vet levels the playing field

New research shows school students with low reading skills can secure good learning and employment outcomes through VET.

The University Of Melbourne – Melbourne Institute latest paper entitled What happens to students with low reading proficiency at 15? Evidence from Australia (42 pages, October 2016) examines the VET pathway for school students. The abstract on page 2 sums up important findings in a very direct way, and the news is good:

Supporting analysis suggests that high rates of participation and positive outcomes from vocational education and training (VET) among those with low reading proficiency helps them avoid any negative effects from poor achievement in school. These results highlight the role of accessible VET pathways in facilitating the labour market participation of youth who may become disengaged from learning in school.

 VET pathways are a sturdy option for young people who struggle to find productive purpose for themselves in the school system’s overwhelming orientation towards university entrance. Indeed, as Polidano and Ryan point out, young people with low reading skills who pursue VET studies have good learning outcomes and positive job experiences.

Polidano and Ryan speculate that one reason why outcomes tend be good is that young people taking VET pathways might well devote more time to assessing career options:

… those with low reading proficiency avoid labour market disadvantage by achieving good outcomes from VET. Not only are those with low reading proficiency more likely to invest in VET, they are also more likely to enrol in VET courses that are associated with positive graduate outcomes. An interpretation is that having a low reading proficiency at age 15 may provide the impetus for exploring VET options from an early age.

 That might give us pause to consider whether current career advice for school students is organised in the most informative, supportive and effective way.

 Qualification outcomes

The highest returns from post-school study accrue to those with the highest skill levels in reading and other domains. But we ought not concentrate on the university degree as the only valued outcome. The researchers report that:

  • around 29 per cent of those with low reading proficiency at age 15 enrol in university and 17 per cent attain a university degree
  • around 58 per cent of those with medium reading proficiency at age 15 enrol in university and 43 per cent attain a university degree.

The research paper makes equally important observations about other post-school qualifications:

Among those with low reading proficiency at age 15, the participation rate in post-secondary education is 87% by age 25, which is only slightly lower than the rate for students with medium level reading proficiency (93%). Not only is the participation rate in education high, but the rate of qualification acquisition among low proficiency readers is high as well.