups of evidence.

Young people’s learning experiences during TVET participation

To address Review Question 1, qualitative data on young people’s process experiences under two domains, intervention quality and learning environment were extracted from 21 publications. A summary of results was presented in Table 3.

Table 3 A Summary of Young People’s Learning Experiences

Intervention quality

Young people’s experiences of intervention quality included three themes, curriculum and content, instruction and instructor, and management and administration. The majority of participants in 13 studies that contained evidence of curriculum and content reported negative experiences (Apunda et al. 2017; Bhurtel 2016; Botea et al. 2015; da Luz et al. 2012; Donkor 2012; Koo 2016; Korzh 2013; Ling 2015; Management Systems International and A Tetra Tech Company 2017; Neroorkar and Gopinath 2019; Van der Bijl and Lawrence 2019; Veazey 2014; Walker 2007, 2009). Some interventions taught trades that were either out-of-date or irrelevant for local job markets. Some interventions failed participants’ expectation to impart practical skills. Since several included interventions were short-term programs delivered by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), some participants found hard to absorb new knowledge and skills within a short period. In comparison with vocational and technical education and training, apprenticeship and on-the-job training included in this review had less structured content that were largely subject to each provider, leading to a variation of training quality. Although few participants appreciated the practicality of training content (Bhurtel 2016; Nagamuthu et al. 2019; Neroorkar and Gopinath 2019; Spaaij 2012), young people in several studies were reportedly assigned to non-skilled menial work as cheap labor without proper guidance and personal growth (Apunda et al. 2017; da Luz et al. 2012; Donkor 2012; Koo 2016; Neroorkar and Gopinath 2019).

Young people’s learning experiences were also affected by the quality of instruction and instructors (Adhikari 2018; Apunda et al. 2017; Bhurtel 2016; Ling 2015; Sedighi et al. 2015; Veazey 2014). While few participants considered their instructors competent (Apunda et al. 2017), others lamented the textbook-based authoritarian pedagogy that discouraged them to develop intellectual curiosity and critical thinking ability (Veazey 2014). They were either told to imitate the instructor’s practice or to memorize certain knowledge on textbooks without understanding underlying rationales. Some other young people, especially those enrolled in interventions run by the public sector, were frustrated about their instructors’ negligence and lack of commitment. Within the formal educational system in many developing countries, TVET is widely considered inferior to academic education. This stigmatization often creates a vicious cycle where teachers—who are hired through a less strict and competitive process—behave negligently as they believe their students are low achievers who do not care about their study (Ling 2015). In return, their indifference discourages the motivation of students who are already discredited by the system. Furthermore, some instructors failed to address the learning needs of the minority students. For instance, learners with disabilities in mainstream vocational centers reported that students with physical disabilities could understand the subject matter but had difficulty in performing the tasks, but those with visual and hearing impairments could not understand the lecture at all (Adhikari 2018).

In addition, ineffective administration and management of interventions compromised participants’ learning (Adhikari 2018; Botea et al. 2015; Bhurtel 2016; Korzh 2013; Ling 2015; Nagamuthu et al. 2019; Van der Bijl and Lawrence 2019). Poor administrative support for course enrollment, equipment maintenance, stipend distribution and transcript issuance disrupted young people’s study and even made some participants quit. Others were frustrated by some schools’ laissez-faire approach to manage and evaluate student performance. Some vocational schools reportedly let students get away with poor attendance, plagiarism, and bribery, as they had to stay in business by attracting all kinds of students (Korzh 2013; Ling 2015). This lack of accountability largely discouraged those hard-working students who received the same certificate as those less diligent ones. The slack management not only led to students’ poor performance, but also harmed graduates’ reputation among employers. On the opposite side, participants in prison school complained that the authority focused too much on student discipline that their learning was frequently interrupted by roll call and discipline during class (Nagamuthu et al. 2019).

