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Entry to vocations: the efficacy of VET in Schools

By Kira Clarke Research report 19 December 2012 ISBN 978 1 922056 40 5


This report explores the relationship between vocational education and training in (VET) in Schools and the labour market. Four models of VET in Schools are used to establish how VET in Schools is conceptualised and how occupational and further VET study outcomes are maximised. Interviews and surveys with stakeholders also consider how VET in Schools can be strengthened. Overall, VET in Schools does not provide a strong link to direct employment as it is generally undertaken at certificate I and II level and does not contain enough workplace learning. Instead, VET in Schools may be better placed as a pathway to further vocational study. This work is part of the three-year research program Vocations: the link between post compulsory education and the labour market.


About the research

This report is part of a wider three-year program of research, 'Vocations: the link between post compulsory education and the labour market', which is investigating the educational and occupational paths that people take and how their study relates to their work. It is specifically interested in exploring the relationship between vocational education and training (VET) in schools and the labour market.

The author uses four models of VET in Schools provision as case studies — a technical education centre, a partnership between a government secondary college and a TAFE (technical and further education) institute, a catholic senior secondary college and a government vocational college — to detail the practices and approaches to delivering the programs. Of particular interest were how the role of VET is conceptualised and the success of the programs in promoting entry into specific occupations and further VET study. Interviews and surveys were also used to gather feedback from a range of stakeholders on ways to strengthen the programs.

Key messages

  • The way VET in Schools is incorporated in senior secondary school certificates varies across jurisdictions. The jurisdictions have varying ideas on its role, with the difference essentially relating to the balance between broader education and more instrumental vocational training.
  • Industry is not convinced that the vocational qualifications obtained at school equip students for the workforce. The main perceived deficiency is insufficient experience in the workplace.
  • Secondary school students are provided with copious advice on university pathways relative to advice on vocational pathways, thus providing an unbalanced view of post-school opportunities.

The author argues that VET in Schools needs to be reconceptualised with the distinct aim of providing a clear pathway to post-school vocational training (including apprenticeships) rather than preparing students for direct entry into the workforce.

Tom Karmel
Managing Director, NCVER

Executive summary

Recent policy changes have facilitated an expanded role for VET in Schools in supporting school completion, with vocational education and training (VET) in schools qualifications and subjects receiving increasing recognition in senior secondary certificates. Despite increased attainment of VET qualifications amongst 15 to 19-year-olds (Australian Curriculum, Reporting and Assessment Authority 2011), the outcomes of vocational learning within Australian senior secondary certificates are still problematic (Rothman et al. 2011; Queensland Department of Education and Training 2011). As a broad observation, the systems of VET in Schools in Australian states and territories do not provide coherent, structured pathways to work and/or to higher-level vocational education, while the foundational nature of VET in Schools does not effectively support student transition to entrylevel occupations. At regional and school levels, VET in Schools is weakened by a lack of trust and investment from employers and industry, misconceptions about the validity and rigour of schools' vocational programs and a lack of capacity in schools to provide the necessary career advice to support effective vocational choices. With increasing numbers of senior secondary students engaging in VET in Schools and expecting to benefit from the attainment of qualifications, it is of great concern that existing systems fail to provide a coherent and effective pathway to sustainable occupational careers.

This report has been prepared as part of the consortium research program, 'Vocations: the link between post-compulsory education and the labour market'. There are three strands in the project. This report is part of Strand 1,1 which focuses on entry to vocations and how to improve occupational and further study outcomes from entry-level vocational education and training. The key research question being addressed is: What are the main variables shaping the relationship between VET, employment and occupations at the entry-level?

Entry-level VET is taken here to encompass both VET at certificate levels I and II and all VET that is completed through VET in Schools as part of a senior secondary certificate. Nationally, students studying entry-level qualifications make up more than one in five of all VET students (NCVER 2011b), while participation in VET in Schools makes up more than a third of all VET participation of 15 to 19-year-olds (NCVER 2011b), with the vast majority (79.6%) of the participation in entry-level qualifications. This study focuses on VET in Schools, specifically because of the increasing role it has in entry-level skills provision.


The researcher conducted four case studies of VET in Schools to examine in detail the practices and approaches to delivering effective VET in Schools programs.

The key questions guiding the case studies were:

  • How is the role of VET in Schools conceptualised in the different jurisdictional education and training systems? What is the perceived role of VET in Schools?
  • In what ways are the four case study models of VET in Schools maximising the occupational and further VET study outcomes for students?
  • What more needs to be done to improve the effectiveness of VET in Schools?

