Youth Action, Uniting and Mission Australia have come together to explore the barriers young people, especially those experiencing disadvantage, are facing to achieve a VET qualification in NSW.
According to the report expensive up-front fees, complex eligibility criteria, confusing course information and inadequate support for Aboriginal students and students experiencing disabilities, mental health issues and homelessness, were identified by young people and social service workers as key barriers.
Katie Acheson, the CEO of Youth Action, the peak organisation representing young people and youth services in NSW, said the report showed young people needed more support.
“Education is one of the most effective pathways out of poverty and disadvantage and right now in NSW there are too many obstacles preventing young people experiencing disadvantage from starting or completing that journey towards employment,” Acheson said.
“Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds take up VET courses so they can get their first job, so they can put a roof over their heads and gain some financial stability.
“The young people we spoke to were optimistic that they could achieve their goals, but told us they just needed a little support to get there.”
The report found 98 per cent of individuals from organisations that work with young people experiencing disadvantage said young people undertook VET to enter employment for the first time.
A total of 82 per cent said increased financial support (fee-free courses or scholarships) would assist disadvantaged young people to access a qualification, while 78 per cent identified better career guidance as a key strategy to guide and retain students.
Uniting director resilient families, Bob Mulcahy said vocational education and training through TAFE and private providers needed to be simpler to understand, more affordable and easier to access.
“We also need to make sure students who are struggling with course requirements are identified early and get support,” Mulcahy said.
“Many of the young people we spoke to lacked confidence in their literacy and numeracy skills and their ability to attain them. Uniting would like to see greater availability of free or low-cost literacy and numeracy courses in accessible community locations such as youth centres.”
The latest report comes as research has shown young people are taking an average of 4.7 years to find full-time work after they leave education and 2.3 years to find any work at all.
Mission Australia metro state leader, Dr Evelyne Tadros, said difficulties in transitioning from school to further education and employment, could result in unemployment, underemployment and social exclusion.
“And the ‘scarring’ that occurs when someone is out of work for a lengthy period can have negative impacts on the person’s health and wellbeing while also reducing the likelihood of future employment,” Tadros said.
“To avoid these negative outcomes, it is vital that we see more investment in evidence-based supports, programs and services including place-based investment into disadvantaged and rural areas.
“There also needs to be VET access options for early school leavers where mainstream schooling is not appropriate or possible, as well as simplification of scholarship information and other financial supports and ensuring these are available through a range of accessible channels.”
Acheson told Pro Bono News it was particularly important to see more young people trained through the VET system in light of the fact that 90 per cent of the 990,000 jobs expected to be created in Australia by 2020 will require a post-secondary qualification.
“Youth unemployment is currently double that of the general population and increasing, and if you look at regional areas and particularly from disadvantaged groups that can be triple and quadruple that of the general population,” she said.
“So we have a significant issue right now in Australia with getting young people the skills that they need to get the jobs.
“And vocational education and training is a traditional place where young people from regional areas and from disadvantaged backgrounds would find their first foot into that skill development and employment and so we need to make sure that we get as many young people through those door as possible.”
Acheson said the good news was that the barriers identified in the report were “all things which can be dealt with”.
“Which is really exciting, because if we can get more young people into VET and through VET then we know that more young people are going to get jobs,” she said.
“The research shows that a young person who participates in any form of vocational education and training achieves better employment outcomes in the long term compared to young people who don’t.
“So even just getting through the door we know is going to improve outcomes so we just want to get as many young people into VET and then we want to make it as easier as possible for them stay and complete their courses.”
She said the system was capable of putting the right supports in place.
“What we found is simpler information, removing some of the complexity of the criteria, and also just basic supports. It seems like a bit of a no brainer but making sure that once a young person is through those doors they have the supports they need,” she said.
“So for example, numeracy and literacy for some young people might be a challenge, there are some really good courses that can be done at the same time they are getting their certificate or their diploma that upskill them in those really basic areas but also help them to continue to get or to complete their diploma or certificate.
“The system is capable of doing it, it has done it before, we just need to strengthen those things again.”
Acheson said the New South Wales government, as well as other states and territories, were already creating fee free places or scholarships to target particular communities and address the lack of skill development and employment opportunities of young people, but the initiatives needed “tweaking”.
“What’s happening is those scholarships schemes or those places are not getting to the young people that they need it to be. So we just need to tweak it a little bit and get the government to look at what they are doing currently, see how well it works and if it is not working, and there are additional barriers, what can be done?” she said.
“I think it is a really important sector. We’ve forgotten how pivotal it is and the fact that it is not reaching the standards that it needs to. That’s really concerning for the future of these unemployment rates and particularly getting young people out of that poverty space and into the ability to put a roof over their heads and continue in their lives in a really positive way.”