Drawing on data from NCVER’s collections and surveys, this report examines Indigenous participation and completion in VET (including apprenticeships and traineeships), as well as the employment, further study and personal outcomes of training. The report provides a clearer picture of changes in Indigenous participation and outcomes in VET over the last decade and finds that participation in VET continues to remain high, with a trend toward a greater proportion of enrolments at higher levels (certificate III and above). Employment outcomes remain lower for Indigenous graduates compared with non-Indigenous graduates, but some qualifications and fields appear to have better outcomes than others.
About the research
It has been eight years since the National Indigenous Reform Agreement (also known as ‘Closing the Gap’) set out a series of areas and targets designed to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous outcomes on a range of measures. A key objective was to halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade. The links between tertiary education and employment are well established, and the education participation of Indigenous people is increasing. Nevertheless, what is questionable is whether the qualifications gained are improving employability, boosting employment outcomes and reducing employment disparity: while the gap is closing in educational attainment, it is not closing in regards to labour market participation.
This report examines, and provides a clearer picture of, how Indigenous participation in vocational education and training (VET) and outcomes have changed over the last decade. Drawing on data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research’s (NCVER) National VET Provider Collection, National Apprentice and Trainee Collection and Student Outcomes Survey, this report focuses on Indigenous participation and completion in VET (including apprenticeships and traineeships), as well as on the employment, further study and personal outcomes of training. It identifies high-level trends in VET participation (including location and specific student and training characteristics), how completion rates vary, where employment outcomes are strongest, and the extent to which further study is being undertaken.
- The overall picture shows that, despite fluctuations in the wider VET sector, Indigenous participation in vocational education and training remains high.
- While Indigenous enrolment in lower-level qualifications is higher than in non-Indigenous enrolments, there has been a shift away from enrolments in lower-level certificates, with increasing proportions of Indigenous enrolments in higher-level qualifications (certificate III and above). This is a positive sign, given that employment rates are higher for those with higher-level qualifications.
- Despite downturns in overall apprentice and trainee commencements in recent years, Indigenous people have a higher rate of participation in both trade and non-trade apprenticeships and traineeships compared with non-Indigenous people.
- Indigenous VET completion rates (for all VET) and Indigenous apprentice and trainee completion rates vary according to location and certain student and training characteristics, but despite slight increases in recent years, they remain lower than non-Indigenous VET completion rates.
- Overall employment outcomes for Indigenous VET graduates are lower than those for non-Indigenous graduates, with the proportion of Indigenous VET graduates employed after training lower than non-Indigenous graduates. Employment outcomes do vary, depending on student and training characteristics, field of education and occupation, and it is clear that some Indigenous graduates, such as those undertaking trade apprenticeships, have better employment prospects than others.
- Indigenous graduates are less likely to be employed before training. However, Indigenous and non-Indigenous graduates not employed before training are equally likely to be employed after training.
While there is steady, positive improvement in Indigenous students enrolling in higher level qualifications (certificate III and above) and good employment outcomes for those completing an apprenticeship, there has been little improvement in program completion and in the employment outcomes of Indigenous VET graduates over the last decade. It is critical that the VET sector considers different approaches. This could include the introduction of targets and the implementation of strategies, policies and programs analogous to those operating in the higher education sector.
The aim of these initiatives would be to promote the uptake and support the completion of VET qualifications, which, based on the evidence, lead to higher-level skills and successful employment outcomes. A more targeted approach to VET provision for Indigenous learners, particularly young people who do not have previous employment, may also strengthen VET’s effectiveness in improving employment outcomes for Indigenous learners.
Developing policy, programs and practice, and subsequently evaluating them, needs to account for the rich qualitative data available in this field and is discussed in more detail in the companion piece to this report, Indigenous participation in VET: understanding the research (Ackehurst, Polvere & Windley 2017).
