The fact of young people not completing their education has been defined as a problem, from both an economic and a social perspective. There are a number of structural, institutional and individual risk factors at the heart of the most common causes. Dropping out, especially from Intermediate Vocational Training, is a persistent problem in our context, which it appears is not being solved at the expected pace.

Under the title “Dropping out and difficulties in transitions to vocational training. Problems, challenges and new approaches”, the Second OrientaFP Conference addresses the issue of dropping out of Vocational Training. It deals with its specific features as a stage in the education and training system, taking an overall view that can provide aspects for reflection when it comes to inspiring policies, but also strategies for day-to-day work in classrooms and workshops.

Complexity, transition and specificity are the three concepts that form the backdrop to difficulties in improving vocational training drop-out rates.

Risk factors, which are usually viewed in the literature at the level of the individual and his/her background, may be overstated when they come into contact with learning cultures in vocational training. To these factors must be added a moment of change in the individual, within a complex social context at a time of difficulties in the world of work. Moreover, as years of research have shown, so-called risk factors cannot be disaggregated. They are interrelated in a particular environment and affect processes of disengagement from training in many different ways.

In the case of Intermediate Vocational Training, these processes coexist with the difficulties of the beginning of the transition to social adulthood itself, with all the ruptures and changes that involves. This is especially so when becoming part of the adult world or ceasing to be a child in secondary education is associated with acquiring a position in a labour market with a high youth unemployment rate and a clear increase in inequalities in the structure of people’s opportunities.

Apart from these substantive issues, we must consider that the promotion of Intermediate Vocational Training as a place to which people can return, and its integration with lifelong learning, have shaped very heterogeneous school scenarios in terms of age, motivations, skills and prior knowledge, which add complexity to their management. This diversity can be turned into a positive aspect or a problem, depending on how it is interpreted and managed.

We should also not forget that, in spite of attempts to make vocational training courses a first option, in the collective imagination of education, society continues to consider them a kind of second chance for young people who have not had a satisfactory secondary education.

This fact cannot be disconnected from the specific difficulties encountered by many on their arrival in the training stages. They must cope with new learning cultures and their demands at different levels, without the support they had just two months earlier in compulsory education, which can be very difficult for some people. Dropping out places us in the shadows of the system, where a set of complex elements can undermine fairness.

Reviewing the issue of dropping out of vocational training, especially Intermediate Vocational Training, where most such training takes place, leads us to reconsider how risk factors operate at this stage, and to do so on the basis of its specific features within the education and training system; to contemplate the challenges that may be involved in issues such as extending dual training to Intermediate Vocational Training; and the transformations in the system itself; as well as other key issues, some structural, which the pandemic years have only served to highlight.