Transcript of Youth pathways: from school to work and everything between podcast

22 October 2019

Vocational Voices: Season 3, Episode 2

Youth pathways: from school to work and everything between

Will Stubley: (00:02)
We actually looked at who are the biggest influences for youth when making decisions about further education and employment. And I guess, not surprisingly, the number one, the most influential person for youth is their parents. And we actually then surveyed parents and said, "Where do you get your most trustworthy career advice from?" And so whilst the students said their parents, the most common answer for parents was actually their kids. And so what we're seeing is a bit of an information loop. This is where people get a little bit stuck.

Steve Davis: (00:32)
Hello, I'm Steve Davis and welcome to Vocational Voices, the official podcast of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research or NCVER. New research has revealed how a young people's post-school pathways are diverse, individualized, and complex. It begs the question is the reliance on ATAR, the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank, as our lens for evaluating educational achievements too narrowly focused? And if so, what are some of the options for broadening our approach to understanding post-school pathways. To discuss this topic today I'm joined by Simon Walker, Managing Director NCVER. Hello Simon.

Simon Walker: (01:14)
Hello Steve.

Steve Davis: (01:15)
And Will Stubley, co-founder of Year13, Australia's largest digital platform for high school leavers. Hi Will.

Will Stubley: (01:22)
G'day, how are you going?

Steve Davis: (01:23)
Simon. I'll start with you because you were in the media recently explaining the findings of the NCVER report, youth pathways from school-to-work. Can we perhaps start by fleshing out the five pathways that the research uncovered?

Simon Walker: (01:37)
Yeah, thanks Steve, and what I'll do is just briefly explain how the research was done. So the research is built upon an annual survey we do called the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth. And very briefly, we survey people when they're 16 at school and survey them every year for 10 years until they're 25, and what we're able to measure there is their transitions, and their outcomes, and their journey, if you like, from 16 to 25.

Simon Walker: (02:07)
Just in particular on this research, what we do need to acknowledge is that we start with a very representative sample at age 16, but people do drop out of the survey. So what happens at the age 25 is you don't get quite the representative sample you started with, and you'll notice in this in particular that there seems to be a significantly higher proportion of people in a university pathway than you would otherwise expect, and that's because in fact that isn't representative exactly. So I think in rough terms around 40% of school leavers go on to university.

Simon Walker: (02:41)
It doesn't matter, because what the research is really doing is clustering groups of students and cohorts into types, and we are looking at their characteristics, their transitions, and their outcomes, and it's still valid to look at them in those clustering terms, but place less emphasis on the numbers.

Steve Davis: (02:59)
And what were the names you gave to the five pathways that were identified?

Simon Walker: (03:03)
Well, we had the big pathway, which is the higher education-to-work, and that's the one that traditionally people on an ATAR pathway go straight into university and then get out into the workforce. The early entry to full-time work, and I wouldn't mind explaining this a bit too, is a combination of people that leave school and go immediately into the workforce, but that also includes people who do an apprenticeship, because of course that is work in itself. And in fact if you look at the analysis of that, quite a large proportion of them are actually apprentices, or at least part of their journey was an apprenticeship, because they end up in trade occupations.

Simon Walker: (03:39)
Pathway 3, is the one where we have a mixture of higher education and vocational education and I found that quite fascinating. Pathway 4, where there are people who are in and out of the labor market and tenuously attached to it, and pathway 5, are people that are typically in employment but on a casualized or part-time basis. Right.

Steve Davis: (04:02)
Will, I wanted to come over to you because I looked at the visualization of this data, the youth pathways data, which is online, and one thing that struck me, is there seemed to be quite a healthy transition to full employment, which is dubbed as 35 hours per week or more. But some reports tell us that many young adults are in full-time casual work. So from your perspective at Year 13 should that be a concern, Will?

