Choosing VET: investigating the VET aspirations of school students

August 2015
Estimated publish date
October 2017
Principal researcher(s)
University of Newcastle:
Professor Jenny Gore, project lead,
Associate Professor Kathryn Holmes, dissemination lead
Professor Max Smith, quantitative analysis lead
Dr Adam Lloyd, stakeholder engagement lead
Mr Hywel Ellis, data synthesis lead
Mr Andrew Lyell, qualitative analysis lead

Jo Hargreaves, NCVER 08 8230 8678


This project will examine how and when school students (Years 3-12) express interest in VET and will elucidate students’ awareness of VET options and career pathways. Drawing on an extant large dataset, gathered over a four-year period as part of an ARC Linkage Project (2012-2015), will enable a detailed exploration of when VET begins to feature in students’ thinking about their futures, for whom, and under what conditions. There is little research on the early formation of aspirations for VET career options, particularly from the perspective of students. In addition to mapping students’ specific VET choices and their intersection with gender, SES, location, and prior achievement, the analysis will shed light on how students talk about VET and why they choose VET.

This study aims to provide insight into the early shaping of students’ aspirations for pursuing or not pursuing VET options in order to inform how providers and schools can enrich available information while simultaneously addressing current gaps in knowledge and misunderstandings about VET. The analytic focus of this project will make a unique contribution to this field, by providing a fine-grained account of how these factors, individually and in various combinations, relate to students’ VET choices.

This analysis is particularly critical given the current state of flux of the VET sector, including regulations, costs, and financial aid allocations. The study will provide unique insight into the formation of interest in VET among school students and into students’, parents’, and teachers’ understandings of VET processes.


Mixed methodologies

Research questions

1. What aspirations do school students, from Year 3 to Year 12, express for VET and related careers, how do they change over time, and how do these aspirations intersect with gender, SES, location, and prior achievement?

2. What reasons do school students give for their aspirations for VET and related careers and how do they talk about VET?

3. In what ways do school students, parents, teachers, and careers advisers talk about students’ aspirations for VET and related careers?


The project will focus on those students who signalled an interest in VET among a sample of more than 10,000 surveys of NSW school students, from across the full age range of Year 3 to Year 12. Survey, focus group, and interview data with students and some of their parents, teachers, and careers advisers will identify factors associated with students’ choice of VET in order to better understand processes, directions, barriers, and enabling conditions over which schools and VET providers have some control. The design of the project takes into account the ways in which these barriers and enabling conditions will differ for male and female, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, and rural and metropolitan students.

The data will be analysed for associations between VET aspirations and factors relating to schooling (such as peer networks, subject choice, perceptions of school performance, actual school performance [NAPLAN results], and careers activities, including programs or initiatives the schools have in place to support students in aspiring to VET) and family (such as qualifications, employment, social networks, and cultural resources). Focus group and interview data will also be analysed for insights into the complexity of individuals’ circumstances and their deliberations in considering pathways into higher education.  While the data has been collected in NSW, the insights from this study will be broadly applicable across the national VET sector.


The University of Newcastle is a research-intensive university and a leading contributor to research in Australia and the world. They are ranked in the top 10 Australian universities based on research excellence. The University of Newcastle are a leader in university education, with a reputation for high quality teaching and learning, and exciting, contemporary academic programs. They are a multi-campus institution offering programs in a number of locations: Callaghan, Newcastle; Newcastle City; Ourimbah, Central Coast; Port Macquarie; Singapore; and Sydney.