Negative views of VET both as a system and a post-school option need to be turned around.

Long standing VET researcher Stephen Billett believes more can be done to improve the image of VET-related work.

Stephen is in good company

An article he wrote for ‘The Conversation’ suggests that parents, schools and young people have to move away from aspirational and university-oriented pathways as an only or “best” option, especially when considering education and vocational options for those near to completing school. The options considered need to be broader. After all, is there an oversupply of university graduates? In this issue of VDC News suggests, there is a long-standing oversupply of university graduates in a number of fields.

Others support Billett’s view. For example,  Jennifer Westacott, from the Business Council of Australia, points to a “cultural bias in our post-secondary system.” This cultural bias “is created by teachers, our educational institutions, government, businesses, media and parents.” It is “a cultural bias that ‘smart’ people go to university, and the not so smart kids go to VET.”

VET has also not been promoted well. A report by 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.”

This same report suggested that:

“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.”

The Skilling Australia Foundation believe that “myths” about VET, including the lack of earning potential and employment opportunities, need to be put to rest. VET, they suggested, usually provides students with a faster, more cost-effective pathway to complete a qualification and enter the workforce than university studies. But, at the end of the day, a lot of the status problem is because VET and its occupations do not enjoy the parity of esteem seen in some other countries. But we are certainly not alone there!

What does Billett propose?

He suggests VET move into higher level programs, including degree-level apprenticeships and rebrand institutions to make them more attractive to potential students and their key influencers.

Billett proposes three other actions. First, he believes a public education campaign is needed to inform the community (particularly parents) about VET as a viable post-school option. He also proposes that this campaign be supported by industry and enacted by government through public education and social marketing via electronic media. To some extent this is being undertaken through the “Real Skills for real careers” campaign and its strategy launched at the 2017 national training awards.

Second, he believes schools should better inform young people about VET as a post-school option and include entrance into VET as an important performance indicator for schools. He proposes that schools organise visits to VET providers and companies by young people championing work in VET fields.

Finally, he advocates that federal and state governments, along with industry, need to ensure the VET provision is organised, ordered and resourced in ways that provide students with the appropriate educational experiences to prepare them for the job they choose.