By Jenny Lambert
It’s time to dispel the idea that vocational education and training is second-rate to university education.
Whether it comes from parents, peers, school guidance counsellors or society-at-large, students are taught to aspire to a university-based profession.
To obtain a Bachelor-of-something or a Master-of-anything.
University can be a great pathway for many students, but depending on the course chosen, it can leave many graduates without the practical skills to get meaningful employment, leaving some with debt that may be difficult to repay and others with broken ambition.
Vocational education and training offers young Australians, and those wanting to retrain, strong employment opportunities, and often a better salary in the long term.
The Grattan Institute’s latest report found that vocational education in construction, engineering and commerce “typically lead to higher incomes than many low-ATAR university graduates are likely to earn”.
This was found to be especially true for men.
“For the most common Certificate III qualifications, nearly 80 per cent of the men aged 20-24 who completed in 2018 have full-time work, and nearly 90 per cent have received job-related benefits: they got a job, promotion or pay rise.”
Often a graduate of an engineering or construction apprenticeship goes on to run their own business, employing people and reaping the rewards of self-employment.
Yet the report found in the past 20 years, and particularly since student places at universities became uncapped, more Australians are shunning vocational education for a university degree.
The Australian Chamber recognises that in order to recalibrate the way our country views further education, our governments need to address the VET delivery model.
This month our parliamentary leaders across the country agreed to do just that.
A “shared vision” for VET reform was reached at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, including the establishment of a new skills council to advance the reform.
It’s a vision which ensures VET and university education are given equal standing.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he wanted “mums and dads to be confident about the choice of their kids for a trade, for a technical or skills-based education. It is not second prize”.
The Australian Chamber has long championed this, working with the prime minister and advisers, along with our member chambers and industry associations to aid in reforming VET.
The federal government made inroads in November 2018, appointing former New Zealand skills minister Steven Joyce to spearhead a “once-in-a-generation” review of VET.
That review proposed a new vision for VET, including simpler funding, clearer pathways and better skills matching.
Successful reform would include real funding increases for vocational training in all jurisdictions and a return to growth in the number of government-funded VET students.
Industry will be more strongly embedded in the advisory and governance arrangements at all levels of the VET system, and increased support for apprenticeships and traineeships would also be key to reform.
We need to promote the career options that require VET so we can meet the skills needs of the labour market .
Just last week Infrastructure Australia released an audit of our country’s infrastructure pipeline, warning a new wave of investment and reform “is needed to ensure Australia’s infrastructure continues to support our quality of life and economic productivity over the next 15 years”.
This infrastructure boom will create many jobs in the construction sector and VET is a key pathway to those jobs.
Business and government need to work together with schools, career advisers and training providers to encourage students to choose VET as a career pathway.
It’s up to governments, educators and businesses to help deliver a better vocational system which reflects our rapidly evolving industries, but it’s up to Australians to engage with it, and see VET for what it is – the pathway to a bright future with skills our country so badly needs.
As a community, we owe our young people, as well as those retraining later in life for new jobs, the best chances and choices for the best careers.
Jenny Lambert, Director, Employment, Education and Training, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry
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