Will Stubley: (04:30)
It depends I guess, how you're looking at it. I think we know that, especially with youth casual work as well as, I guess, gig work in the gig economy is becoming much more prevalent because of the means of being an entry level role, as well as the flexibility if they're doing some sort of further education or training. And so I guess it depends on the lens you're putting on it. In terms of employment, at least you know they're looking, they are gaining some form of employment, and they're sort of financial benefits that come from it. But we're still seeing a very large gap in terms of everyone being able to transition effectively. I think what we're seeing is the majority are actually really struggling with it in one way or another. And there's a lot of evident comes into youth mental health and what is happening in sort of the, not only economic but social aspect of that transitional period.

Will Stubley: (05:22)
But also we're seeing, we've got over 580,000 young people that are currently not in further education, employment, or training. So we are definitely seeing a difficulty across there. I think the casual work definitely plays a part in that, but I guess the lens that I often put onto it is, what is that actually meaning for the individual. Not only just what is the lens we're looking at it in terms of employment outcomes. I guess what we're seeing is 68... We did a national survey called, After the ATAR, and we looked at 15 to 21 year olds around the country, which was sort of a pretty close matching the distribution of population around Australia. And 68% of those young people said that they're struggling with their mental health.

Will Stubley: (06:07)
And so if we sort of apply that to an employment sort of means. What we're seeing is a lot of young people not, even if they are gaining employment, it's actually not enjoying the employment that they're doing or not feeling secure about the form of employment they're in. So if you look at the casual employment sense, I guess it's not really helping with giving them confidence, and that's sort of bleeding into much further down the line issues, which depends on how far you want to extrapolate that. Only 22% of people are saying that they are actually happy with their careers and don't want to change. So it depends on where we want to start. But yeah, we're seeing some of those smaller issues of that traditional journey, especially when you look at employment and casual jobs permeate into bigger issues down the track.

Steve Davis: (06:57)
While we're talking about this though, can we delve a little further into some of the other pressing needs and concerns that young people and their families bring to you when they engage with Year 13, and how do you engage with them?

Will Stubley: (07:11)
Yeah. Well I guess that sort of goes in line with what we're seeing the most. I guess the biggest thing that we say young people concerned about is a sense of fear of the future. And it really comes back to, I guess a bit of insecurity around what their options are and what options are available to them. And so this is sort of a pretty consistent thing with, I guess, what parents are seeing as well, because I guess the most common inquiry we get is, I guess, from parents saying my son or daughter have no idea what they want to do, and they're struggling, and they're just lost, and all that sort of stuff. And it really comes down to young people not feeling like they've got a base level of knowledge to actually go down something that they intrinsically are motivated by. So what we're seeing is a really lack of help around someone actually identifying what they want to pursue, and then understanding the transitional journey of actually getting there. And so that obviously causes stress and all that sort of stuff, not only for the kid, but also the parent.

Steve Davis: (08:19)
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I'd like to actually return to the ATAR issue that I mentioned in the introduction because the chair of the government's new review of senior secondary pathways, Professor Peter Shergold, he told the Australian Financial Review, "That Australia focuses far too strongly on a single measure of achievement, even though getting a job or doing further education is dependent on many characteristics including nonacademic ones." And if I may, in The Lessons of History, which is a concise survey of the culture and civilization of humankind that was based on research by Pulitzer Prize Winning historians Will and Ariel Durant. They've argued that one of the reasons it's hard to change our minds about things is that our brains as humans get stuck in a mental habit loop, which tends to look at information from a singular point of view, hence our ATAR lens. What is it going to take at a systemic level for us to reinvigorate our approach to youth pathways broader than just that ATAR method?

Steve Davis: (09:23)
Simon, I'll throw to you first.

