Researchers at Griffith Uni have been looking into how to improve that status of VET so that it is seen as a more worthwhile and viable post-school option.
The project was conducted by a team of experienced VET researchers from Griffith University: Stephen Billet, Sarojni Choy and Steven Hodge.
Entitled “Enhancing the status of vocational education and the occupations it serves,” it was conducted for Education Queensland.
It involved a series of interviews and focus groups with parents, schools and VET students, and teachers in metropolitan and regional communities that were then followed by a survey and finally a further number of workshops, focus groups and roundtable discussions to help produce the final report.
What did they find?
Lesson 1: Students’ decisions about post-school pathways are shaped by those most familiar to them (parents, teachers and peers) but they are also influenced by indirect suggestions through the electronic and broadcast media. Overall, they ranked the influencers as follows: 1) parents, 2) school teachers, 3) the school 4) school guidance officers, 5) peers and 6) the community. This is a consistent message from all the literature, but the study found there are differences between the various groups consulted.
Lesson 2: Those school students who were undecided about their occupational pathway “often reported being drawn to universities’ breadth of options and learning pathway[s], and their social and institutional attractiveness. On the other hand, VET’s specific occupational focus might be seen to limit future options for those who were undecided.” The interesting thing is that are those perceived limited options really true?
Lesson 3: There are differences between groups consulted about the relative importance of the desired outcomes post-school. All groups of informants agreed that job satisfaction was pretty important. However, students and adults differ considerably over the attractiveness of job security (student groups rate this higher), personal interest (student groups rate this lower than other adult groups), and high paying work in the future (students rate this higher). On the other hand, adult groups rated future prospects higher. Interestingly, both the adult and student cohorts claim that status of qualification and of occupation are relatively unimportant.
Lesson 4: The best ways of presenting positive messages about post-school options were schools providing more personalised career advice, exposing students to a range of work situations while still at school to help with career decisions, exposure to different institutions and education facilities and, in the case of VET, promoting role models who have successful careers after completing VET qualifications. On the other hand:
“There is a general perception that printed materials and media advertising are not as effective as more directed information.”
What can be done to improve things?
The report proposes a number of ways forward for VET. These include parents, school teachers and career guidance staff having a more up to date idea about the VET sector and what it does and better engagement between VET institutions and schools. But, how do you do that effectively?
VET participation post school is also affected by the “extent to which VET is presented as an equal option with university study.” This, they suggest, “tends to depend on the attitudes of schools’ senior administrators.”
They suggest four possible courses of action that are presented in greater detail in their paper. However, in summary, they propose:
“a public education process ; actions by schools and VET institutions to holistically promote, inform and advise about post-school pathways ; VET institutions offering more attractive social and learning environments, smoother engagement with information and enrolment processes, and more broad-based program options ; and  a concerted effort and leadership by government and industry sectors to promote the value of the occupations VET serves.”