Learning environment

Participants’ experiences of learning environment covered three themes, physical environment, instructor-learner relationship, and peer relationship. Several studies reported young people’s dissatisfaction with their physical learning environment (Adhikari 2018; Botea et al. 2015; Donkor 2012; Sedighi et al. 2015; Veazey 2014). Since most of the included interventions were implemented in resource-poor settings, young people often found themselves contend with run-down buildings, inadequate number of equipment, shortage of teaching materials and frequent power and network outage (Sedighi et al. 2015; Veazey 2014). These uncertainties disrupted training activities from time to time, which largely compromised the training quality. In addition, the physical environment of many interventions failed to cater to the needs of different subgroups, especially those minorities. For example, participants with disabilities could have more mobility in accessing classrooms and toilets, if the physical environment of mainstream vocational centers had been more disability friendly (Adhikari 2018). Some female participants regretted the lack of childcare facilities on the training site (Adhikari 2018; Botea et al. 2015). Many of them had to leave their children at home and seek extra help for babysitting, causing them both financial and emotional burdens. Apart from childcare support, female participants emphasized on the girl-friendly learning environment where they could feel comfortable. Although some girl-only interventions intended to set up girl rooms and provide amenities, not all providers delivered on the ground (Botea et al. 2015).

Participants in several studies described their relationships with instructors as supportive, motivating and nurturing (Adhikari 2018; Botea et al. 2015; DeJaeghere 2018; Jacobs and Collair 2017; Neroorkar and Gopinath 2019; Van der Bijl and Lawrence 2019). The amicable relationship was beneficial to young people both materially and emotionally. Instructors reportedly provided direct support to young people’s study and work and offered emotional support to keep them motivated and build up their self-esteem. This positive influence was especially important for those marginalized youth who received limited social support (Jacobs and Collair 2017). Interestingly, three studies that reported positive experiences also included negative ones (Adhikari 2018; Jacobs and Collair 2017; Neroorkar and Gopinath 2019). Some participants with disabilities in Nepal found their instructors were more attentive to their peers without disabilities (Adhikari 2018). Vocational students in India felt frustrated by their instructors’ distant and indifferent position (Neroorkar and Gopinath 2019). In Jacobs and Collair (2017), one participant suffered from corporal punishment and unequal treatment. The variation of young people’s experiences suggested that like other relationships, instructor-learner relationship is subject to various personal and interpersonal factors.

The evidence also painted a mixed picture of young people’s relationship with their peers. On the one hand, some participants found themselves more powerful and less disoriented when they discussed their study and future with their peers (DeJaeghere 2018; Jacobs and Collair 2017). Young people, particularly those with special needs, tended to find a sense of belonging by interacting with others with similar background and capabilities. On the other hand, participants in several studies reported adverse peer relationships (Adhikari 2018; DeJaeghere 2018; Donkor 2012; Ling 2015; Van der Bijl and Lawrence 2019). Some participants found the school a demotivating setting as most of their peers only wanted to get by with minimum effort (Ling 2015). Having spent some time in this environment, young people tended to follow the passive behavior. Since many participants of TVET interventions came from a disadvantaged background with poor education history, they were more likely to create a discouraging learning environment for each other. Furthermore, some young people were bullied and teased by their peers. Among all studies, only one case of physical abuse was reported (Donkor 2012). All other cases were related to peers’ mocking behavior, which, interestingly, could all be attributed to studying a trade or a subject that was not conventionally conformed with the learner’s gender (DeJaeghere 2018). Female participants who studied in traditionally male-dominated sectors, for example, were frequently bothered by their male peers and called as “man woman” (Donkor 2012, p. 33). This sense of othering often alienated participants from peer support and diminished their confidence (Adhikari 2018; Van der Bijl and Lawrence 2019). Isolation from peers was identified as a key factor leading to attrition.

Young people’s consequences of TVET participation

To address Review Question 2, qualitative evidence of young people’s outcome experiences was extracted from 26 publications in five domains, cultural capital, social capital, economic capital, aspiration, and health. A summary of results was presented in Table 4.

Table 4 A Summary of Young People’s Participation Consequences

Cultural capital related consequences

Cultural capital refers to cultural goods, knowledge, experience, education, habits, competencies and skills which an individual possesses, and which confer power or status in the social hierarchy (Bourdieu 1986, p. 17). This review borrowed this concept to cover young people’s experiences of acquiring skills and knowledge, obtaining certificates, and cultivating socio-emotional competencies.