Simon Walker: (09:25)
Yeah. I might start by saying that the choices and the availability of different pathways is probably greater than it's ever been. Having said that, just because they're available doesn't mean people exercise that choice. And a really good example of that, which has occurred over the last 10 years is been some concerted efforts from governments across Australia to increase retention of year 12, but they are given options in the main to stay at school, go into full-time training or possibly going to work including an apprenticeship. And yet the behavioral response has been to go back to school and in many cases go into a university pathway straight away.

Simon Walker: (10:07)
And I'm not sure there's the awareness of the possibilities. I think it's confusing for a lot of people and of course where I'm picking up on some of Will's comments. The availability of full-time jobs isn't the same as it was 20 years ago and I think it just makes it more difficult and a bit more bewildering for people to make the choices that they can make, because certainly, you have got options now that you never had before.

Steve Davis: (10:34)
Will, what's your comment on this?

Will Stubley: (10:37)
In terms of, actually, I was just thinking what are our most common inquiries are from youth, and one of the most common things we get is young people writing in concerned that the skills that they have are not being adequately measured by the ATAR.

Steve Davis: (10:53)

Will Stubley: (10:53)
And it's stressing them out, and they feel disassociated by the system because the things that they might be good at, whether it's something creative, or some sort of skill that they've developed. The ATAR has no way of actually measuring, and they feel like they're actually getting a disservice by the current school system because they feel that if it was structured differently, they would actually be a very high achieving, or be able to do quite well in whatever field that they're doing. Whereas, currently they feel like a failure because then don't fit in with that academic measurement.

Will Stubley: (11:23)
So yeah, definitely agree with Simon in terms of there are more opportunities available to people, I guess more than ever. And it's interesting again, obviously I'm just going to focus, I guess on the younger audience and that school leaver sort of transition. We actually looked at what, who are the biggest influences for youth when making decisions about further education and employment, and I guess, not surprisingly, the number one, the most influential person within a youth's circle is their parents and then it's closely followed by sort of some other things like self exploration in terms of websites, schools, and all that sort of stuff. But in terms of parents, they were by far the most dominant influencer. What was interesting is we actually then surveyed parents and said, "Where do you get your most trustworthy career advice from?" And so whilst the students said their parents, the most common answer for parents was actually their kids.

Will Stubley: (12:22)
And so what we're seeing is a bit of a information loop between the child and parents. And I guess this is where there actually goes, where people get a little bit stuck is because if you look at each individual school leaver, their knowledge of what is available is really a microcosm of who they know. So maybe it's their parents, their friends parents, and what roles and jobs that they might have that they actually have exposure to. And so they are quite limited in terms of what they actually can see is available. And I guess that's probably limiting them quite a lot as well.

Will Stubley: (12:53)
So then if you just look at the school system, the ATAR system is really completely academic, and I believe is very much geared towards entering university. Their views on what is actually available to them, is very limited. And so if they feel like they don't quite fit within that system, or within the academic measurements that are currently there, or if they fail something or whatever it is, it really stresses them out and really leaves them quite disassociated. And so for that reason alone, I think the ATAR system really needs to be looked at heavily and there needs to be secondary metrics to actually help people that don't quite fit within that measurement system.

Simon Walker: (13:32)
Yeah. Just to add to that, one of the things... First of all, some universities do have different entrance pathways and so they don't just rely on the ATAR. But what will probably drive this into the future is, as is quite a contemporary commentary around the nature of work going forward, is going to require a different set of skills and attributes than we previously had. So people will be looking for entrepreneurial skills, creative skills. They are thought to be the skills of the future. So if you are going to measure someone going into a university and if the universities are going to respond to the requirements of the new workforce by teaching or otherwise encouraging those skills, then you would hopefully expect them to change their entrance requirements to adapt to the people who are more capable of going there. So I think some of this might just evolve, but right now we are stuck with a very narrow set of academic measurement to get into university. Yeah.

Steve Davis: (14:37)
Actually picking up on what Will said before about parents being the key source of information in helping students plot their pathway. Are either of you aware of any systems that try to address that by equipping parents with information versus just within an institution and within that institutional realm?

