Engaging young early school leavers in vocational training

October 2015
Estimated publish date
November 2017
Principal researcher(s)
Eric Dommers, Brotherhood of St Laurence
George Myconos, Brotherhood of St Laurence
Kira Clarke, Centre for Vocational and Educational Policy, University of Melbourne

Michelle Circelli, NCVER michelle.circelli@ncver.edu.au 08 8230 8646


The research will investigate factors that impact on young people's participation, engagement and completion of vocational training with a particular focus on young people at the margins of the system: those who are at high risk of not engaging in, or completing vocational training programs. The research will also engage with adult intermediaries who are in close proximity to these young people.

The research will provide information about the factors that impact on young, disadvantaged peoples’ intent to enrol, the quality of their enrolment experience, and their level of engagement and completion.

This research will seek the views of young people and ‘intermediary’ support services and agencies on the factors that restrict access and lead to the exclusion from, or negative experiences with, VET for the most disadvantaged and ‘hard to reach’. 


Mixed methods

Research questions

The principal research question addressed in this project is:

  • What approaches would maximize successful entry into and engagement with VET for disadvantaged young people?

The overarching research question will be addressed through the following sub-questions:

  • What do disadvantaged young people think about the VET system and how it relates to their lives and aspirations?
  • What do young people think are the most important factors that impact on their   likelihood of their commencing suitable VET training, and continuing to completion?
  • What are the perceptions of VET and social service providers about young disadvantaged people; what do they perceive is their role in facilitating enrolment, engagement and completion for this group and, what activities and resources do they believe are required to improve enrolment, engagement and retention rates for this group?
  • In what ways do the perspectives of providers, support agencies and disadvantaged young people align or vary?
  • What recommendations follow from these findings that might be acceptable to the major stakeholders?

In this research the terms ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘at risk’ are interchangeable, with the main, though not exclusive, features of the cohort under review being:

  • 15-24 year old with low educational attainment in secondary school and VET (year 11 or below),
  • residing in disadvantaged areas, as measured the SEIFA measure,
  • experiencing multiple barriers to education (e.g. homelessness, poverty, family breakdown, low literacy and numeracy skills, and poor mental health).


A mixed methods approach will be taken involving a teleconferenced workshop, focus groups and one-on-one interviews with representatives from training providers, employer groups, support services and agencies such as job network providers. Surveys, focus groups and interviews will also be undertaken with young people.  Access to young people will be gained through informal referrals and invitations extended via support services and other intermediary agencies, word of mouth, and promotion at sites frequented by the young people.


The Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL) is a non-government organisation with strong community links that has been working to reduce poverty in Australia since the 1930s. The BSL undertakes research and services focused on those people at greatest risk. Its aim is to address unmet needs in innovative ways and translate its learning from research and services into new policies, new programs and practices which can be implemented by government and others. The BSL’s Research and Policy Centre is Australia’s largest social policy research centre in a non-government welfare organisation. In formal partnership with the University of Melbourne, its multidisciplinary team includes international research and policy experts contributing innovative research on social trends and issues.

The University of Melbourne’s Centre for Vocational and Educational Policy (CVEP) is located in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. CVEP is known for its research on VET in schools and VET quality. The Melbourne Graduate School of Education is one of the University's largest faculties, is supported by external research funding of over $8 million annually and is ranked number 1 amongst all Faculties of Education in the Group of Eight Universities and top 5 in the world (QS Ranking 2015). The University of Melbourne is one of Australia's few world-ranked universities.