A four-year study of more than 6000 school students from years 3 to 12 examined their post-school aspirations, in particular those who wished to study in the VET sector. The research aims to inform teachers, schools and VET providers about how they might better advise students given “current gaps and misunderstandings in these students’ knowledge about VET”. This is caused by a “misalignment between educational and occupational aspirations, along with confusion about what TAFE offers and the pathway required to a VET-related occupation.”

This study and another involving Victorian VET students and their experiences in choosing a provider and course are summarized in a summary report, which brings both sets of findings together.

School students choosing VET study

Many school students do not see VET study as an option, especially in their latter years of study. As an option it is seen by students, their parents and schools as ‘second best’ and less likely to lead to career success. Having some sort of VET experience at school is important though, and:

exposure to VET-related occupations through initiatives such as the VET in Schools program (VETiS) influence[es] their aspiration and choice of educational pathway. This demonstrates the importance of exposing children from a young age to a range of formal and informal career-related experiences during school.”

Good quality careers advice from schools, family and peers is really important too. Sadly, and all too often, “this information is outdated and reinforces the misconceptions surrounding the benefits of a VET pathway.” Gender stereotypes about suitable occupations for males or females are also ‘alive and well’ from a very young age. These stereotypes restrict the options that a school student might consider.

Choosing a course and provider

The Victorian-based second study found that choosing a course and provider is no easy task. The choice is affected by the quality of available advice, course content, quality, duration, flexibility in meeting desired needs (including timetabling) and cost – including what financial support they may be able to access. But a really key factor is ‘location location location’. Provider location affects the range of courses available conveniently, and the options may be limited. This is particularly so for those in regional areas.

At the end of the day each of these selection factors is weighted differently by each individual. Their final decision is based on what they see as their best study option. The extent to which they are prepared put themselves out to take up this option helps dictate the choice of provider they make and the distances they may need to travel.

Good information is the key

There are any number of resources around to help this decision making process. The Victorian Skills Gateway is one example. And it looks as though students prefer advice that is more independent and trustworthy. Having comprehensive information available is one thing. Finding it and then being able to understand and use it readily is another.

So what needs to happen?

The summary report suggests that enhancing perceptions about the value of VET study and the opportunities it offers are important in overcoming the negative perceptions of VET often held by school students and their teachers. Offering pathways incorporating VET and higher education studies represents one approach.

Providing a wider range of study options is also important, particularly for those in regional areas. For schools, providing quality and up-to-date careers advice about VET-related occupations is an important role they can play in helping students and their parents. It’s also important to expose students to a wide range of vocational opportunities while at school to help them and their parents make the best possible post-school choices.