There’s a skills shortage, but there isn’t enough of a focus on the 50% of students who don’t want to go to university, according to NSW Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education.
The New South Wales government is looking for a different approach to ensuring the skills that are required for the future workforce are properly nurtured, focusing on students that don’t want to go to university to begin their career.
Speaking with ZDNet while at IBM Think in Sydney on Wednesday, NSW Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee said that currently, the opportunities for school-leavers are skewed and they aren’t favouring those that don’t move on to university.
“At the moment when you’re a student, our whole system seems to be skewed towards an ATAR and then progression into university, and that’s fine for 50% of the people, but we really need to have meaningful opportunities for the 50% that choose not to go to university,” he said.
“We need to give them opportunities to say, ‘Well I’d like to go into robotics. I’d like to go into AI, I’d like to go into blockchain, but I’d like to do it through a different mechanism’.”
An Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) is number between 0.00 and 99.95 that indicates a student’s position relative to the students in their age group and is used for university admission.
“50% of students don’t go to university … for the students who choose the VET option, we must break down those barriers,” he said.
According to Lee, the best approach is real-world experience combined with education, be that through a traineeship-like corporate initiative or TAFE, as some examples.
“Different models of pathway programs — you’re not going to just find one pathway programs for all students, you need different pathways for different students because we have such a diversity of students out there,” he continued.
“As a government, we graduate and are responsible for the educations of hundreds of thousands of students … I think the challenge for us as a government and the challenge for industry is how do we actually grow the skill levels for those students not going to university.”
The difficulty, Lee said, is that many students are told that university is their only pathway.
“I think as a government, we must say that VET training is a viable option for a meaningful job and a meaningful career,” he said.
“In the not too distant future, the NSW government will have a strong and focused look on pathway programs. How better to engage high school students with the VET sector and the higher ed sector to provide a continuous pathway to the development of the individual, because as our world changes we need to adapt and reskill and allow people to upskill.”
P-TECH is touted by the company as a long-term partnership between industry, schools, and tertiary education providers that enables business to play an active role in the learning and career development of the future workforce.
Lee said it’s important for government to acknowledge and encourage initiativeslike P-TECH that help to shrink the skills gap.
“As a government we can’t do it alone, so my focus will be on how do we engage industry better to actually deliver the programs — we’re not always the experts in the area and in fact, industry provides those expertise that I think is a great way to teach our students … whether it’s cybersecurity, automation, AI,” he continued.
“Industry, government, and the individual students need to work much closer together to deliver the skills that we need for the future.”
With a “tech-bro” culture in the workforce and a mentality that technology-related careers are for men only, the minister said what is needed to help counter that is role models for young women to look towards.
“It’s a cultural shift. There is a need to promote the wonderful role models and the very successful people, so people in school age, in their informative years [are able to see they] can be that person — there is no ceiling to what I can do,” Lee told ZDNet. “So I think it is a whole shift, not only internally within the companies, but in terms of promoting the great work of some really successful role models.”
The VET fee help scandal left hundreds of people in debt for many thousands of dollars. The ‘students’ never even started the courses AND the training providers that claimed to be running these courses, were non-existent.
The VET sector is the option for young people who possibly didn’t achieve the ATAR they wanted and don’t have any other post school options.
OF AUSTRALIANS WHO BELIEVE TAFE COURSES FOCUS ON FUTURE JOBS
But is this fair? The fact is, we’re looking at a generation that for the first time are going to be worse off than their parents in terms of key social and economic measures. Half of our Australian 25 year olds are still not working full time. 60% of those 25 year olds hold some kind of tertiary qualification, including many who have university degrees.
Every year we lose approximately $15.9 billion in potential tax revenue from young people who are still job hunting.
Of those who are working full time at 25, 1 in 10 are working more than one job to get those full time hours. This suggests that even with so many students with a higher education qualification, the education system is failing to prepare students for the workplace. Meaning the VET sector could be the answer.
These are skills that are often taught at a higher level in a VET qualification, rather than through a university degree. The FYA has found that work integrated learning (WIL) is crucial to making people employable. Something vet providers offer through their tertiary education and vocational training.