While quantitative evidence from the national data collections provides insight, this is only part of the story when it comes to Indigenous participation in vocational education and training. Qualitative experiences are vital for understanding and responding to the diverse circumstances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and their connections to varied regional and language groups. The forthcoming report Enhancing training advantage for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Learners by John Guenther et al. examines some of the factors that can influence training retention in very remote areas and which ensure that training is relevant to the unique labour markets in those communities.
Dr Craig Fowler
Managing Director, NCVER
This report examines how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) participation in vocational education and training (VET) and their employment outcomes have changed over the last decade. Throughout this report, the term ‘Indigenous’ is used interchangeably with ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians’ and encompasses both Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people.1 The analysis in this report relates to the Indigenous population as a whole and to broad geographic categories, and we acknowledge there is considerable regional and cultural variation and diversity.
It has been eight years since the National Indigenous Reform Agreement (also known as ‘Closing the Gap’) set out a range of areas and targets designed to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous outcomes on a range of measures. Education plays an important role in remedying levels of disadvantage and improving employment outcomes. While there are no specific targets focusing on post-compulsory education, the link between participation in post-compulsory education and a range of outcomes (including employment, health and wellbeing) is well established, especially in the context of employment outcomes, a key area of reform, as outlined in the agreement.
Even though the overall benefits of education and training for Indigenous students are apparent, whether or not the qualifications gained are improving their employability, boosting employment outcomes and reducing employment disparity is questionable: while the gap is closing in educational attainment, it is not closing in regards to labour market participation (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2017).
To facilitate understanding of Indigenous participation and completion in VET, as well as the employment, further study and personal outcomes of training, this report draws on data from NCVER’s National VET Provider Collection, National Apprentice and Trainee Collection and Student Outcomes Survey. While comparisons are made with the non-Indigenous population where appropriate, the intent is to focus on Indigenous participation.
The report aims to provide a clearer picture of Indigenous participation and outcomes in vocational education and training. It identifies high-level trends in changes in VET participation (including location and specific student and training characteristics) and describes how completion rates vary; where employment outcomes are strongest; and the extent to which further study is being undertaken.
The overall picture indicates that Indigenous participation in VET remains strong, with a general move away from enrolment in lower-level certificates towards a greater proportion of Indigenous students enrolled in higher-level qualifications. This is a positive sign, given that employment rates are higher for those with higher-level qualifications. Indigenous VET completion rates vary according to location and certain student and training characteristics; however, they remain lower than non-Indigenous VET completion rates. Employment outcomes for Indigenous VET graduates are lower than those for non-Indigenous graduates, and Indigenous graduates are less likely to be employed after training than non-Indigenous graduates. Indigenous and non-Indigenous graduates who were not employed before training are equally likely to be employed after training. Finally, employment outcomes do vary, depending on student and training characteristics, field of education and occupation, and it is clear that some Indigenous graduates have better employment outcomes than others.
- Despite overall declines in participation in the VET sector in recent years, Indigenous participation in VET remains high compared with their participation in higher education and compared with non-Indigenous participation in VET.
- Indigenous people are still more likely to undertake lower-level certificates I and II than non-Indigenous people, but, overall, Indigenous participation in VET has shifted away from lower-level qualifications (certificates I and II) towards higher-level qualifications (certificate III and above). This trend is less pronounced in remote and very remote areas, where lower-level qualifications still make up the majority of enrolments.
- In the context of previous highest education level, certificates III and IV appear to be increasingly acting as a pathway into diploma and higher-level qualifications.
- There have been considerable increases in certain fields of education (as a proportion of all program enrolments); however, this is gendered. A decline in the proportion of enrolments in Mixed field programmes (which are predominantly certificate I and II courses) has occurred for both males and females. For males there has been an increase in the proportion of Engineering and related technologies enrolments; for females there has been an increase in the proportion of Society and culture enrolments.
- TAFE (technical and further education) institutes and private providers have a similar share of training provision for Indigenous enrolments, with some differences based on location: TAFEs are more likely to provide training in remote areas, while private providers are more likely to provide training in cities.
