By Ron Maxwell - CEO

There is no denying that Australia is a country that values education and most parents would agree that their children's education is a top priority for them. And when it comes to career choice, parents have a big influence.

While children are influenced by a number of aspects; from what their parents do for a living to the family's value system - most parents, at some point, have a direct career discussion as their child enters the latter years of their schooling. 

Studies around the world tend to show similar results; parents put more weight on university degree options. In one British study, 76% of students said their parents encouraged them to choose university, and 73% said their parents never discussed alternative options at all. It's this latter statistic that is most concerning for me - and really should be concerning for us all. 

VET is key to jobs of the future

It's widely recognised in job market research that vocational education and training (VET) qualifications will be paramount for many of the jobs of the future. In fact, it is estimated that 9 out 10 jobs of the future will require them.We are also seeing increasing reports of university graduates struggling to find work, with an oversupply of graduates in many sectors. 

When you look at the numbers, VET qualifications make sense for many career options, particularly those in the growth industries of healthcare, hospitality, construction and childcare. So why are parents leaning so heavily towards university degrees for their children? 

In my mind, this comes down to two core things - the parent's own education and career experiences, and a raft of common misconceptions about VET qualifications.  

The labour market is changing 

If the parents went to university, we know their child is even more likely to choose a university pathway. But if there is one thing we can all agree on, it's that the world of work is changing at a rapid pace. Where once a four-year degree was the beginning of a career in a single profession, we now know that the younger generations are likely to have five careers over their working life. This high job mobility demands shorter, sharper learning experiences that deliver practical, targeted skills development.

Being competency-based, VET is a great choice in this environment.  VET courses are closely linked to industry skill demand, and students have to show they have the practical capabilities to do the job, before they can graduate.  

Misconceptions are influencing choices

There are also many misconceptions about VET qualifications that often lead parents to view them as the "poor cousin" to a university degree.  

One of the major misconceptions is that university graduates have more job options and higher salaries. The reality is in stark contrast; in fact, upon completion of their respective courses, VET graduates earn $2,000 more than their university counterparts on average; and 78% are employed in their industry, compared to 69% of university graduates.

Given that our school system is geared towards the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR), school career guidance programs tend to reinforce these misconceptions by encouraging students to choose university options.  However, the relevance of this score has come into question, with experts saying that the subjects needed for a high score aren't an accurate reflection of the skills, knowledge and capabilities required to succeed in today's job market.

Another major misconception is that VET qualifications are for those who can't get the marks to enter university.  This is simply not true – VET is the right choice for those who want careers outside the typical university professions.  Often, when thinking about VET, people think of our traditional trades, but VET is a pathway to careers in such a diverse range of industries, from healthcare and construction to tourism and even niche professions, like microbrewing and wine-making.

Finding the right pathway should be the goal

It can be hard when, as parents, we get caught up in the daily grind to find time to research options. I know, first-hand, how stressful the Higher School Certificate years are, when your child is making a huge life transition, but I would urge parents to do some research. 

There are some great resources out there, and I encourage parents to take a look at websites like MySkills and Year 13 to find out more about the broad range of opportunities available. It can also be helpful to talk to people who have made a career in different industries – if you have tradespeople or those with other non-university careers in your social network, talk to them about their job.  

VERTO held "Meet the Tradies" events in 2018, and we found some people were surprised when they discovered that many tradespeople are making considerable money – and more importantly, love what they do.

At the end of the day, this is not a university vs. VET argument, it’s about finding the right pathway that will suit your child's abilities and interests and give them the best chance at a fulfilling career.  Study and career decisions made when leaving school can impact your child for a long time to come. All parents want their children to succeed, and one of the ways to facilitate that could be in considering a wider range of career and study options.