VET STUDENTS HAVE A
HIGHER EMPLOYMENT RATE THAN UNIVERSITY STUDENTS
The Australian government is predicting that more than 990,000 new jobs will be created by 2020, from Victoria to New South Wales and Queensland. Almost half of those jobs will require a certification from VET courses or TAFE schools in the form of a Certificate, Diploma, or Advanced Diploma.
Knowing all of this, why has the education sector flourished in university degrees but seen TAFE enrolments fall over the past five years?
“TAFE and VET enrolments are down by almost 23%”
– Megan O’Connell of the Mitchell Institute
Without policymakers joining the conversation and making decisions, the labour market will continue to stagnate. There will be an oversupply of workers not qualified for the jobs we need done.
The Victorian state government recently announced a series of free TAFE courses to help workers get training that will hopefully in turn, get them a job. More does need to be done on a commonwealth government level, as well as in other states and territories if we want to see a higher employment rate and address industry needs.
“VET is in the perfect position to make a real difference in this country by creating workers that employers want to hire.”
– The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER)
Plus, the discussion around TAFE and VET needs to change. Registered training organisations need to be seen as an option for more than just school leavers who didn’t achieve their desired ATAR score.
They need to also be recognised as a valid option for anyone looking to further their qualifications. Which in turn, will make them more likely to be employed than a university graduate.
The Coalition has promised to create 80,000 new apprenticeships in areas of skills shortages if it wins the election. Most skilled trades (such as motor mechanics, panel beaters, carpenters, automotive electricians, plumbers, hairdressers) have recently been in shortage.
The Coalition aims to reduce the shortages through doubling employer incentive payments, making cash payments to apprentices and creating training hubs in regional areas and other areas of need.
Labor said it would pay upfront fees for 100,000 TAFE places. Labor has also said it wouldprovide incentives for employers and apprentices for an additional 150,000 apprentices.
It’s clear trade apprentices and associated skills shortages are a central concern of both parties. But it’s not clear providing incentives is the best way to handle the issue, as history shows government incentives to employers have made little difference to the (mostly male) trade apprenticeship numbers.
Difference between apprentice and trainee
In considering the policies of both parties, it’s important to understand the differences between longer-term trade apprenticeships and shorter-term traineeships.
An apprentice, in the narrow use of the word, is contracted in a trade such as that of an electrician, carpenter, chef or hairdresser. An apprenticeship can take up to four years to complete. Trade apprentices make up a small proportion of the vocational education and training sector – around 14 percent of all government funded vocational students.
Traineeships were established in the late 1980s to provide apprentice-type training for young people in non-trade occupations such as sales and clerical, and many of the care occupations including disability and aged care.
The aim was to provide options, particularly for early school leavers, which combine work experience and learning on the job. It was hoped this would enhance early school leavers’ job prospects and add to the stock of skills in the economy.
Traineeships usually take one to two years to complete, much shorter than trade apprenticeships.
History of incentives
From the 1970s, the federal government had been providing financial incentives to employers of trade apprentices. The states also provided assistance. From the mid-1990s the federal government extended incentives to trainees, existing workers and to part-time and older workers.
Together with the introduction of a low training wage for trainees, the incentives led to a rapid expansion in the numbers of trainees in the late 1990s and to new training modes including fully on-the-job training. There was a sharp increase in the number of training organisations as employers were allowed to choose a private or public provider for off-the-job training (often one day a week).
Traineeships are different from apprenticeships, and are usually in non-trades such as clerical occupations. Source: Shutterstock
A 1999 review into the system found some firms were using traineeships as a source of wage subsidies and, in many instances, provided little training to the trainees. For some, the skills acquired were not valued by employers over general work experience obtained during the traineeship. And the issue continued into the next decade.
In 2011, an expert panel noted Australia was the only country that paid government incentives, on a large scale, to employers of apprentices and trainees. The panel reported research that showed incentives paid to employers for the shorter traineeships represented a significant part of the wage costs (in some cases about 20 percent) and contributed to the large increase in trainee numbers.
