|Journal||Canadian Journal of Sociology|
We still know relatively little about how young people rationalize their educational and occupational plans and what this might tell us about the relationship between structure and agency in school-work transitions. In this paper, based on a multi-method comparison of youth apprentices in Canada and Germany, the range of school-work transition alternatives realistically under consideration was circumscribed by socio-economic status, habitus, cultural capital, and institutional factors. While their vocational choices reproduced their class position, youth apprentices nevertheless saw their entry into the trades as an expression of a preference for, and identity with, working-class ideals of manual work. Further analysis suggests, however, that these narratives can also be interpreted as post-facto rationalization strategies in response to public discourses that equate life course success with ever higher levels of educational attainment.