Simon Walker: (14:59)
Personally no, and you would expect most parents to rely on their formative years to be making those assessments. Probably worthwhile pointing out too, that where most governments do offer these range of choices for people to stay in school, or go into training, or possibly an apprenticeship is that they tend to encourage them into university because they are aspirational for their kids, to give them the widest range of opportunities and it's deemed to be of a higher status and provide those greater opportunities. Even though, there's plenty of evidence that a lot of those students would be better off taking an alternate choice. That's very much a subject that's being discussed in government at the moment, the Prime Minister in particular and also Minister Cash. So those discussions are going on. In terms of how parents might get that information, do they understand the opportunities? Do they understand the gig economy? Do they understand that the world of work is changing? Young people are confronted with that because that's a reality right in front of them now, I'm not so convinced that parents are quite as aware.

Steve Davis: (16:05)
Will, what's your reading of the situation?

Will Stubley: (16:09)
Yeah, I definitely agree with Simon, but the information that, I guess, we're quite familiar with and talking about, is not reaching the parent level, and that's just evident in terms of the general perceptions of what is the right pathway to success, so to speak. That parents are wanting the best for their kids, and they, in the whole, do believe that the university pathway does lead to things like a higher income, and what not. So in terms of the conversations around national skill shortages, and the amount of opportunity that is in these alternative pathways, especially in that vocational space, parents are largely unaware and I think that's where... Basically what we're seeing through our research is that there's three key phases in the decision making process.

Will Stubley: (17:00)
The first is the level of understanding an individual has of a certain career path. So for example, whether they know about the national skill shortage and what occupations might be there. It then goes into what we call the consideration phase, which is they then start weighing up their options. So it could be university versus vocational pathway, could be going straight into employment versus further education, whatever they want to do. Once they actually come to a decision after that understood consideration phase. The last is what we call process of attainment. And that's where we actually see a lot of young people actually not pursuing the career path that they want to, because what they, what we see is happening is they might decide that they, for example, want to do an apprenticeship and can understand that there's good prospects, understand that there's a demand, in demand sector, and that there's the ability to grow over the next five, ten years, but they're still getting sort of stopped, or are unable to have those sorts of conversations with their parents or other sort of influencers.

Will Stubley: (18:07)
And then they actually end up going back to what is perceived as being the safer option, which is often the university pathway. I guess there's a few different reasons for that, a) because of what the parents or general influences think is the right pathway, but also what a lot of their friends and people that they know are actually doing as well. So we're definitely, I think it's a... The information about what is happening over the next five, ten years, because it, realistically, it has changed significantly in terms of the job prospects and what's happening in terms of university graduate... vocational graduate, and that's sort of information, because I think it has happened quite quickly in a way, this hasn't quite reached the general population.

Steve Davis: (18:57)
You've actually set up beautifully because I wanted to ask Simon about changes that are afoot in the VET for secondary school students space. Can you just perhaps give us a quick summary, Simon, of what's happening with the various systems for accommodating this aspect of secondary schooling?

Simon Walker: (19:15)
Well I will start by reiterating what I said before. There has been some massive changes to secondary school education over the last 10 years primarily to give more options and more pathways. It is, as Will's been talking about, the behavioral response that hasn't actually adapted to fully utilize or fully make best use of those options. What we now have is a review commissioned by the Australian Government, as you say, led by Peter Shergold, which by the by was the chair of the NCVER board for a number of years. And I think fundamentally they're looking at trying to improve the information and choices that people can make.

Simon Walker: (19:52)
And it's really what Will's talking about here, is how do you make sure people have got the best information to be able to make those choices, but also is there any systemic barriers once they do make a choice to being able to follow that pathway? And it's a very open-ended discussion, and he's only just embarked upon it. So I'm kind of hopeful, certainly knowing Peter quite well, that he'll be digging right into this to see if there is some changes that are required. I might add, another initiative is the development of the National Careers Institute, which again is there for providing everybody, not just school leavers with information about options, and careers, and the labor market. So that goes to hand in hand with this I think.