For the longer, and more costly, training of trade apprentices, government payments to employers represented a much smaller proportion of the wage and training costs. And so, the incentives had only a marginal effect on the numbers of trade apprentices employed.
The expert panel suggested the government would be better to confine its payments to programmes that added value to the economy, such as those in community services, health and information technology.
The panel also recommended the government not give funds directly as incentives to employers. Instead, both employers and government would pay into an employer contribution scheme. Employers who met benchmarks such as a strong induction process and effective mentoring would have their contribution rebated, either in part or in full.
These recommendations were particularly aimed at the non-completion rates of apprentices – on average less than half complete their apprenticeships with their first employer. The most common reason given is dissatisfaction with the employment experience including difficulties with employers or colleagues.
Drop in trainee numbers
The government at the time didn’t take up the recommendation of an employer contribution scheme. It retained incentives for apprenticeships in trades on the national skills needs listsuch as construction and telecommunications, and for traineeships in priority occupations in aged care, childcare, disability care and nursing.
It abolished incentives for existing workers in other traineeships. Together with cuts in state subsidies to the providers of off-the-job training in some courses, these changes led to a large fall in traineeship numbers.
But the numbers of starting apprenticeships in trades in the last ten years in the largest three groups – construction trades, automotive and engineering, and electrotechnology and telecommunications – is virtually unchanged. And a fall in automotive was offset by increases in the others.
These results were largely in keeping with intentions of the expert panel in 2011.
A male dominated industry
Trade apprenticeships are male dominated. In 2018, 65,000 males started trade apprenticeships compared to 9,000 females. And females bore the larger share of the reduction in traineeships since 2012. It seems unlikely many of the women who missed out on traineeships are among the entrants to higher education where women form the majority of undergraduates.
The available research shows electrotechnology and telecommunications trades and construction trades graduates are relatively well paid, while hairdressers are the worst paid.
Trade apprentices are already the best-supported VET students during training. They can access trade support loans of up to $20,000 over four years – with a 20 percent discount of the debt on completion. Apprentices can receive allowances for living away from home, and the government provides support for adult apprentices as well as rural and regional skills shortage incentives.
Extra government incentives to improve apprenticeship numbers do not seem to be the most effective, or equitable, policy. The next government must undertake a comprehensive review of incentives and all other forms of apprenticeship assistance.
The review should revisit the advice of the 2011 expert panel and ideally, should be conducted in the context of a review all tertiary funding (similar to what Labor is proposing).
Australian international education stakeholders have returned to “business as usual” after the weekend’s federal election failed to live up to expectations that a new Labor-led government would take power.
Expected changes to Australia’s education systems are unlikely, after a surprise election result. Photo: Aditya Joshi/Unsplash
The shock result on May 18 saw the Liberal-National Coalition retain power to defy the majority of opinion polls, and has received a mixed reception from the industry as the promise of substantial reforms under Labor all but disappeared.
English Australia chief executive Brett Blacker said the government retaining power provided “continuity to the international education sector” and added that it ensured a continuation of the current work being undertaken as part of the National Strategy for International Education 2025.
“That council will continue to lose a vital perspective that they need”
In the lead up to the election, the Labor opposition had promised to revamp both the national strategy as well as the overarching Council for International Education that oversees its implementation.
While a stabilising factor, others observe the government returning to power means the same concerns and lobbying efforts from before the election continue.
In particular, Labor pledged $10 billion in university funding over ten years, a move peak bodies believed would reduce reliance on international student revenue.
“The worry now is to the effect that universities will now look to alternative revenue sources and that usually will mean they’ll up the ante on their international student recruitment,” said Phil Honeywood, chief executive of IEAA.
“We have to be very careful that we don’t go for quantity of students because this additional revenue expectation is not now forthcoming.”
Both Universities Australia and the Group of Eight, which lobbied the government to undo a series of funding freezes, welcomed the return of the government but renewed their calls to return funding to previous levels.
