Vocational education and training in NSW: report into access and outcomes for young people experiencing disadvantage

Vocational education and training Youth Poverty New South Wales
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Too many young people in NSW are confronted with significant barriers when entering the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, and this is especially the case for those experiencing disadvantage. VET plays a vital role for young people in the transition from school to both further education and employment. Difficulties with this transition can result in unemployment, underemployment and social exclusion that may affect young people for the rest of their lives and have long-term undesirable social and economic implications. As a result, it is imperative that young people experiencing disadvantage receive specific and targeted supports to overcome the barriers they face to accessing VET.

Youth Action, Uniting and Mission Australia collaborated with other sector organisations to better understand the challenges faced by young people who want to complete a VET qualification by conducting community consultations and a sector stakeholder survey. This report is based on the evidence gathered through these consultations, research and literature review.

Young people may experience a multitude of intersecting challenges when accessing or completing VET courses, including financial constraints, socio-economic factors, geographical remoteness and limited literacy and numeracy skills. These barriers are often exacerbated by funding rules, lack of information and difficulties with navigating the complex service systems.

Certain cohorts of young people, like Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, young people leaving out-of-home care, those experiencing homelessness, young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds, or with disabilities, have lower levels of VET take up and completion rates. Therefore, it is important to identify and support these young people through early intervention and proactive support.

Information about scholarships and FEE-HELP is complex and some young people may not qualify for these financial supports. Some young people who are eligible for fee exemptions or scholarships may not be aware of this or need assistance from a third party to advocate on their behalf to access these. There have also been frequent changes to the eligibility criteria for financial support and these changes have sometimes not been well publicised or communicated.

Recent policy changes created an open and competitive VET market, which impacted on how young people access and complete VET courses. These changes have resulted in reduced course options for young people in rural and remote areas and the cost and duration of travel are often prohibitive for this group of young people. There is currently also a strong focus on promoting online learning modes in VET including digital education hubs in regional areas. Although innovative course delivery models are encouraged, some face-to-face contact is vital to help disadvantaged young people build confidence, have a sense of connection with teachers and peers and access information on supports available.

Greater flexibility with VET entry requirements and additional individualised wrap- around supports are needed to ensure young people experiencing disadvantage are able to commence, continue and successfully complete their VET courses. This should include increased access to literacy and numeracy support and other foundation level courses in community-based locations.

The VET sector is vital to create a workforce that meets the growing and unmet demand in different employment sectors. The NSW Government and the community will benefit from efforts to ensure young people are provided with opportunities to successfully pursue careers in their chosen employment pathways through a whole-of-sector approach.

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