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Busting the myth of low-skilled workers: Destabilizing EU LLL policies through the life stories of Danes in low-skilled jobs

In the EU, ambitious objectives have been set for education and training since the adoption of the Lisbon Agenda in 2000. The policies aim among other things to empower the individual through participation in lifelong learning which is seen as both a right and a duty: ‘People need to want and to be able to take their lives into their own hands – to become in short, active citizens’ (CEC, 2000, p. 7). However, not all citizens are taking part in lifelong learning and consequently the EU and its member states have set up policies with a ‘particular focus on active and preventative measures for the unemployed and inactive persons’ (CEC, 2006, p.1). ‘Inactive’ persons comprise different groups which are marginalised in terms of participation in lifelong learning, among others ‘low-skilled’ who have a lower participation rate in education and training activities (Cedefop, 2013)., In this article, the aim is to destabilize the political discourse on ‘low-skilled’ through individual narratives of being in low-skilled jobs. Whereas the problem of being low-skilled from a political perspective is represented as psycho-social problems of the individual, the narratives point to the complexity of people in low-skilled jobs and the role of structure to ‘low-skilledness’. The narratives open up issues of power and the historical arbitrary distinctions between skilled and unskilled in the Danish labour market. It opens up for how the educational structures produce ‘low-skilled’ people, especially in the transition from basic vocational education and training into an apprenticeship. The article points to the narrow focus of policies on the ‘supply’ side of lifelong learning and less on the ‘demand’ side of a ‘needy’ global labour market in which precarious jobs are no longer limited to low-skilled. The article draws on Bacchi’s ‘What’s the Problem Represented to Be?’ (1999, 2009) and narrative inquiry.