“We must ensure young Australians – especially from battling communities really doing it tough – don’t miss out on the chance of a university education,” said UA chair Deborah Terry.
“Our focus must continue to be on opportunities for all Australians – because without those opportunities, our economy will be less competitive and our people and communities will miss out.”
A reduction in international student numbers coinciding with the current funding freeze would lead to job losses
However, Andrew Norton, higher education program director at the Grattan Institute, warned universities may have their funding squeezed on dual fronts if scrutiny of English language proficiency and the impact of temporary migrants including international students on capital cities’ infrastructure continues.
“[Education minister Dan Tehan] has already indicated that he’s pursuing the English language standards issue with TEQSA and so I think that’s a clear signal that he’s interested in whether the required English is, in fact, being achieved prior to commencement,” he told The PIE News.
A reduction in international student numbers coinciding with the current funding freeze would lead to job losses and a reduction in universities’ activities, Norton continued, before adding it wasn’t a given that the scrutiny would lead to significant changes.
“Counter to that, I think [the government is] still very much seeing international students through an export and business focus and that will make them reluctant to act.”
From a vocational perspective, Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (formerly ACPET) chief executive Troy Williams said his organisation was “comfortable with the reelected government’s approach to the vocational education and training sector.”
In particular, he cited the Joyce Review into vocational education, released shortly before the election was announced, as a commitment by the government to improve the sector.
“We have to be very careful that we don’t go for quantity of students”
“ITECA was extensively involved in the Joyce Review consultation process and endorses its broad direction that seeks to speed-up the development of new qualifications, and revision to existing qualifications, so as to ensure that they provide students with job-ready outcomes,” Williams said.
While not directly related to international education, it has been understood the review could in part increase the global competitiveness of Australian vocational education.
Craig Robertson, chief executive of TAFE Directors Australia, said the election result meant his organisation would continue their lobbying efforts, particularly around the axing of the Endeavour Scholarshipprogram which provided the only government-funded mobility program for vocational students.
“They’ve basically sacrificed that experience for the purview of trying to attract international and also domestic students to regional Australia,” he said.
“We think that sacrifice for regional Australia is too high.”
Robertson told The PIE it was also disappointing the Council for International Education would not be overhauled, as it currently did not have a TAFE representative.
“That council will continue to lose a vital perspective that they need to be able to make sure that international education works. We’re concerned about that.”
It is understood education minister Dan Tehan will remain in his portfolio.
Business owners, industry representatives, training providers and learners are being encouraged to take part in a review of the Training and Skills Development Act 2008 to shape the future of South Australia’s training system.
The State Government is ensuring South Australia is equipped with a skilled workforce and a review of the state’s training legislation is an important component of broader training reforms being implemented, including through the $203 million Skilling South Australia program.
Minister for Innovation and Skills David Pisoni said feedback from stakeholders will help to overhaul the outdated Training and Skills Development Act 2008.
“A modern training system requires an adaptive framework that streamlines operations and makes it easier for South Australian businesses to employ an apprentice or trainee,” Minister Pisoni said.
The review is in line with key recommendations in the Training and Skills Commission’s Skills for Future Jobs 2020 Series: Future-proofing the Apprenticeship and Traineeship System report released today.
“Extensive stakeholder consultation undertaken last year by the Training and Skills Commission revealed the desire for simpler and more responsive legislation, lower costs and less red tape.
“In addition to the State Government’s training reforms that are already underway, I will continue to work towards the recommendations outlined in the Future-proofing the Apprenticeship and Traineeship System report to repair, reform, support, promote and advance South Australia’s training system.”
Feedback on the review of the Training and Skills Development Act 2008 is sought through yourSAy over the next four weeks.
“I encourage anyone involved in employing, training, studying or accessing vocational education and training to join the conversation to ensure South Australia has a robust system responsive to the needs of business, and which will underpin the development of a skilled workforce to meet the demands of growth industries,” Minister Pisoni said.
“This is an essential step in our objective to create more than 20,800 additional apprenticeships and traineeships over four years through the Skilling South Australia initiative to support more South Australians into meaningful, long-term careers.”
