Recent press articles have highlighted the value of VET studies – particularly in some trades – in providing rewarding, challenging and well-paid work.
Promoting vocational training at school as a viable option is more important than ever to address national and regional skill shortages.
Busting some myths
There is an emerging image of the positive outcomes of VET studies and qualifications begun at school can bring. The Skilling Australia Foundation published a paper in 2017 which attempts some myth busting about VET. These ‘myths’ include lack of earning potential and employment opportunities and that VET courses are, in their view, a thing of the past. Rather, the paper argues their value to employers, the economy and society more broadly. It concludes that:
“In comparison with university undergraduate programs, VET usually provides students with a faster, more cost-effective pathway to complete a qualification and enter the workforce.”
“It is time for the [VET] sector to tackle these myths and misperceptions head on, remove stigmas, and reassert the varied and stable career opportunities accessible through vocational education. Vocational education is not and never was a straightjacket—it can be a springboard to greater educational and career advancement.”
What they are talking about is promoting work and study pathways which can be a better option for some students than a ‘university or bust’ approach. What students need is good information and counselling, but where to get it?
Knowing more about VET options
Year13 is Australia’s largest digital career and life advice platform for high school leavers. In a recent report published this year they examined how GenZs make decisions about their future. Year13 found that:
“When asked how well [school students] understood a range of different further education options, 49% claimed to have a good or strong understanding of university. This far exceeded the second-most understood pathway—vocational education— of which only 19% of students had a good or strong understanding.”
School students also reported that their parents had the best understanding of university pathways, (65%), while the next best was apprenticeships and traineeships at 27% and vocational education and training came in at a pretty miserable 16%.
Schools play an important role in helping determine career choice, and – at worst – may steer students away from their desired pathways and occupational preferences for their own advantage and to make their graduate outcomes look good. The role of trusted teachers, careers advisors and the pathways promoted most strongly by the school’s ethos all play their part in the process by which students consider options and make choices. Again, the report by Year13 found that:
“Bias in career advice is another widespread concern for students; 52% of survey respondents claimed they wanted more access to unbiased career advice in high school. Many young people felt they were not being provided with a deep understanding of all available post-school options and were simply being pushed to pursue university, with 46% of young people claiming they faced ‘too much’ pressure from their school to enter university and only 10% saying they faced no pressure at all.”
VET in Schools programs can be the first introduction to the world of work. Such programs also can widen students’ horizons and help them make better informed choices. And maybe VET programs and options also need better and more informed support by teachers and careers advisors in schools.