The four models of VET in Schools included a technical education centre in regional Victoria, a partnership between a government secondary college and a TAFE (technical and further education) institute in far north Queensland, a catholic senior secondary college in outer western Sydney and a government vocational college in north-eastern Adelaide. Feedback was gathered through interviews and surveys from a range of stakeholders (n = 86) at the system and policy levels, with TAFE institutes and private training providers, group training organisations, adult and community education (ACE) centres, schools and other VET in Schools stakeholder organisations.

Strengthening models of VET in Schools

A coherent purpose and role for VET in Schools

Despite policy intentions and established recognition of its provision in senior secondary certificates, VET in Schools does not result in strong pathways to occupational outcomes. Is it time to rethink its role as a pathway to work and focus instead on it being a pathway to further vocational education? There is a need to re-evaluate VET in Schools to ensure that it leads to a substantial destination and does not deliver students into low-skilled, casualised and unsustainable employment. A consistent pathways approach is needed to bolster the capacity of vocational programs in schools to provide effective transition for young people. This may mean emphasising the foundational nature of VET in Schools as a pathway to higher-level vocational studies, resulting in post-school vocational qualifications.

Qualification levels in VET in Schools

Different industry areas have different expectations and requirements for entry to apprenticeships and traineeships. While the current approaches to VET in Schools appear to recognise these variations, more needs to be done to clarify the pathway outcomes of VET in Schools qualifications and programs. Given the diversity of industry areas now encompassed by VET in Schools, it is impossible to apply blanket rulings on the level of higher-level qualifications pursued (for example, certificate III and above).

Expansion of employment-based training pathways

Students participating in school-based apprenticeship and traineeship qualifications are at risk of weak outcomes and unrewarding transitions. Stakeholders highlighted industry concern about certificate II trades qualifications lacking credibility since students undertaking these had received little industry exposure, and for this reason some school-based apprenticeship and traineeship students are being excluded from entry to full-time apprenticeships by employers; that is, although they have reached stage 2 of their theoretical learning they have minimal industry experience. More needs to be done to strengthen school-based apprenticeships and traineeships by building communities of trust with employers and ensuring that these effectively facilitate entry to full-time apprenticeships and traineeships following school.

Career advice to support vocational pathways

Students undertaking an academic university pathway in senior secondary school receive ample information about the subject prerequisites and entry requirements for different university programs. Students pursuing a vocational or occupational pathway need access to equally relevant, comprehensive and clear information about post-school VET. The role of schools in supporting young people to construct meaningful pathways that achieve both a breadth and depth of learning needs to be clearly articulated as a policy objective and as a performance requirement for schools.

VET in Schools within the senior secondary certificates

A discussion of VET in Schools and its role as an entry to vocations for school leavers/completers is inherently linked to how the senior secondary certificates operate and how the structures of those certificates provide disincentives to students and schools to use and access vocational programs. The time may have come to proactively encourage and facilitate post-school VET pathways as the key aim and outcome of VET in Schools. All schools could benefit from a more clearly articulated approach to VET in Schools from state/territory training departments and boards of study.

A systemic approach to working with industry

Clearly visible in the case studies was a concern for the industry credibility of VET in Schools. Justified or not, the lack of trust in VET in Schools has a significant impact on its efficacy as an occupational pathway. For many schools, engaging with employers and industry in a coordinated way is new territory. State/territory education and training departments have a role to play in supporting schools to build communities of trust with industry and employers.

Moving beyond work placements to a systemic workplace learning approach

There is a need for a more coordinated and systematic approach to workplace learning in VET in Schools programs. Providing access to structured workplace learning opportunities for all students undertaking vocational education in schools is a substantial goal and one that requires significant resourcing. The issue of financial incentives to employers is problematic, but perhaps needs to be considered, given the rapidly growing number of VET in Schools students requiring workplace learning. Structured workplace learning supports and is integrated with the VET in Schools curriculum, and financial support for employers to offer workplace learning should only be considered if the workplace learning fulfils these conditions.

Where should VET in Schools be heading to enhance the effectiveness of provision for young people?

More needs to be done to support students' transition from the foundational vocational learning achieved in their senior secondary certificates to intermediate-level vocational learning that supports occupational entry and career progression. It is inappropriate for VET in Schools to be viewed as a direct employment pathway for young people when the majority of qualifications offered and attained through this model remain at the entry or foundational level (certificates I and II). In reevaluating a role and purpose for VET in Schools as part of senior secondary schooling in Australia, it should be more accurately branded and delivered to students as the foundational component of a post-school education and training pathway (for example, higher-level VET and apprenticeships).


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