Training and Skills Commission Chair Michael Boyce said he is is pleased the State Government is acting on expert advice and continuing to revitalise South Australia’s training sector.
“After months of research and consultation, I am pleased to present the Commission’s findings on the apprenticeship and traineeship system,” Mr Boyce said.
“I encourage interested parties to take advantage of this valuable opportunity to modernise the Act and tailor the state’s training framework to your specific needs.”
The state’s Training Advocate Renee Hindmarsh said the review of the Act is essential to align with current and future workforce needs.
“The review is needed to ensure South Australia maintains relevant and up-to-date legislation, which responds to the training needs of enterprises and their employees and I look forward to the next steps,” Ms Hindmarsh said.
To provide your feedback, go to yourSAy before submissions close on Wednesday 19 June 2019.
TAFE Directors Australia CEO Craig Robertson in Canberra.
The vocational sector will likely be subject to “tinkering at the edges” but enjoy little in the way of fundamental reform as the Morrison government moves ahead with elements of the Joyce review, which was released just before the election campaign began.
While two of the report’s 71 recommendations received funding in the April federal Budget, sector experts say there is a valid question as to how far the newly elected government will go with implementing the entirety of the report from former New Zealand education minister Steven Joyce.
“We are not clear whether the government has accepted all the recommendations or whether the budget announcements are the limit of what they intend to do,” said Craig Robertson, chief executive of TAFE Directors Australia.
One key recommendation is that the federal, state and territory governments “commit over time” to reducing the funding imbalances between qualification-based vocational education and higher education.
So far, the recommendations for a national skills commission and a national careers institute have received a prime ministerial thumbs up after the Joyce report was handed to Mr Morrison in March.
The skills commission is intended to co-ordinate approaches to the funding and resourcing of vocational education and training between federal and state governments. The careers institute, designed to be part of the skills commission, will provide better careers information to students.
Both initiatives have received mixed reactions from experts. The commission has been described as a ‘‘lite’’ version of the Australian National Skills Authority that was disbanded under the Howard government. It would need industry to come to the table to be effective, Mr Robertson said.
The careers institute might offer useful information but it will be using workforce planning and employment outlooks from the commission which have been historically proven to be “unreliable” and “invented to give astrology a good name”, according to Gavin Moodie, an adjunct professor of education at RMIT.
“(The predictions) will be as unreliable as every other central body’s employment projections,” Dr Moodie said.
However, there are serious questions about the government’s ability to deliver on its most prominent budget announcement — 80,000 new apprenticeships over four years via $8000 employer subsidies. Currently, apprenticeships make up just 20 per cent of vocational enrolments, with commencements at their lowest level since 1996.
“Even if we dramatically increase the number of apprenticeships, they will still be a minority of the system. The federal government needs a policy for all vocational education, not just apprenticeships,” said Leesa Wheelahan, the William G. Davis Chair in Community College Leadership at the University of Toronto.
Claire Field, a consultant to private vocational providers, said that in the past employer incentives had been more successful in driving traineeships than apprenticeships.
She said the predecessor Skilling Australians Fund had been criticised as being too narrowly focused on traditional apprenticeships while overlooking the fact that jobs growth was largely centred in services, such as aged and disability care.
Ms Field said that while she rated the Joyce review highly, there was little to suggest that private vocational providers would see any growth in domestic markets under the Morrison government and they would need to look to international students.
There are also questions about whether the Morrison government has any plans to revive the public TAFE sector which has been decimated in recent years by ad hoc, pro-market policies and rampant defunding.
“Unless the federal government recognises the value of TAFE as a key anchor institution of the communities they serve and funds it accordingly, public vocational education is in danger of being reduced to atomistic, just in time and just for now, narrow skills training,” said Professor Wheelahan. “This is exactly what Australia has done to its aged care system and to the job services network.”
John Pardy, an education expert from Monash University, said the Joyce review’s aim for national consistency would need to be built in ways that could balance competing industries and needs on local, state and national levels.
