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This study explores students’ post-school aspirations for vocational education and training (VET). It is evident from searching the literature that there has been no substantive study investigating interest in VET among both primary and secondary school students. In recognition of the evidence demonstrating that aspirations are often well formed before careers activities typically occur — in the middle to late high school years — the study contributes a unique perspective, the aim being to inform policy and practice in the school and VET sectors.

Drawing on data from a four-year Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project (2012–15), we consider student aspirations for VET and VET-related occupations. We investigate the reasons given by students for their interest in this sector and the ways in which school students, parents and carers and teachers talk about VET. Surveys with more than 6000 students in Year 3 to Year 12 from New South Wales public schools and focus group data from students, parents/carers, and teachers enable a unique account of how VET choices take shape and how vocational pathways are perceived.

Throughout the report, a distinction is made between student interest in vocational education and their interest in VET-related occupations. The main findings from these two sets of analyses are highlighted below. The term TAFE is used interchangeably with VET as this is the primary term used by students.

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