Balancing Aspirations and ‘Needs Skills’

Every parent wants to help realise their child’s ambitions, but how much do parents consider the influences informing a student’s desire to engage (or not) in post-secondary education? There are many factors of course, but it turns out that parents have a greater influence over their child’s future than they may think. If so, do VET coordinators and school career advisors have to shift their focus onto parents?

Earlier this year, the Department of Training and Workforce Development (DTWD) released a document identifying five critical factors that underpin successful VET in schools programs, which include:

  1. Leadership, continuity and partnerships
  2. Student cohort and parent liaison
  3. Vision, place and configuration
  4. Flexibility
  5. Course content, structure and evaluation

The DTWD found that while all five factors are important to successful VET outcomes, it is factor number two that may ultimately have the most impact over all. According to the DTWD paper, both parents and peers are “crucial” to students’ education and employment pathways. A paper released by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER), further validates these findings, stating:

Parental and peer influences almost entirely mediate the effects of gender, Indigenous status, socioeconomic status, location, family structure and immigration status.

The NCVER report uses the Parents as Career Transition Supports (PACTS) program as an example of how parental influence has a positive effect on student aspirations and outcomes, whether it’s going on to university or an apprenticeship. A subsequent evaluation of the study found that “the proportion of parents who discussed post-school options with their children increased significantly after participating in it”. So not only do parents play a vital role in a students’ education choices, their influence can be marshalled to great effect.

Student aspirations alone are not the only factor driving employment pathways. Currently there are concerns over an ever-widening knowledge gap between skills needs industries and the education and training system. A recent report on five major growth industries – agriculture, advanced manufacturing, biotechnology, mining equipment technology and energy – revealed that many students either overlook particular industries (females reluctant to enter male-dominated trades, for example), or that they are deficient in requisite industry skills.

As baseline entry-level skills continue to become more demanding, parents are potential agents of change – though not in isolation. Parents may arguably have the greatest aspirational influence, but so too do peers and VET coordinators. VET coordinators are especially important, as they are the nexus between schools, employers, industry, parent and peer influencers – they are well-placed to influence the influencers.

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