Stone the crows! What do we do to help the quarter of all kids who are settling on the scrap heap?

Incoming Business Council of Australia chair, Catherine Livingstone, asked an important question on Friday, what are we to do with the 25 per cent of Australians aged 17-24 who are neither “fully engaged in work or study”.[i]

The fit between training and better jobs is far from perfect for all sorts of reasons – starting with the absence of incentives. The wage premium for enrolling in a Vocational Education and Training (VET) course is greater in some cases than after completing one.[ii] And sales workers who finish a traineeship earn $5000 a year less than their peers who start but drop out.[iii]

To an extent, the training failure rate is all but inevitable – young people, by their nature, do not necessarily know what they want to do. For apprentices and trainees commencing in 2008, course completion rates were 57.8 per cent for trades and 57.1 per cent for non-trades.[iv] This is not good, but it isn’t unique. The higher education attrition rate is nothing flash either – in 2011 just over 25 per cent of commencing undergraduates gave it away.[v]

The market, by its nature, is also fast changing and hard to read. There are always arguments about what occupations are over-supplied as the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency prepares the annual skilled migration list.[vi] Nor should anybody assume that there is a golden pathway from training courses of all kinds to employment. The Student Outcomes Survey (admittedly from 2007) indicates that over two-thirds of people in low paid occupations who complete TAFE courses do not get better jobs, or even pay rises.[vii]

But, and it is a very big but indeed, overall the evidence is unimpeachable that it is better to be in training, whether or not it generates an immediate job, than not. It takes training to climb the ladder in any industry.[viii]

So the question becomes how to get the kids who are out of the system into it? It’s a question effectively unanswered since a growing secondary labour market for unskilled young people, who drift in and out of work, became apparent 20 years ago.[ix] Certainly, a great deal of time and money has gone into efforts to enrol students from the bottom family income quintile in university. Labor allocated $430m over for four years to universities. This lifted low SES enrolments.[x] But not so much in training. People under 21 must be either in work and/or training to qualify for the Commonwealth Youth Allowance. However, it is hard to imagine either carrot or stick convincing somebody with few skills and fewer expectations that qualifications can create opportunities for them.[xi]

The problem is that young people have pretty well made up their minds about education and training when it is time to start higher or further education. According to the University of Adelaide’s vice chancellor, Warren Bebbington, to increase successful university participation among low SES university students requires better preparation at school.[xii] My guess is the same applies to vocational education.

But there is much more to preparation than lifting academic outcomes – kids need to know how to believe in themselves. New research by Melbourne academics Jacqueline Homel and Chris Ryan makes the point. On the basis of Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth data, they conclude that young people who expect to go to university are more likely to do so. This may surprise – but what really matters is their further finding that the mutual reinforcement between self-belief and achievement crosses class:

The results suggest that if it is possible through policy or the programs of schools or community organisations to change the aspirations of individuals, such changes in aspirations should translate uniformly across all individuals into increased educational outcomes. Interventions, for example, that increase the educational aspirations of Indigenous youth and young people from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds might have the same impact on their outcomes as those changing the aspirations of people from other parts of the social welfare distribution.[xiii]

Easier said than done. But it can be accomplished by inspiring teachers – people with the emotional intelligence to connect with kids and inspire them.

I wonder what those who advocate new teachers should have higher university entrance scores will make of that? It certainly suggests that EQ is important as well as ATAR. It takes more than subject knowledge to be a great teacher.

Need a case made? Call the Crows for bespoke opeds.



[i] Annabel Hepworth, “BCA sees jobless youth as priority,” The Australian March 29

[ii] Nicolas Herault, Rezida Zakirova and Hielke Buddelmeyer, “The effect of VET completion on the wages of young people,” NCVER 2011 @ recovered on March 29

[iii] Stephen Matchett, “Training does not always deliver,” The Australian, February 16 2012

[iv] National Centre for Vocational Educational Research, “Australian vocational education and training rates for apprentices and trainees, 2012” NCVER, 2013 @ recovered on March 29

[v] Department of Innovation, “Higher education statistics: attrition, success, retention rates 2001-2011,” @ recovered on March 29

[vi] Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency, “Skilled occupation list,” @ recovered on March 29

[vii] Barbara Pocock et al, “Work life and VET participation amongst lower paid workers,” NCVER 2011 @ recovered on March 29

[viii] Serena Yu, Tanya Bretherton and Hanna Schutz, “Vocational trajectories within the Australian labor market,” NCVER 2012 @ recovered on March 29

[ix] Bruce Chapman and Matthew Gray, “Youth unemployment: aggregate incidence and consequences for individuals,” ANU Centre for Economic Policy Research 2002 @ recovered on March 29

[x] Department of Innovation, “Funding to support low SES participation targets,” nd @ recovered on March 29

[xi] Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, “National report on schooling in Australia, 2009” @ recovered on March 29

[xii] Warren Bebbington, “We need an artist’s brush, we have a butcher’s cleaver, The Australian, April 30 2013

[xiii] Jacqueline Homel and Chris Ryan, “Educational outcomes: the aspirations and the role of student background characteristics,” NCVER, 2014 @ recovered on March 29