Completing Year 12 Offers the Best Employment Prospects

A study published last week shows that the completion of senior secondary schooling provides the best employment prospects relative to other vocational education paths. Students who complete Year 12 have better full-time employment rates, lower incidence of unemployment, higher wages and higher-status jobs.

The results also point to benefits from completing an apprenticeship or traineeship across most of the labour market outcomes, for females as well as males. However, those who completed VET certificate level II and III qualifications had poorer outcomes than Year 12 and male apprenticeship or female traineeship completers. Their outcomes were no better, and in some cases worse, than early school leavers who had not undertaken any post-school qualifications.

For males, Year 12 completion provides a better transition relative to other pathways, the exception being an apprenticeship. However, the superiority of an apprenticeship is conditional on obtaining one. Obtaining the type of certificate II or III was not as effective on average as completing Year 12.

For females, completing Year 12 clearly provides the best outcomes, followed by the completion of a traineeship, and the completion of an apprenticeship (female apprentices tend to be either hairdressers or cooks). Of the other pathways, completing a certificate III is the best and completing a certificate II the worst.

While VET certificate levels II or III may be considered equivalent to Year 12, they do not appear to be equivalent to Year 12 in terms of their impact on outcomes for young people early in their working lives. The study suggests that part of this may reflect that these qualifications provide benefits down the track, while young people may be enticed into early school leaving because they have already lined up an immediate job. There is some modest evidence that these qualifications may, indeed, provide some benefits in some outcomes over the longer-term, but they are nothing like the consistent and widespread benefits provided by completion of Year 12, apprenticeships and traineeships.

The results differ from earlier studies, which have tended to find that VET qualifications have provided greater benefits to males rather than females. These earlier studies were largely conducted at a time when, in terms of numbers, traditional apprenticeships dominated traineeships. It seems that traineeships have become a more widely accepted and valued qualification for females in the occupations where they operate than was previously the case.

The study was published by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research and was done by Dr. Chris Ryan of the Social Policy Evaluation Analysis Research Centre at the Australian National University.

The analysis excluded individuals who proceed to full-time university study or full-time courses at VET institutions within two years of completing Year 12. One reason for this was that most interest lies in estimating the impact of completion of Year 12 for those whose decisions to undertake Year 12 are ‘marginal’, not those students most likely to proceed to university because of their academic achievement and family backgrounds.

The study used data from the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) cohorts of students initially in Year 9 in 1995 (Y95) and 1998 (Y98). In Y95, these outcomes are studied after Year 12 completion between 1999 and 2006; in Y98, these outcomes are studied between 2002 and 2007. The results therefore relate specifically to the experiences and conditions faced by young people in these data between 1999 and 2007.

The outcome measures studied in the paper includes: being in full-time employment; being in a full-time activity (that is, either full-time employment or full-time study); being in unemployment; current wages and earnings; and the occupation in which individuals are employed (its skill or status level).

Chris Ryan, Year 12 Completion and Youth Transitions, Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth Research Report 56, National Centre for Vocational Education Research, Adelaide, June 2011.

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