Skills and knowledge

Youth participants in 10 studies reportedly gained new technical skills and knowledge (Alcid 2014; Darkwah 2013; DeJaeghere 2018; Jacobs and Collair 2017; Latopa and Rashid 2015; Management Systems International and A Tetra Tech Company 2017; Matsumoto 2018; Neroorkar and Gopinath 2019; Sedighi et al. 2015; Spaaij 2012; Veazey 2014; Vong et al. 2017). As participants’ first exposure to certain industries, some interventions enabled them to better understand the chosen field and equipped them with foundational skills and knowledge (Neroorkar and Gopinath 2019; Veazey 2014). Others capitalized on the training opportunities to improve their skills for further education or business upgrade (Management Systems International and A Tetra Tech Company 2017). Young people’s skills development was largely associated with curriculum design and instruction quality. Practical and effective training often contributed to positive consequences. Besides, participants, particularly those enrolled in interventions including non-technical components, enhanced their life skills, work readiness skills, financial management skills, business development skills and literacy skills (Alcid 2014; Botea et al. 2015; Management Systems International and A Tetra Tech Company 2017; Spaaij 2012; Usman 2009; Veazey 2014).

Certificates

Apart from gaining actual skills, TVET participation offered young people opportunities for obtaining credentials, the value of which was largely associated with the intervention’s reputation and social recognition. On the one hand, participants who were previously excluded from formal education system increased their employability in formal employment with certificates to testify their skills level (DeJaeghere et al. 2019; Murtaza et al. 2018; Nagamuthu et al. 2019). Certificates from reputable programs brought extra value to young people’s job prospect (Bhurtel 2016; Neroorkar and Gopinath 2019). On the other hand, some participants either failed to obtain a certificate or had little faith in their credentials due to the poor recognition of TVET by employers and the society as a whole (Koo 2016). In Korzh (2013), since university diplomas were required for all non-manual job, some young people decided to pursue a new university degree despite having several vocational degrees. Some participants of short-term programs found that although their certificates could sometimes serve as a proxy credential due to programs’ good reputation, many employers still required more formal, government-recognized credentials in certain trades (Lefebvre et al. 2018).

Socio-emotional competencies

TVET participation also shaped young people’s disposition, attitude, and mindset in dealing with personal and professional matters. The majority of participants improved their socio-emotional competencies in five areas.Footnote 2 Firstly, several studies (Botea et al. 2015; Jacobs and Collair 2017; Management Systems International and A Tetra Tech Company 2017; Matsumoto 2018; Murtaza et al. 2018; Nagamuthu et al. 2019; Vong et al. 2017) reported young people’s enhanced self-awareness in terms of accurately recognizing and assessing their mindset (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning 2020). Coming from a poor socio-economic background, most participants held a low self-esteem and lacked faith in themselves. Their self-confidence was greatly improved, as they learned to accept themselves thanks to the life skills training and witnessed their personal development during the interventions. Secondly, driven by their enhanced self-confidence and positive learning experiences, some participants improved their self-management ability of setting goals and cultivating a sense of self-discipline to achieve them (Nagamuthu et al. 2019). Some participants of life skills training also learned to manage their emotions and impulses in the face of challenges (Alcid 2014).

Thirdly, Veazey (2014) reported participants’ improved awareness of social and ethical norms and empathy with other people (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning 2020). By exposing marginalized young people to the aesthetic, linguistic and behavioral norms of the formal sector, Livelihoods and Commerce Education School (LACES) program in India prepared participants to interact with all kinds of people at work and reduced their fear for the unknown professional sphere. Fourthly, some participants enhanced their capability to maintain healthy relationships. Intervention components, such as communication skills training and team sports, empowered young people to speak in the public and network with others with confidence and respect, which opened up both professional and personal opportunities for them (Alcid 2014; Murtaza et al. 2018; Spaaij 2012). Lastly, some participants found TVET participation beneficial to their decision-making ability. With enhanced skills and confidence, participants were more motivated to improve their economic and living conditions. This sense of purpose propelled them to make selective choices and become increasingly conscious of the value of time, the benefits of hard work and work ethics (Management Systems International and A Tetra Tech Company 2017; Usman 2009). They also tended to contribute constructively to community and public affairs instead of idling around and getting into religious and political conflicts (Murtaza et al. 2018; Usman 2009).

