In coming years, nine in ten new jobs will need a post-school qualification.
It might be from a university, or a TAFE or VET college – or a mix of both. Either way, Australia’s demand for post-school education will continue to grow.
Whatever form such post-school study takes, the message to young Australians is clear – to get a job in the future, you’ll need some form of study after you finish school.
Even today, your chances of being jobless in Australia halve if you gain a VET qualification. Your risk falls even further – by two-thirds – if you have a university degree.
And wages data shows the average salary rises with every extra level of formal education you get.
Sporadic bids to cast this post-school education landscape as a contest between uni and VET does a disservice to both – and to the nation’s students. It doesn’t have to be an either/or choice.
And if we want to give our kids their best chances in the workforce of the future, it shouldn’t be.
Australia needs two strong systems – higher education and vocational education – working together to deliver the best possible results for Australians, and for our economy and our communities.
What’s not widely enough known is there are hundreds of links and partnerships between universities and vocational providers that help students to move in and across Australia’s post-school systems.
Six of Australia’s 39 universities are also dual sector providers – they offer both degrees and vocational courses under the same institutional roof.
Between 2014 and 2017, around 12 per cent of first-year Australian students starting a degree were offered a university place based on the skill they had demonstrated in VET study. And a similar portion – almost one in ten – students enrolled in VET in 2017 were adding to a university qualification.
These open pathways between the two systems give students the best of both worlds – practical and professional skills, critical thinking, creativity, and workplace experience.
University and VET partnerships also support equity and access to education. They help break down barriers to entry – and make a wider set of career options possible.
From its base in the western suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria University (VU) has twelve formal partnerships with VET providers across Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales. VU itself also offers both vocational and higher education qualifications.
That mix helped Innocent Karabagega into higher education. A refugee from war-torn Burundi, he did a foundation course at VU, then an Advanced Diploma of Legal Practice. He’s now in his second year of a Bachelor of Laws degree, with an ambition to help others fleeing trauma and turmoil.
On the other side of the country, Kirsty Clarke and Sara Ouwendyk are brilliant young dancers at the West Australian Ballet. Last year, they graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Dance from the renowned Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts at Edith Cowan University.
Their degrees were a natural progression from Diploma and Advanced Diploma courses at WAAPA. Kirsty and Sara say they probably wouldn’t have gone on to complete a university degree if it hadn’t been on offer where they were already studying – and if their teachers hadn’t encouraged them and supported them to succeed.
Kirsty says having the full Bachelor’s degree will be crucial when her dance career eventually ends. Sara agrees – she sees her degree as an investment in her future after ballet. It’s an investment that’s thoroughly supported by WAAPA and the university.
Such pathways are increasingly common in almost every field of study – health, sports sciences, education, you name it – wherever practical and professional skills go hand in hand.
Thirty-seven years ago, just one in two young Australian men (aged 25 to 34) had some type of post-school qualification. So did four in ten young women.
By 2018, that figure had risen to more than seven in ten for men and slightly more for women.
Those changes occurred, at least in part, because our economy changed – and so did the types of jobs on offer and the skills needed to do them. And they will keep changing.
We need to make sure Australians of all ages have access to ongoing education to upskill and reskill as they need to – and that young Australians, in particular, can train for the jobs of the future.
Whether that’s a profession, a trade, or – increasingly – a bit of both, our higher education and vocational education systems will continue to work together to meet those needs.
This article first appeared in The Australian newspaper.