VET for secondary school students: acquiring an array of technical and non-technical skills
The role of vocational education and training (VET) in preparing secondary school students for employment, further training and the changing world of work has long been a topic of interest among employers, educationalists and policymakers. More recent attention has also been on VET’s role in assisting in the development of non-technical skills (for example, employability skills), with employer groups vocal about the need for potential employees possessing these skills.
This study is one part of a larger program of research investigating whether VET programs delivered to secondary students add value to their post-school destinations. In this report, we explore whether VET undertaken by secondary students, and in some cases by post-school students, equips them with the skills (including the non-technical skills) required to successfully participate in an ever-changing world of work. To do this, we analysed the VET programs of secondary students over the last 20 years, focusing on the number and types of programs undertaken and the characteristics of the participating students. We also undertook a content analysis of the core units of qualifications in selected training packages to identify whether these facilitate the development of non-technical skills.
Data on the numbers of secondary school students in these programs from 2003 onwards have been provided to the National VET in Schools Collection by the jurisdictional boards of studies, and these form the underlying data used in this report. Due to definitional issues and reporting pathways, these data are likely to underestimate the total number of secondary school students undertaking VET programs.
- Participation in VET programs by secondary students over the last two decades has trended upwards (from 60 000 in 1996 to over 240 000 in 2017).
- The number of Indigenous students has also increased substantially (from 5500 in 2006 to 14 639 in 2017); the proportion of Indigenous secondary students nearly doubled (from 3.2% to 6.0%).
- Over the last decade, participation rates of all students have hovered around 30% (noting this is likely to be underestimated), with the rates of students from government schools continuing to exceed those of students from non-government schools. There has also been a continuing upward trend in more recent years of students undertaking certificate III qualifications.
- In 2017, there were around 18 000 more male secondary school students than females undertaking VET programs. However, proportionately more females were enrolled in certificate III qualifications and above; the converse was true for certificate II qualifications.
- The most popular certificate III programs for females and males were in the occupational and study areas traditionally dominated by each gender: the provision of caring, business, hospitality and beauty services for females; and information technology, trades, sport, fitness and recreation for males. The most popular certificate II qualifications where males outnumbered females were in vocational preparation programs and trade skills development.
- In addition to preparing students for the world of work, secondary schools have a range of educational, social, cultural and personal development goals and these may sometimes run counter to the industry-specific skills required by industry for VET programs.
- Analysis of relevant units of training packages selected for examination found many examples of competencies and content being taught to secondary students undertaking VET that would enable them to develop key non-technical skills.
- Additional exploration of the data and research is required to determine whether there are differences in the further education and initial employment outcomes between secondary students who undertake a VET program and those who do not, all else being equal.