NCVER Insight Banner
Insight issue #58 22 August 2016

The impact of disadvantage on course completion and employment rates

Large gaps in course completion and employment rates exist between disadvantaged learners in VET and their non-disadvantaged peers. Tackling these types of systemic issues is not easy and recently published research suggests nuanced strategies that target individual differences over generalised policies or measures may be effective.

The impact of disadvantage on VET completion and employment gaps compares disadvantaged students’ training completion rates and employment outcomes with those of non-disadvantaged students. In this work, ‘disadvantage’ refers to those who have any type of disability, Indigenous Australians, those who live in low socioeconomic status areas and those with limited English language skills.

The research by Dr Duncan McVicar and Dr Domenico Tabasso, formerly from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, found the completion gap between disadvantaged students compared with non-disadvantaged students varied. The gap is largest, at 10 percentage points, for Indigenous students and people who experience multiple disadvantage, but for those with limited English skills, the gap is as low as two percentage points.

Most of the completion gap can be explained by differences in individual characteristics beyond the disadvantage such as age, gender or by characteristics of the course (for example, field of education, course duration). Not all of these characteristics are amenable to intervention by policy-makers, but some are. For example, providing more information to learners about completion rates by course characteristics such as field of education, and perhaps more guidance on how to interpret such information, may help learners make more informed choices and ultimately improve outcomes.

In terms of employment gaps, McVicar and Tabasso found that students from disadvantaged groups have a lower chance of getting a job post-study in comparison with their more advantaged peers. In particular, graduates with limited English language skills have the greatest difficulty in terms of employment opportunities: their chances of finding a job after completing VET are 45 percentage points lower than native English speaker graduates.

But even when all the differences between individual and course characteristics of disadvantaged learners and their non-disadvantaged peers are accounted for, completion and employment gaps remain. This suggests that the disadvantage itself is a barrier to completing a VET course and getting a job.

The research highlights the complexity of disadvantage and the need for targeted policies that address the unique challenges disadvantages groups face.

To access The impact of disadvantage on VET completion and employment gaps, visit