Social capital related consequences

Social capital is the total of actual or virtual resources that an individual or a group accumulates by possessing a durable network of relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition (Bourdieu 1986, p. 21). This review adopted three types of social capital, bonding, bridging and linking social capital, to frame young people’s experiences.

Bonding social capital

TVET interventions provided space and time for young people to mingle with one another, and thus built up their bonding social capital—relationships among members of a network who are similar in some form (Putnam 2000). The meaningful peer interaction not only boosted participants’ learning experiences, but also created a lasting support network that would benefit them after the completion of training. In some cases, some interventions were purposefully designed to establish connections among participants. For example, participants in integrated training farm in Nigeria were put into several groups during the training and encouraged to form agriculture cooperatives upon graduation (Latopa and Rashid 2015). Such arrangements well capitalized on young people’s bonding social capital and largely increased their economic prospects. In some other cases, young people naturally formed close ties with one another due to shared life trajectory and challenges, which later became a source of their social and emotional support (Spaaij 2012; Lefebvre et al. 2018).

Bridging social capital

Bridging social capital refers to relationships amongst people who are dissimilar in a demonstrable fashion, such as age and socio-economic status (Szreter and Woolcock 2004). TVET participation not only directly influenced young people’s relationships with peers from different backgrounds, program staff and alumni, but also indirectly changed their ties with families and communities. Although most interventions included recruited homogeneous groups, some opened up social spaces for young people to interact with peers from different social classes (Spaaij 2012). For example, by establishing friendship with their urban classmates, second generation rural migrants in China’s urban vocational schools were introduced to modern lifestyles that were impossible to imagine for their parents’ generation (Ling 2015; Woronov 2011). Instructors and program staff formed another source of participants’ bridging social capital (Latopa and Rashid 2015; Spaaij 2012). Apart from developing professional contacts through apprenticeship and on-the-job training (Neroorkar and Gopinath 2019), some participants remained in contact with their instructors after graduation, who frequently offered them job information and opportunities (Lefebvre et al. 2018). Besides, some participants were able to establish connections with their alumni, the value of which, however, was regarded differently. Some participants believed that alumni network, as a stepping stone to wider professional spheres, enhanced their economic prospect through job and cooperation offers (Latopa and Rashid 2015). Alumni also transmitted useful life and work advice with their past experiences of being participants themselves (Lefebvre et al. 2018; Spaaij 2012). In Veazey (2014), female participants in India found alumni’s insider information particularly valuable to determine if a job was suitable given various restrictions placed on women’s labor market participation. Some other participants questioned the sustainability and effectiveness of alumni networks which were hard to maintain without continued support from intervention providers and often failed to secure them a job or offer them financial assistance (Lefebvre et al. 2018).

In addition to the social relationships built during the training, young people’s status and reputation changed outside the intervention. On the one hand, some participants won greater recognition and respect, as they took on more family and community responsibilities with enhanced skills and economic opportunities (Lefebvre et al. 2018; Murtaza et al. 2018; Usman 2009). Young people’s rising social status, in return, increased their chances for further learning opportunities, as family and community, recognizing the value of education and training, were more likely to support their future endeavor (DeJaeghere 2018). This interchange between social and cultural capital created a virtuous cycle to expand young people’s overall capital accumulation and capabilities. However, the same recognition also brought participants extra burden due to the greater reliance of others. Young people were sometimes overwhelmed by their increased financial responsibility, which might put them back into poverty (Lefebvre et al. 2018). On the other hand, some participants were faced with public ridicule, as they failed to secure a job after the training (Darkwah 2013). In the context where TVET was deemed inferior education, participants were labelled as low performers and risky groups, simply because they were enrolled in vocational programs (Ling 2015; Jacobs and Collair 2017; Sedighi et al. 2015; Woronov 2011). Some young people internalized this negative association with more rebellious and reckless behavior, which further consolidated their stereotypes and decreased their social capital.

