We need to talk about vocational education–or rather, we need our schools to start talking about it. We asked you guys recently your thoughts on VET and TAFE courses, and while there was plenty of support, there were a few concerning stats about the way VET and other pathways are being represented in schools too.

In our latest survey of students across Australia, 43% of respondents said they have ‘no idea’ what they want to do when they leave school. Granted, adolescence is a pretty confusing time and it’s rare for anyone to claim that they know what they want to do with absolute certainty, but after a point we have to remember that it’s part of our school’s job to help make sense of all that noise. And yet, on the contrary, only 9% of you guys believe that students’ post-school success is one of their school’s highest priorities.

The current state of the youth job market has meant that an appalling number of young Aussies are undertaking dodgy internships just to get a start in their industry. With only 65% of university graduates employed full-time after four months of graduating, it’s easy to see why students are drawn to these desperate measures. Meanwhile, in the vocational sector, there’s a national skills shortage in a number of trade roles, as well as a heap of industries looking to employ younger skilled workers.

Do students know this? We asked, and only 19% of you guys felt you had a good or strong understanding of VET, 16% for apprenticeships, and 14% for traineeships. This is compared to half of all students having a good or strong understanding of university. That probably explains why 52% of you believe more unbiased career advice is required in high school.

This lack of knowledge isn’t just stopping people from pursuing VET and TAFE pathways, it’s also causing a lot of students to have quite a negative perception of the whole thing. A lot of our survey respondents who were already in VET said they were loving their training but felt like they were being looked down upon by their friends and family. Many others said that there was a perception at their school that if you weren’t pursuing an ATAR then you must be one of the ‘dumb’ kids.

Nothing could be further from the truth, particularly considering the starting salary of VET graduates in their first year out of training can be a couple of grand higher than that of university grads. Plus, if they’ve completed an apprenticeship or traineeship, VET students have already been earning money while they’re in training, so they have the potential to graduate literally up to $100K+ financially ahead of university students.

So now we have a student population that’s anxious about life after school and don’t know what they want to do partly because they don’t know about all of their options. They want their schools to let them know what’s out there, but the pressure to do well academically seems to be taking priority over exploring their options. This is a hella stressful environment to be in, especially when they already have assessments and life decisions and hormones and peer pressure to deal with.

Luckily, our research has also shown that a better understanding of the VET pathway leads to more consideration of the option. When we told respondents that VET grads can graduate so far ahead of uni grads financially, 64% of you said it would make you consider an apprenticeship more seriously.

So, let’s talk about VET more. Let’s talk about the benefits that it brings, and let’s do away with any of the bias and shame that may be associated with it. Let’s get our schools to talk more about VET, so every student gets the memo. It’s what we want.

This article was written in partnership with the Australian Government Department of Education and Training’s ‘real skills for real careers’ initiative to raise the profile of vocational education and training. If you’re keen to see what VET qualifications are on offer, jump over to the My Skills site here.