“The challenge in this pivot for consistency is that it does not descend into a series of piecemeal approaches longing for a coherent policy base.”
He said both the skills commission and careers institute might play a role in nationally co-ordinating policy and practice “however slight”.
This year, over 800,000 people who completed training in 2018 will be contacted about their employment outcomes, training satisfaction, and their thoughts on the benefits and relevance of their training.
Eligible RTOs will again be able to access data as reported by their students.
Take advantage of our free kit to help promote the survey to your former students.
Back again: the ‘No Frills’ panel discussion
Yep, we’re bringing it back! ‘No Frills’ 2019 will once again feature a lively discussion from a panel of VET experts.
This year’s topic will be Lifelong learning: VET’s role now and into the future.
Will it be enough for our future workers to possess a single qualification or skill set? Where do employability skills fit into the mix?
Panellists to be announced shortly, so keep an eye on NCVER News for updates.
The survey collects information on employment outcomes, satisfaction with training, reasons for non-completion, and on-the-job experiences of apprentices and trainees who completed or left their training in 2018.
A report on the results will be available on our Portal in late 2019.
WEBINAR: Exploring the importance of small VET providers
Join us as we discuss the important role small VET providers play in offering diversity, equity and specialised training services across the Australian VET sector.
Small providers contribute to VET system diversity via the niche qualifications they offer, which are often fee-for-service.
VOCEDplus: is the free VET research database. More than half of the 80,000 publications in it are available online, including digitised copies of key historical documents.
VET Knowledge Bank: brings together Australian VET reference information and includes the VET glossary, timelines of VET milestones and policy initiatives, and landmark documents that have shaped the VET landscape.
Pod Network: a collection of themed pages containing topic-specific research and resources.
‘Focus on’: these pages highlight topical issues in tertiary education, including summaries of recent research.
Reference and information services: where you can get your questions answered, get access to VOCEDplus publications not available online, and training on how to use the VOCEDplus database.
Follow @VOCEDplus for tips and updates from NCVER’s librarians.
Only 10 days left to apply!
The Australian Training Awards are the peak national awards for Australia’s VET sector. This year the awards will be held in Brisbane on Thursday 21 November 2019.
The awards recognise and reward individuals, businesses and registered training organisations for their contribution to skilling Australia.
Canberra, Australia – 20 May 2019 — The Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), the peak member body for the ICT industry, congratulates the Liberal–National Coalition on their federal election win.
Ron Gauci, CEO of the AIIA said, “On behalf of the AIIA, I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to the Liberal–National Coalition on being elected on Saturday. The AIIA looks forward to working with Prime Minister Morrison’s government and incoming ministers to help them deliver on commitments made in their pre-election campaigns.
“It’s imperative that industry, government and research institutes collaborate closely to foster a vibrant and innovative digital and technology sector, supported by a regulatory framework that encourages the economic growth, productivity and sustainability of our nation.”
Reflecting on the past few months of regulatory activities, Mr Gauci said, “We are looking for a commitment that changes to the Assistance and Access Act, proposed by Labor in February, be passed through parliament in the first 100 days of the new government.
“It is time to execute these amendments so that industry and users of encrypted services have certainty over these new laws. The AIIA has made significant contributions and recommendations with respect to these amendments – but has yet to see the recommendations considered or adopted leaving industry unclear on the operational requirements.”
AIIA members are also concerned about the lack of consultation and the reach of the Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material Bill passed in April this year. “We look forward to greater two-way dialogue between government and industry to address the concerns that have been raised by our members about these pieces of legislation,” said Mr Gauci.
It is well recognised that there is a significant shortfall of available digital skills and expertise in the Australian workforce.
“The industry looks forward to contributing to the skills programs announced by the Coalition government. $41.7 million will be provided for two pilot Skills Organisations, in the areas of digital technologies, cyber security, and human services care. AIIA members are delighted that the Government also intends to establish the National Skills Commission to oversee the $2.8 billion annual investment in Vocational Education and Training (VET),” said Mr Gauci.