Linking social capital

Linking social capital is people’s relationships built with institutions and individuals who have relative power over them (Szreter and Woolcock 2004). Some interventions endeavored to minimize the social distance between participants and higher-status figures through guest lectures, mentorship and onsite recruitment, which facilitated participants’ entry into formal sector employment (Lefebvre et al. 2018; Spaaij 2012; Veazey 2014). For instance, LACES program increased young people’s chances for successful recruitment by introducing them to important formal sector gatekeepers and bringing hiring managers to the training site, which enabled young people to take interviews in a familiar environment (Veazey 2014).

Economic capital related consequences

Economic capital refers to economic resources that can be converted into money and institutionalized in the form of property rights (Bourdieu 1986, p. 16). This review expanded this definition to young people’s experiences related to economic prospect, activities and gains.

Economic prospect

Mixed evidence was reported on participants’ economic prospect. On the one hand, with accumulated cultural capital, some young people increased their employability and expanded their economic opportunities to new sectors and professions (Murtaza et al. 2018; Neroorkar and Gopinath 2019; Woronov 2011). For example, learning trades beyond the traditional sectors of stitching and embroidery enhanced female participants’ employment prospect in more lucrative industries in Pakistan (Murtaza et al. 2018). For some participants who were excluded from training and education opportunities for a long time, merely enrolling in interventions improved their perceived employment prospects (Murtaza et al. 2018). Some vocational students in China believed that although they may end up in “fairly low-paying, low-prestige and low-skilled jobs in the new service economy” (Woronov 2011, p. 97), they were upwardly mobile as they were doing better than their parents.

On the other hand, some participants reported a negligible relationship between TVET and their jobs, based on their own experience, word of mouth and observations of their alumni who were either unemployed or working in a field irrelevant to their training (Koo 2016; Sedighi et al. 2015). This pessimistic view was mainly due to the poor value and recognition of vocational training and credentials on the job market. As a result, some participants sought alternative paths to improve their situation, such as continuing higher level education. It is worth noting that participants’ views on their economic prospect are subject to individual differences. Several studies conducted in the similar context reported opposite evidence. For example, unlike optimistic Chinese vocational students in Woronov (2011), participants in Koo (2016) deemed vocational credentials insufficient to secure them a proper and stable job in the city, some of whom preferred to quit TVET and look for a full-time job instead.

Economic activities

Participants in several studies increased their economic activities after completing the intervention (Alcid 2014; Botea et al. 2015; DeJaeghere et al. 2019; Latopa and Rashid 2015; Management Systems International and A Tetra Tech Company 2017; Murtaza et al. 2018; Usman 2009). While some young people worked in the farm and business cooperatives facilitated by the interventions (Botea et al. 2015; Latopa and Rashid 2015), most participants found economic opportunities on their own. The majority of these activities were small-scale businesses in the informal sector that had a direct link with their trained trades and sector, ranging from farming and making and selling small merchandise to providing skilled services. Only few participants were able to secure a job in the formal sector (Lefebvre et al. 2018; Murtaza et al. 2018).

Most of the studies that reported positive experiences focused on short-term TVET interventions. Comparing with helping participants expand existing businesses, these interventions were more instrumental in supporting those unemployed or working in unskilled jobs to move to skilled jobs or self-employment (Murtaza et al. 2018). For example, the Almajiri boys in Nigeria, who were street beggars prior to TVET participation, became barbers and welders with acquired skills and trades. Despite the small scale of their operations, the boys’ private business ownership indicated a major, positive economic transformation of their status given their prior poverty level (Usman 2009). In contrast, participants of some long-term interventions had difficulty in transitioning into employment due to the scarcity and poor quality of the available jobs (Korzh 2013). Some participants were disillusioned that the job opportunities promised by their program never came through (Darkwah 2013). Poor working conditions, long working hours, erratic working practices and delayed wages were often cited as key concerns of job quality (Bhurtel 2016; Walker 2007).

