Although sociologists of education and others have strongly criticised the underlying assumption within human capital theory of the unproblematic link between education and training, and individual and national outcomes, labour market policy and programmes have been largely driven by this theory. The current paper draws on in-depth interview data, to demonstrate that individual decision making regarding education and training is best analysed contextually. A tri-level framework was developed for this purpose. The analysis takes account of the macro context of reforms and changes in New Zealand's political economy, the institutional context of employment policy and programmes and the micro level of people's day to day lives and decision making. We examine the constraints on individual choice with regard to education and training at these three levels. The implications for programmes and policy makers are discussed.