“Some of our members have successfully led and are rolling out alternative pathways to developing digital skills in school children. These programs have seen collaboration between government departments, Universities, research institutes and industry. Our members would be delighted to share their success stories and learnings from these programs with the new government to further provide the crucial evidence of the success of these initiatives.”
For a summary of the Coalition’s Digital Skills policy, visit AIIA’s website for the analysis undertaken by AIIA.
“We look forward to working with the incoming government and fostering collaboration between industry, government and research institutes to ensure that Australia realises its economic potential in the fourth industrial revolution,” concluded Mr Gauci.
As lawmakers and students grow weary of the rising cost of higher education, vocational training programs are drawing more attention and funding. But a new report finds that these programs are wildly out of step with the needs of today’s job market. To provide a real alternative to higher education, states and schools offering vocational programs should align vocational education with market needs.
Career and Technical Education programs offer options for students looking to avoid student loan debt. These programs equip high school and post-secondary students with the skills and credentials they need to secure jobs for tens of thousands of dollars less than the cost of a traditional 4-year college degree. However, most students are pursuing—and taxpayers are funding—credentials that offer little access to jobs, let alone well-paid ones.
The Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national education research organization, partnered with Burning Glass Technologies, a job market research firm to study U.S. vocational education. They found that in the 24 states they studied, the credentials students earn through career and technical education do not align with job markets.
In total, the study found that for 10 of the top 15 most popular credentials, students are earning more credentials than there are jobs available. In some cases, these credentials lead to no job opportunities at all. “General Career Readiness” credentials, such as financial literacy and basic first aid, for example, account for 28% of credentials earned, yet the study reported zero market demand for them.
Even when students do find jobs with low-demand credentials, they are often low-paying. According to data from the study and the Bureau of Labor statistics, only four of the top nine licenses earned by K-12 students lead to jobs with annual median salaries of approximately $35,000 or more. By contrast, median U.S. household income in 2017 totaled $60,336, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Worse yet, taxpayers are footing the bill for these programs. A recent oversight reportfound that in the last few years, the U.S. Department of Education spent hundreds of millions of dollars on vocational education programs including hair and beauty schools, gaming and bartending classes, refrigeration school, and a Professional Golfers Career College. Last year, Congress agreed to channel and additional $1.2 billion to career and technical education over the next six years, and states augment this funding with hundreds of millions of dollars of their own resources.
Instead of funding credentials that translate to few or no jobs, these resources could be helping students obtain credentials that position them for available jobs with significant salaries. For example, the Foundation for Excellence in Education study found that employers are looking to fill tens of thousands of jobs with employees who have EEG/EKG/ECG Certifications, CompTIA A+ Security+ certifications, and with Cisco Certified Network Associates—positions that come with median annual salaries between $50,132 to $82,296 per year.
If the states and nation are earnest about making career and technical programs a viable path to gainful employment, they must do more than fund these programs, they should align the credentials they offer with market demands.
Finland’s vocational education program, for example, is shaped by just such analysis. According to the National Center on Education and the Economy, The Finnish National Board of Education determines what vocational education will be offered throughout the country based on regularly updated analysis of projections for what the the nation’s industry needs will be in 15 years.
This program has proved both popular and successful at helping Finnish students secure jobs. At age 16, Finnish students choose whether to focus on preparing for university or to pursue vocational education. According to the Organization for Economic Development, Finland has one the highest enrollment rates in upper secondary vocational education, with 71% of upper secondary students enrolled in vocational education programs. And overall, Finnish vocational graduates (age 20-64) experience a 73.4% employment rate, several percentage points higher than average vocational graduate employment rate in the European Union.
The United States could do similarly. Industry needs vary from state to state, so states and schools could optimize career and technical education resources by auditing which credentials are in demand in the labor market, and then directing students and funding to those credentials. These adjustments would benefit employers seeking qualified employees in high-demand fields, students seeking cost-effective paths to employment, and schools whose increased graduate employment rates attract more potential students.
Vocational education programs offer students tremendous education opportunities, but with some intentional adjustments, we can make them even more practical.