Steve Davis: (20:37)
I want to end with a couple of questions that will lead us into perhaps some sociological and philosophical aspects.

Steve Davis: (20:45)
Do we know the full impact of students doing apprenticeships while they're at school, when they're getting paid for that aspect of the apprenticeship, they're actually bringing some money in whilst they mixing with their peers at school, albeit as part of their stream? What are we seeing on that front?

Simon Walker: (21:01)
Well, first of all, there's not very much of it, so out of all, there's roughly... Oh let's say, 500,000 secondary school students at any one time, but you only got about 20,000 that might be doing an apprenticeship or a traineeship as part of their school studies. That said, the outcomes for those people that do start an apprenticeship or even complete a traineeship during their school are absolutely better from employment purpose, or from employment objective, than you would get through other pathways. Really outstanding results in terms of their outcomes in five, ten years time.

Steve Davis: (21:38)
What do you think, Will, when you hear about students doing apprenticeships while they're at secondary school and getting paid for that part of the apprenticeship?

Will Stubley: (21:47)
I for one, am a really big advocate for school-based apprenticeships because I think, the way that it's structured gives them a really big head start to actually be more likely to complete that apprenticeship. Again, this is a little bit... I normally need to do further research into it, is the effect of when they do finish school, things like gap years, things like uni holidays and all the sort of things that I guess, they're a little bit forgotten about, and have a huge impact on the social aspect of a 18, 19, 20 year old. And so I'd actually love to see the data of how many apprentices do drop out because they want to go traveling, or they want to take a gap year, and at the moment it's not very flexible to be able to do that. I know that there's been some conversation, and I think there might even be some programs that are actually looking at being more flexible within the apprenticeship structure.

Will Stubley: (22:42)
But I think there's little things like that actually is, there's some social influencers, specifically around travel, which, or even just, not international travel, but just doing something that is more for themselves. So that could be something as simple as taking a photography course, or something like that, which is playing a really big impact. And I think if the apprentice is waiting until they finish your 12 to then start, they're only maybe a year, 18 months before they're starting to really feel that pressure. Whereas if they do start when they're 15, 16 they've got two years, maybe two and a half years before their friends start doing those sorts of trips and start feeling that sort of pressure with it.

Will Stubley: (23:24)
So they're already quite invested in it, it seems like a more achievable thing to just finish it and then look at those sorts of activities. So I think it's a really interesting space and topic, which I want to do a little bit more research into and understand better, because I think there's a few creative things that we could do from a government level all the way down to an employer level that would actually able to help that process.

Steve Davis: (23:46)
I'd like to just reflect on your advocacy of the gap year because I'm listening as a parent, and I know when I took my gap year it turned into a gap decade. And so I'm nervous about encouraging my daughters to take a gap year, however it's turned out okay for me. Do you think given that mental health factors are looming large, as you mentioned earlier, is there some health stop gap in actually having that gap year in the midst of that early part of our careers?

Will Stubley: (24:15)
100%. If I look at a lot of the issues that we're seeing. So you know the prevalence of the struggles that youth are having throughout that sort of 15 to 21 year old age group. Alot of their stress, anxiety, and a lot of the mental health problems that we're seeing are clearly permeating into societal and economic issues. If you just look at what it's costing the Australian economy each year. We're spending almost $12 billion annually on welfare job seeking programs. And if you look at just youth for example, it's excepted, I think it's 11.3 billion dollars in annual GDP if youth unemployment and underemployment was brought in line with the rest of the population. If we look at, and I'm not saying that we're able to completely solve that amount of spend, but that's quite large numbers that we're seeing, and if we can better equip young people to deal with that transitional period, which is sort of lowering the amount of people that are going into those programs. It's obviously going to be a really beneficial thing.