Economic gains

Young people in several studies increased their economic gains to cover basic needs (Alcid 2014; DeJaeghere 2018; DeJaeghere et al. 2019; Matsumoto 2018; Vong et al. 2017) and diversified their income sources (Botea et al. 2015; DeJaeghere 2018; Management Systems International and A Tetra Tech Company 2017). While some young people appreciated that TVET participation offered them more job options to be economically resilient in developing markets characterized by frequent turmoil, some participants lamented the failure of TVET to fundamentally changed their working status and earning abilities (Korzh 2013; Lefebvre et al. 2018; Vong et al. 2017). Most participants failed to transform their learned skills and trades into a sole source of steady income and still had to pursue mixed earning strategies to sustain their livelihoods.

Although some participants acknowledged the immediate positive change of their earnings, the sustainability of their economic gains was a major concern (Botea et al. 2015; Management Systems International and A Tetra Tech Company 2017; Usman 2009). For young people who started entrepreneurial activities, one of their key challenges was the lack of post-intervention support to sustain and grow their businesses for a steady flow of earning. For instances, female participants in Rwanda established cooperatives to produce some goods but lacked the knowledge and channel to market their products (Botea et al. 2015). In Usman (2009), graduates were often denied access to financial loans due to the lack of collateral. Since most of these young people started with limited resources to mobilize, it would be difficult for them to sustain their economic gains in a long term without further support from the program and the society as a whole.

Aspiration

TVET also affected participants’ aspirations and capability to aspire—the ability of using human agency to select, conceive and create opportunities for future achievements (Appadurai 2004; Powell 2012). Before TVET participation, many young people had a low expectation for their future and passively waited for opportunities, mainly due to their low self-regard and lack of knowledge of upward pathways (Alcid 2014). With increasing skills and competencies, many participants became self-confident of their abilities of learning, working and achieving something in life (Alcid 2014; DeJaeghere 2018; Matsumoto 2018; Powell 2012; Usman 2009; Walker 2007). Through engagement with their peers, alumni, instructors and employers, young people widened their social circle and formed social connections to be leveraged for their aspirations (DeJaeghere 2018). The majority of participants aspired to achieve upward socio-economic mobility through educational and professional pursuits. Continuing education and training was the most mentioned aspiration. For participants who were previously left behind or excluded by formal academic educational systems, positive TVET experiences affirmed their learning aptitudes and reignited their interest in learning (Powell 2012; Usman 2009; Walker 2007). This self-assurance not only drove them to advance education within their vocational trades (Matsumoto 2018), but also motivated few to pursue higher education in different sectors (Korzh 2013). Professionally, most participants desired jobs characterized by high income, stability and good welfare in large companies (Koo 2016; Neroorkar and Gopinath 2019) or aspired to be business owners (Ling 2015; Matsumoto 2018).

By contrast, some TVET graduates experienced a sense of disorientation due to the lack of support from school for their transition to work, such as setting professional and life goals (Jacobs and Collair 2017). Some other participants had a taste of failure when their aspirations clashed with a harsh reality (Koo 2016). In the absence of established pathways and resources to support their ambitions, many young people had to rein in their aspirations and learn to live with simple transitions into mundane work (Walker 2007).

Health and hygiene

Few studies included in this review explored participants’ health status and hygiene practices. On the one hand, TVET participation brought young people health benefits both directly and indirectly. Some participants acquired personal and environmental health practices during the training to meet the hygienic standards of certain trades, such as barbering and food services (Usman 2009). They were aware that good practices not only protected the health of their clients and themselves, but also increased customer patronage and thus their earning capacities (Botea et al. 2015). Some other participants indirectly enhanced their health due to improved finance. With increased economic activities, some young people gained access to healthcare services provided by their employers (da Luz et al. 2012). With more economic gains, some could buy more nutritious food and afford better housing and clothing (Usman 2009). With increasing earning capacities, some had a bigger say in family and community affairs and thus were less likely to experience abuse (Botea et al. 2015). The economic empowerment contributed to their health outcomes both physically and mentally. On the other hand, some participants experienced both physical and psychological burden due to a heavy workload and packed schedules. In da Luz et al. (2012), young apprentices who worked in the daytime and took class in the evening reported sleep reduction and physical discomfort due to long commute between home, work and school. The high demand and lack of support at work also posed threats to their mental health, as they were under constant pressure. In Usman (2009), some participants even resorted to drug misuse and abuse to relieve themselves from work fatigue to meet deadlines and satisfy customers.

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