Harnessing social and cultural capital for life skills: Women who can ‘talk the tools’ and ‘walk the work’

Research output: Other contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Social and cultural capital have long been considered valuable assets that assist individuals to succeed in education and work. Social capital is about relationships and networks, ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ is a good example. Knowing the right people will provide opportunities, role models and experiences that attain position and reward. Cultural capital assists individuals to understand the language, behaviour and values appropriate to a given situation. In workplaces, cultural capital translates into looking and sounding right, knowing how ‘to fit in’. Having or acquiring capital is important for women integrating into the male dominated trades (such as construction, electro-technology, automotive and plumbing).
This paper reports on an aspect of a wider research project investigating women’s experience of the manual trades. Here we report on how the possession of capital assists women in VET ‘talk the tools’ and ‘walk the work’. Our research found that capital aids the success of young women throughout their VET journey. The women who have this capital, which comes in the form of family/friends, role models and mentors, find the VET journey less daunting, are more quickly accepted and feel they ‘belong’. Capital affords women assets in the form of practical knowledge that quickly translates into skills and an increased confidence to navigate their apprenticeship.
In the changing world of work, diversity and inclusion is a priority and when enrolments in the manual trades are up but completion rates are down (NCVER 2018) the theory of capital is an illuminating lens to understand the advantage some students utilise. In the masculine culture of the workplace, this capital is more complex but in the VET classroom where the playing field is somewhat levelled, understanding how capital works, recognising its value and replicating its techniques enhances the experience and ensures the success of students.


Conference28th National Vocational Education and Training Research Conference
Abbreviated titleThe student journey: Skilling for Life
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