June/July last year saw Year13 and YouthSense conduct a national survey of Australian youth to understand how much young people understand of TAFE and VET.

They also wanted to get a handle on their perceptions and pre-conceived ideas about these education pathways. Here’s what they found.

Who did they survey?

The report by Year 13 and YouthSense, entitled ‘The TAFE Report: Changing Young People’s Perceptions of TAFE and Vocational Education’, summarises the outcomes of an online survey of just over 1200 young people aged between 15 and 24 and sourced via social media and through Year13’s own database of youth. The survey respondents were mainly aged between 16 and 18 years of age (70%) with 56% being female. 44% were from cities, 46% were regional and the remaining 10% rural.

The messages

Message 1 is that what TAFE and VET more broadly does is not well understood by students, parents and teachers so that “the full potential of what TAFE and VET pathways can offer students today is not as well known in many schools and households across Australia as it could be.” They also found that “47% of young Australians do not have a well-rounded understanding of TAFE.” They, and their parents, have a far clearer picture of what university is and its perceived career and other benefits. When asked which education pathway their parents’ felt was best for a successful career, 3% said VET was favoured compared to 78% for university. OK, not good!

Importantly, the report found that parents and caregivers are the primary source of trusted career advice for young people over web search, friends and career advisors. So, this all has a significant effect on their decision-making about possible post-school destinations. However, it’s not as though the TAFE brand is not known; “97% of youth have heard of TAFE and 66% feel confident enough to describe what it is.”

Message 2: “…over a quarter (28%) of young Australians feeling deterred from studying TAFE/VET courses due to a ‘stigma’ being attached to it.” This stigma takes a couple of forms we suspect; first the bad press the sector has endured in the recent past and, perhaps more importantly, the perception that students and their parents have that it is ‘a second-rate study option’. As one student pointed out:

“[TAFE] has a stigma around it that the people who go there are either too ‘dumb’ or too poor to go to university. I think this is because of the silly youth banter, ignorance and judgement which is passed through the school yard.”

Another suggested a solution and proposed that more should definitely be done “to increase the awareness of people to the benefits of TAFE/VET because I think many people, like me, are affected by the somewhat negative stigma surrounding TAFE and those who choose that as a career pathway.”

Parents, in particular, seem to be a significant part of the perception problem, but may also be part of a potential solution. Positive messaging to them about TAFE and VET as an excellent career path option is needed.

Message 3 is that when young people were asked to choose words that describe TAFE or VET, they chose practical (82%), affordable (60%), ‘for tradies’ (50%) and specialised (48%). So, TAFE in particular is seen as an affordable, hands-on learning environment that provides pathways primarily into trade roles. What they don’t understand is how TAFE – and VET more broadly – can actually help them effectively pursue a wide range of careers outside the trades, including those at university level.

Message 4 is that career choice needs to be better advised by students’ passions and skills. The report suggests that: “passion is … a key concept for TAFE to focus on when marketing their courses as pathways to a fulfilling career.”

Message 5: Money is a motivating factor for two-thirds of young people when choosing their career, and VET graduates come out on top in immediate income post completion. YouthSense suggests that this favourable outcome can be leveraged in communicating the benefits of some VET studies to young people, especially when the debt incurred from their uni. studies is taken into account.

Finally, message 6 is that ‘effective messaging’ to young people is key, and this needs to start well before they leave school. The report suggests that messaging needs to start at Year 10 when students are 15 going on 16. It also needs to exploit the media young people regularly use to source information, such as Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. Using ‘Influencer marketing’ may also be effective, recognising that parents are amongst the most significant key influencers of choice.