Exposing school students in Years 9-12 to vocational education and training (VET) helps to improve engagement and retention in school, and opens the door to careers in the skilled trades, according to a new report.
The report, by Group Training Australia (GTA), finds that the longstanding VET in Schools (VETiS) programs play an important role in giving students a real-life experience of the workplace and the opportunity of apprenticeships or traineeships after leaving school.
“For many students, it’s their first glimpse into the world of work, and it helps open their minds to the possibilities and to start to think about what’s needed to pursue their goals,” according to the Chief Executive Officer of GTA, Jim Barron.
The report examines the delivery of VETiS programs by group training organisations (GTOs) around Australia and looks at their impact, as well as identifying key elements in successful programs.
Entitled ‘Work Exposure and Work Placement Programs in Schools involving Group Training Organisations’, it includes the views of employers, students and their parents, as well as a series of 20 case studies.
It found that the structured workplace learning and work exposure involved in the programs provide multiple benefits, including improved engagement and retention in school; an understanding of vocational pathways; development of ‘employability’ skills; and improved numeracy and literacy skills.
“Participation in these programs is motivating for students, particularly those at risk of dropping out, and the exposure to the workplace helps to put into context the value of subjects such as English and maths and why they are important,” Mr Barron said.
The report surveyed parents of students who had taken part in VETiS programs and reported that 85% found them ‘extremely valuable’.
A key theme among parents was that it helped students to gain a clearer understanding of the skills involved in a particular trade, and also in understanding the differences between occupations in a particular trade.
Mr Barron said the study reinforced the priority being placed on VET in Schools by the current and past Federal Governments for the past two decades.
VET in Schools programs have been operating across Australia since the mid-1990s. Group training organisations have played a key role in these programs, particularly in the more structured VETiS programs available in Years 11-12.
The role of GTOs is to find the appropriate workplace opportunities for students, offer pre-apprenticeship programs, as well as targeted sessions with VET classes on career pathways, employer expectations and skills in finding a job.
GTOs also employ school-based apprentices or trainees, and maintain rotational placements with host employers while providing associated pastoral care.
As the report notes: “The VET in Schools system relies heavily on its three pillars – industry, education and training stakeholders - working together to ensure the arrangements are valued and meet the needs of students, employers and the community.“
The report also notes wider challenges in the uptake of VETiS programs. It says a number of schools are only interested in academic pathways and do not give GTOs access their students at all, or only to a limited number of lower achieving students.
“This perpetuates the view that VET pathways are second best and is unhelpful to employers who need high achieving students to take up trades,” the report says.
The report was commissioned by the former Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations in October 2012 to identify the characteristics of good practice in facilitating work placements for school students, based on the work of GTOs with schools and students in Years 9-10 and Years 11-12.