Highlights from the VISTA Youth in VET Conference

CRLLEN attended VISTA’s Youth in VET Conference in Melbourne on Friday 21 March. VISTA is a not-for-profit association for VET professionals that aims to provide a forum for professional discussion on a range of policy, funding, pedagogical and research issues affecting the VET sector. This one-day conference focused on government strategies and academic research about keeping young people engaged in education and training. Speakers from government, not-for-profit and private sectors came together to discuss the complexities associated with youth engagement in VET and policy implications. Although the presentations focused on policy and research specific to Victoria, much of the discussion had national relevance. Here are some of the highlights from the conference.

The first speaker for the day was Daryl Sutton from the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA). Daryl presented issues related to VET policy for secondary schools, particularly for VET in Schools and School-Based Apprenticeships programs. VET in Schools is impacted by changes to stipulations around volume of learning requirements under the Australian Qualifications Framework. Students are allocated a certain amount of time during the school week to attend VET programs, and are required to attend classes for their VCE subjects throughout the rest of the week. Changes to volume of learning requirements will impact many students by altering their timetables and, in some instances, requiring them to attend VET courses outside of normal school hours in order to meet volume of learning requirements for their VET qualification.

VET in Schools is also impacted by the inclusion of ‘assessor conditions’ in the new training package design model. Wherever assessor conditions are stipulated in the Assessment Requirements document, this is auditable by the VET regulators. Many VET in Schools teachers delivering competency-based training lack industry currency because they spend the majority (if not all) of their time in teaching roles. Where the assessor conditions state that an assessor must have a given number of years of current industry experience, this will greatly impact secondary schools in relation to compliance. Potential solutions were discussed, such as releasing teachers from teaching duties into the industries they train in for a specified amount of time so that they can maintain the required amount of industry currency.

The second speaker for the day was David Murray from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. David presented on the Victorian Government’s Youth Engagement Strategy. Recent government research has found that, every year, approximately 25,000 students leave school before completing Year 12. Sadly, 10,000 of these students disengage from education completely. 7,000 move to the VET system; however, 6,000 of these students disengage from VET within 12 months. Recent school inclusion policies have failed to adequately re-engage students who have disengaged from the school system.

David discussed a new reform agenda that entails greater state accountability for keeping young people engaged in schooling. The agenda includes a School Performance Framework, Principal Performance and more stringent reporting to government on student attendance, retention, suspension, expulsion and academic progress. Part of this new reform agenda is a Services Connect program, which aims to connect schools with local community services to provide additional support to students at risk of disengagement. More about the new reform agenda will be announced shortly in a Victorian Government policy statement.

After morning tea, the discussion shifted from policy to research. The third speaker for the day was Louisa Ellum from BGK LLEN, a local learning and employment network specifically targeting the needs of children and young adults between 10 and 19 years of age. Louisa spoke about a research project undertaken by BGK LLEN on issues of connecting youth with schools, Learn Local services and RTOs. The project was conducted in two phases, with the first outlined in a report entitled A Different Journey. The findings of the second phase of the research have been encapsulated in a subsequent report, entitled The Next Journey.

The first report, A Different Journey, provides a comprehensive picture of the young people who are accessing education at Learn Local organisations across Southern Melbourne, as well as the variety of arrangements used to facilitate program delivery for these young people. The report found that there are systemic issues relating to youth disengagement from education and training, including:

  • disability and learning difficulties
  • mental health issues
  • alcohol and other drug dependency and substance abuse
  • family background – many disengaged young people are carers providing care to a parent with a disability, and/or they may be experiencing homelessness or violence at home.

The report also found three common levels of disengagement among young people, including:

  • behavioural – poor participation and attendance at school
  • emotional – poor sense of belonging and connectedness with the school community
  • cognitive – lack of student investment in their own learning, often due to not being able to find education purposeful.

The second phase of the research project was completed in early 2014. The Next Journey report reviews how student pathways and transition planning is managed in alternative and flexible learning organisations (such as Learn Locals, TAFEs and RTOs) across the Southern Melbourne Region. Such organisations deliver a diverse range of programs to hard-to-reach learners and play a critical role in supporting disengaged young people to re-engage with learning in a non-mainstream environment, positively impacting on their future pathways.

This report found that, although organisations track student progress throughout enrolment, there is a lack of follow-up with students once they complete their training to find out how what they are doing and whether they need further support and/or training. The report also found that there are a range of partnerships between training organisations and other support services such as Job Services Australia, Youth Connections and Disability Employment Services to provide integrated support to keep students engaged in learning. There was a discussion about a need for more funding in the sector to provide comprehensive follow-up and integrate support services.

The fourth speaker for the day was Joann Fildes from Mission Australia. Joann presented the findings of Mission Australia’s National Youth Survey 2013. The National Youth Survey investigates young people’s career and employment aspirations and the values and concerns that young people aged 15–19 have about their lives and futures.

The survey asks students what they plan to do after they finish schooling. The majority indicated that they want to go to university. The second most common response was to get a job, while the third was to travel or have a gap year. The fourth most common response was to go to TAFE, while the fifth most common response was to get an apprenticeship. The least common response was that students felt they had none of the aforementioned options available to them. The findings suggest that TAFE and apprenticeships may not be as highly valued by young people as other post-school destination options.

Some other interesting findings from the survey were that the most desired industry for future employment by young people was the medical and healthcare industry. More than half of the respondents stated that they had been involved in some form of volunteer work in the past 12 months, indicating that there is strong representation of young people in volunteering roles. Of the young people who are in current employment, 42% of respondents said they worked in retail, followed by 40% who stated that they worked in hospitality. Young people are, therefore, very well represented in these sectors, although they tend to work part-time in conjunction with studying.

The presentations were followed by a panel discussion led by practitioners from youth and indigenous services, focusing on practitioner experiences of implementing youth engagement strategies and government policies. There was plenty of healthy debate throughout the day on how the VET system can better engage young people and support their transition from school to work and university. A fantastic day for all!

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