- Indigenous people are more likely to be participating in apprenticeships and traineeships than non-Indigenous people, but the trends follow a similar pattern to non-Indigenous participation, including the age and gendered nature of trade and non-trade training and the decline in the non-trades in recent years.
- Program completion rates and subject load pass rates for Indigenous people have increased slightly since 2010, but they remain low compared with the non-Indigenous rates. Completion rates for the Indigenous population are considerably lower for very remote areas compared with other areas, and certificate I qualifications compared with other qualifications.
- The completion rates for Indigenous apprentices and trainees are lower than for non-Indigenous apprentices and trainees, but, as with the non-Indigenous population, Indigenous people undertaking trade training have a lower completion rate than those undertaking non-trade training.
- Employment outcomes for Indigenous VET graduates have not demonstrably improved over the past decade, with the proportion of Indigenous graduates employed after training not changing significantly between 2006 and 2016. However, this needs to be viewed in the context of the labour market, as Indigenous employment rates have plateaued since 2008.
- The likelihood of employment after training for graduates who were not employed before training is consistent across Indigenous and non-Indigenous graduates.
- Overall, male and female graduates are just as likely to be employed after training, but, for those graduates who were not employed before training, males are slightly more likely than females to be employed after training.
- Graduates with higher-level qualifications (certificate IV and higher) are more likely to be employed after training than those with certificate III or lower-level qualifications (certificate I or II); but certificate III level graduates are more likely to be employed after training than certificate I and II graduates.
- Indigenous graduates in remote areas are more likely to be employed after training than those from cities and regional areas, but they are also more likely to be employed before training.
- Graduates from the Health and Education fields of education are most likely to be employed after training, with the majority of these graduates already employed before training.
- For those graduates who were not employed before training, the fields of education with the highest proportions of those graduates employed after training are Architecture and building, Food, hospitality and personal services, and Engineering and related technologies.
- Looking at employment outcomes by occupation, Technicians and trades workers who were not employed before training are more likely to be employed after training than other occupations. Technicians and trades worker graduates and Community and personal service workers graduates are also more likely to be employed in the occupation of their training compared with other graduates.
- Indigenous trade apprentices (who were not employed before training) are more likely to be employed after training than Indigenous people undertaking non-trade training. Further to this, these Indigenous trade apprentices (who are predominantly males) are more likely to be employed after training than their non-Indigenous counterparts. These findings clearly show that employment outcomes are particularly strong for Indigenous males (not employed before training) undertaking trade training.
Further study outcomes:
- The proportion of Indigenous and non-Indigenous graduates enrolled in further study has remained reasonably consistent over the last decade, with around a third of Indigenous and non-Indigenous graduates enrolled in further study.
- Indigenous graduates with higher-level qualifications (certificate IV and diploma or higher) and lower-level qualifications (certificate I and II) are more likely to be enrolled in further study than certificate III graduates. Indigenous graduates with higher-level qualifications (certificate IV and diploma or higher) are more likely to be enrolled in further study than their non-Indigenous counterparts.
- Approximately 28% of young Indigenous graduates (15—24 years) who are studying certificates I and II are going on to further study at a higher level, but this proportion has not changed over the last 10 years.
- The institutions where Indigenous graduates are undertaking further study are changing, with greater proportions of VET graduates enrolled in private and community providers than the case a decade ago. Despite some decline, TAFE remains the dominant provider of further study for Indigenous people.
- Indigenous graduates continue to report high levels of satisfaction with VET and personal benefits from undertaking training, regardless of whether they are employed after training or not.
This report shows that vocational education is an important pathway for Indigenous learners and a key component in the challenge to close the gap in employment disparity. However, when it comes to completion rates, further study outcomes and parity in employment outcomes, Indigenous VET graduates continue to lag behind non-Indigenous VET graduates.
1 While the term ‘Indigenous’ is widely used, we recognise that is not universally accepted. We acknowledge that Indigenous people live in diverse circumstances, and have connections to varied regional and language groups.
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