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September: Which paths work for post-school success?

15 September 2011

A paper by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research looks at the eternal question of which educational direction best sets up young people for success after school.

The paper 'Which paths work for which young people?' asks how completing Year 12 and undertaking vocational education and training (VET) and university studies assist young people to make a successful transition from school.

Various educational paths involving school and post-school study are identified and their effectiveness is assessed in relation to post-school outcomes at age 25 years.

Which paths work for post-school success?

Part of the research analyses whether those who are less academic benefit from completing Year 12 and post-school education and training options to the same extent as the more academically inclined.

Unlike other studies addressing the issue of successful youth transition, this research looks at the education path chosen (or not), rather than an individual’s return from the completion of a particular path (qualification); not all those who embark on a path complete it.

We are interested in finding out how the route an individual chooses affects the later employment, wages, job status, financial wellbeing and happiness of young people. This is done by analysing data from the 1995 cohort of the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY).

The analysis suggests that, on average, completing Year 12 is no longer sufficient; rather, young people today need to have Year 12 plus further study to get them on a path to success.

For males an apprenticeship after Year 12 is an attractive route, as is university study; for females the best choice is university, even for those with lower levels of academic orientation.

We are not suggesting that everyone should be forced to complete Year 12 and to go on to further study. While the best paths involve Year 12 and certain types of post-school study, it is also the case that paths that include Year 12 do not necessarily lead to superior outcomes, relative to those involving leaving school before Year 12.

In addition, our research indicates that the choice of path is not always of consequence. For males, paths only have salience for satisfaction with life, the occupational status of full-time workers and the pay of full-time workers.

For the other variables we investigate - engagement with full-time work or study, full-time employment, financial wellbeing, satisfaction with work - the paths do not really matter. That is, the transition from school to adulthood can work well - in relation to these outcome measures - for young men following any of the paths.

For females, educational paths matter for attaining full-time engagement and pay for full-time workers and occupational status for full-time workers, but do not matter for financial wellbeing, satisfaction with life and job status for part-time workers.

Finally, it is worth noting that the analysis relates to people who did Year 12 in 1998, during a buoyant economic period, which is also an important factor in contributing to good transitions for young people.

Copies of Which paths work for which young people? by Tom Karmel and Shu-Hui Liu are available from the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth publications website. Tom Karmel is managing director of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research.