Will Stubley: (25:25)
And so what we've looked at is, what is actually causing young people to feel stressed, and/or disassociate from the system? And what we've seen is, it actually boils down to a lack of a sense of purpose. And that lack of purpose is then permeating into almost every other aspect of their life. And again, I think that actually goes back to one of the first stats that I said, it's only 22% of employed people are saying that they're happy and don't want to change their job.

Will Stubley: (25:53)
So, that's where we see a bit of a role of a gap year. And I think there's way more things that we could do at the school level to better fix that problem. But if you just look at the gap year sort of option, it is a way to for young people to identify what they are intrinsically motivated by, what actually does get them out of bed, what they do want to do? And I think that is such a strong thing that we as a society should be pushing further is that don't necessarily rush, or at least try and figure out what gets you going before going into something that might go down a pathway that you fundamentally not going to enjoy it.

Will Stubley: (26:33)
And I think there's nothing wrong with just giving things a go, but if we can put a bigger focus on helping young people understand themselves and understand a sense of purpose, we can help them in so many other facets. And I guess that's what I often say if I'm talking to a parent or something about a gap year is, "Great, if they don't know what they want to do and they want to go on a gap year, or even if know what they want to do and they want to go on a gap year, it's one of the best things that they can do, because it's a mechanism for them turning from a child to an adult, and it gives them time to actually figure out for themselves what they might be wanting to do with that future." And then on top of that, there's a whole bunch of studies around how beneficial a gap year actually is for further education. But I like to focus on more of the social aspect.

Steve Davis: (27:15)
So the very last question then, I know there's no, or there's unlikely to be any longitudinal study to refer to here, so I'm asking you both to postulate. When do you think we will see what the outcomes are of an early introduction to workplace values and workplace mindsets during the schooling system, such as doing vocational training, in someone's ongoing career as they mature? That early introduction to thinking within a workplace mindset versus just the school academic mindset. What do we think the fruits of this will be looking decades into that person's future?

Simon Walker: (27:53)
Well, I can answer some of that already without speculating because we do have some studies. The same studies, the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth, which we've applied through the lens of those students that did vocational education in school, and those that didn't. Now a lot do.

Simon Walker: (28:09)
So even people who are going to university on an ATAR pathway may still participate in an VET subject just out of pure interest. But if you look at those that do versus those that don't, broadly speaking, the employment outcomes are earlier and better, and more likely to be full time, and for those full-time people more likely to be permanent. At least within about, at the age of about 22, so we did a slightly different cohort here. The longer term, not so sure, but at least in that early youth period, people who do a VET subject are more likely to be in employment and more sustained employment at an age of 22.

Steve Davis: (28:53)
Will, what's your thoughts about what the future might be like from that early introduction to that different mindset?

Will Stubley: (28:58)
The amount of technology that's coming into the education space is really, really exciting, and I think some of the companies, and projects, and systems that I've seen that, they're simply designed to enhance the learning experience at high schools, open up a myriad of opportunities for students to have a better experience. And I think that's where we're going to see, if we can open up the capacity for teachers through using better technology. I think that's when we're going to see some of those different methods being more widely introduced, because I do think it's hard for teachers, they've got a lot of kids to sort of look after and there's a lot going on. So I think once we can help them do their, yeah, help them do their job and more effectively, and help them have more time to be able to deal with each student individual basis, I think you'll see more of that.

Steve Davis: (29:54)
Great note to finish on. Will Stubley, from Year 13, thank you very much.

Will Stubley: (29:58)
Cool, thank you very much.

Steve Davis: (30:00)
And Simon from NCVER, thank you.

Simon Walker: (30:01)
Thanks Steve.

Steve Davis: (30:04)
Vocational Voices is produced by NCVER on behalf of the Australian Government and state and territory governments with funding provided through the Australian Government, Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business. For more information, please visit