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What do cybersecurity technicians, plumbers and make-up artists have in common? They are all careers that secondary students can study while they’re still in secondary school as part of the rich and varied offerings of the VET program in schools. Interest in Vocational Education and Training, or VET as it is widely known, is on the rise. Recent figures report close to a quarter of a million students in Australia are choosing to pursue a VET qualification in school each year as part of their secondary studies. This week on School Stream, we are talking all things VET and exploring the elements of a successful VET program.

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What does the VET program in schools look like?

As you know, VET stands for Vocational Education and Training. VET is offered as an option at secondary schools with the aim of equipping students with skills that will set them up for employment directly after school. Senior secondary students can opt for a school-based apprenticeship or traineeship, but the most popular pathway is to undertake studies in a particular qualification, with employment skills, hospitality, construction and business among the top five choices for students, with aged care and childcare also popular.

VET need to know

For those who aren’t familiar with VET, the first thing to know is that it is a competency-based program with an emphasis on learning and developing a skill. Students aren’t compared with others when it comes to assessment time – they need only to demonstrate that they can perform the skill against the required standard. 

What do you want to do when you leave school?

It’s a question students hear often during their senior schooling years, but one that proves difficult to answer with close to one quarter of students unsure of where to direct their educational aspirations, hopes and dreams. There is no doubt there is an overwhelming amount of information when it comes to post-school options. One of VET’s key strengths is that it marries the practical and the aspirational by providing a flexible pathway to work and further study, with many students pursuing VET as part of, or complementary to, an ATAR pathway.

 Why do students choose VET?

Research by The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) indicates a multitude of motivations for students considering VET studies:

 “Almost two-thirds (64.5 per cent) said one reason was ‘to get a qualification’, and half (49.8 per cent) said it would ‘help them get a full-time job when leaving school’. Of the four in 10 students who said they planned to achieve an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) at the end of Year 12, around two-thirds (68.4 per cent) said they intended to count their VET studies towards it. Other reasons for choosing VET in senior secondary school were out of enjoyment and interest, the fact they were likely to do well on the course, and that it broadened their opportunities for employment or further education and training.” 

As a side bar, while VET students are not a homogeneous group by any means, the strong uptake in skills-based learning across all demographics certainly bodes well as a potential solution when it comes to addressing Australia’s current skill shortage.

 The 4 elements of a successful VET program

Prepping students for life after school is a massive task. ‘VET for secondary school students: insights and outcomes’ by Josie Misko, Melinda Lees, Emerick Chew published in October 2021 looked at eight successful VET programs. They identified the following four factors as among the most important in determining how successful a VET program will be.

  1.   A strong commitment to VET

The foundation of a successful VET program lies in a strong commitment to the program across the whole school. Without a strong commitment, the program won’t reach its full potential, nor will students be able to realise all the benefits. 

  1.   Dedicated management and training teams

Running a VET program at scale requires both administrative support and well-resourced teachers. Linda Snoxall, VET Coordinator at Mildura Secondary College runs a very successful VET program. She says: ‘VET programs are only as good as the teachers who teach them and our teachers are amazing….’  Alongside trainers and educators, the school also employs a dedicated administration staff to manage the compliance and logistical load.

  1.   A variety of marketing approaches

VET won’t work on a “If you build it, they will come” approach. Parents, educators, teachers and the school all need to be on the same page when it comes to communicating the benefits and potential of your school’s VET program. Successful schools use a variety of approaches to inform their parents and community using a combination of open days, information nights, taster programs and tours to promote VET subjects to students and parents. Of course, it would be remiss of us if we didn’t mention using a school app to communicate updates and news about your VET program!

  1.   Purpose-built facilities & local partnerships

Yes, purpose-built facilities like commercial kitchens, hair salons and recreation centres etc are wonderful, but they are often out of reach for many schools or not practical – imagine a fully operational childcare at school! In these situations, establishing partnerships with other schools with trade training centres, or arrangements are made for students to use nearby facilities. 

A flexible, school-based program like VET has plenty to offer students, irrespective of whether their aspirations are academic or trade-based. And as the world of work changes, an agile training model such as VET that allows students to dip in and out to reskill as required has plenty to recommend it. 

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