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It's time to end the pressure to go to university

Opinion

Too many students are steered away from vocational education and training at a cost to their future job prospects, writes Minister for Industry and Skills David Pisoni.

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The decision about whether to pursue a technical qualification or a university degree straight out of school can be a difficult one for students. Of course, it really should be about both personal choice and a clear understanding of the flexible career pathways available.

Over time a university education has become the main aspirational path for young people. However, there are other worthwhile options.

Too many young people have felt the pressure of going to university and spending three to four years studying a degree that may have no immediate job outcome. As Malcolm King pointed out in InDaily this month, university degrees may not provide students with those skills in demand across emerging and growth industries.

So how do we encourage more young people to consider apprenticeships or traineeships as alternative career pathways? It all starts with changing attitudes towards vocational education and training.

There is substantial evidence that many students are steered away from VET pathways and skilled careers towards university. Encouraging more people to consider pursuing a career through a technical qualification as a first option, not as a fallback plan, is going to require a cultural mind-shift.

As a Government, we are working to shift attitudes around skilled careers and to demonstrate the opportunities and career outcomes that come from undertaking apprenticeships and traineeships.

As a former apprentice who evolved from tradesman to entrepreneur to businessman before entering politics, I know the value of skilled careers because apprenticeships are more than just vocational study—they provide people of all ages and backgrounds with high-level, industry-linked skills, paid experience and a real job. And best of all? It does not leave them with substantial debt to pay back when training and study are completed.

The State Government is making some big changes to apprenticeships that will make it possible for apprentices to start younger and to ‘earn and learn’ as part of a flexible apprenticeship pathway.

This means that high school students can complete the first year of their apprenticeship full-time while being paid and also completing their SACE.

Teachers, principals, careers counsellors and families need to be conversant with the opportunities that are realised by undertaking apprenticeships and traineeships.

We will also implement a range of policies to support new, innovative industries that will deliver jobs and open new opportunities for our young people.

Firstly, we will increase the number of apprentices and trainees in South Australia by more than 20,000 over four years—- we are investing $100 million to make this happen. We have also secured a further $102 million from the Federal Liberal Government to deliver on this promise.

We will work closely with employers to take on new apprentices and trainees through a streamlined registration process, build better partnerships to give training providers a stronger voice in the training system, and design strategies and new systems that meet industry needs and provides flexibility.

Over the next few years, a wave of massive economic activity is heading our way with defence projects ramping up and significant jobs growth in areas like digital technology across all industries. This will generate exciting and stimulating opportunities to ensure our young people stay here in South Australia instead of moving interstate or overseas for a job.

Promoting an entrepreneurial focus and the value of a trade to the younger generation is a core focus.

We are establishing a $60 million international culinary school of excellence at the former Royal Adelaide Hospital site, which will restore South Australia’s reputation for training the world’s best chefs and hotel managers.

The school will be a drawcard for international students, who already enjoy Adelaide’s lifestyle and quality of education.

We are developing a comprehensive Defence Workforce Plan to ensure we have the workforce to fill future defence jobs, and to ensure South Australia can fully capitalise on the opportunities generated by the Future Shipbuilding project.

And we are establishing at least one new technical college in Adelaide’s north-western suburbs. This college will have a focus on preparing students for careers in the defence sector.

We are also addressing areas where industry is struggling due to current skills shortages, and supporting those in rural and regional areas.

South Australia has a lot going for it—and the key to a successful state and economy is our young people.

Teachers, principals, careers counsellors and families need to be conversant with the opportunities that are realised by undertaking apprenticeships and traineeships.

By working smarter together, we can inspire more young people to consider a broader range of career pathways.

David Pisoni is South Australia’s Minister for Industry and Skills.

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