Discussion paper

By examining responses to past economic downturns and recessions, both in Australia and internationally, this paper discusses the role of vocational education and training (VET) in mitigating the effects of economic downturns on young people and assisting them to move into employment. Vocational pathways in school, quality career guidance and work-based training are found to be critical to youth employability, especially for disadvantaged young people. VET qualifications with a work-based training component have been shown to protect youth from the scarring effects of unemployment but can be more effective when their training is linked to lasting employment, with the opportunity to progress.

There is nothing novel in these approaches, but the high rate of youth unemployment pre-pandemic indicates that the VET sector also needs to look at longer-term solutions. The opportunity VET offers to Australia’s youth can only reach those who most need it when VET is adequately resourced to offer programs in tandem with holistic social services and industry support.

Key messages:

  • Vocational pathways in secondary school broaden young people’s understanding of the types of jobs that potentially await them and smooth the school-to-work transition, but the experience must be meaningful and supported by personalised career guidance.
  • Work-based training achieves the best lasting employment outcomes. Although apprenticeships and traineeships offer one mechanism, they are not the only effective work-based training approach.
  • Career planning is essential for enabling youth to understand the breadth of occupations open to them. Individualised, ongoing support from an informed and objective person works best, especially for disadvantaged youth.
  • The rapid digitisation of VET delivery is unique to this recession and has proved to be a double-edged sword: accessibility has improved for some learners, while those with limited access to the internet or electronic devices, or who lack digital skills, have been disadvantaged. High-quality online training and assessment experiences, those that support the most vulnerable unemployed youth, are resource-intensive approaches for training providers.
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