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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2003  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 03/06/2003   
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Contents >> Education and training >> Education and work: Pathways from school to work

Education and work: Pathways from school to work

Of young people who had been in year 10 in the late 1980s, 57% did not enter higher education in the seven years after leaving school. Nearly one-third of these young people spent a considerable portion of their post-school years unemployed, working part-time (without studying full-time), or out of the labour force.

The ways young people move from compulsory schooling to the workforce have changed over the last two decades. A greater proportion of students now complete years 11 and 12 of secondary school and there is also increased participation in a variety of non-school education and training options. Young people, especially teenagers, are now less likely to be in the full-time labour force but more likely to be in part-time employment in their initial years in the workforce. As a result of such changes, the transition from compulsory schooling to the full-time workforce can now be a long process for many young people, lasting several years, with less time overall spent in full-time work during this period. A major social concern given these changed circumstances has been that young people, especially those who leave school early, might find themselves in mainly part-time or casual work, or unemployed, for several years, and in the long-term be unable to find ongoing full-time employment.

The post-school experiences of secondary students have been monitored in longitudinal studies conducted by the Australian Council of Educational Research (ACER) since the 1970s. Much of the research based on these surveys has focused on the transitions young people make between education, training and work. A recently completed study relates to those who were in year 10 in 1986-1988, and examined their experiences over seven post-school years.1 On average, there were 259,000 students in year 10 in each year between 1986 and 1988, or 778,000 students in total, according to the National Schools Statistics Collection.2


Young people in transition
Longitudinal surveys of young people’s transitions to adulthood have been conducted since the 1970s by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), an independent non-profit organisation, on behalf of the Department of Education, Science and Training. This article summarises data and analysis from two reports from these surveys:
  • Patterns of success and failure in the transition from school to work in Australia (LSAY Research report no. 18)
  • School leavers in Australia: profiles and pathways (LSAY Research report no. 31).

Other ACER reports used in the article are specifically referenced.

Longitudinal surveys, which track people over time, are subject to attrition and there is a possibility that surveys results could therefore become less representative over time. Attrition is likely to be higher the longer the period studied. However, annual adjustments to weighting of the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth aim to compensate for the differing rates at which people with various characteristics are lost from the survey.

Terms used in this article are as defined in the above ACER reports and may differ from ABS standard definitions.

Seven post-school years is the seven-year period following the calendar year in which those who completed school were in year 12. For example, for persons who were in year 10 in 1986 the seven-year period covered 1989-1995.

For the period covered by this article, years 7 to 10 are defined as the compulsory years of secondary school, while years 11 and 12 are defined as post-compulsory years, although the state and territory laws which govern education are expressed in terms of age rather than year level.

Non-completers are those who did not complete year 12. They comprise early school leavers, who did not begin year 11 and did not go back to school within the period of the survey and later school leavers who began year 11 or year 12 but did not complete year 12 and did not go back to school within the period of the survey. However, some non-completers may have subsequently completed year 12 qualifications at another type of institution such as an institute of Technical and Further Education (TAFE).

Completers are students who completed year 12. (For the 1995 year 9 cohort discussed later in this article, completers were those who were attending school in August of their Year 12 year.)

Higher education refers to study for an associate diploma (TAFE), or a bachelor degree or higher qualification.

Leaving school
One of the first significant choices that young people make is when to leave school. Of those students who were in year 10 between 1986 and 1988, 26% left without completing year 12. The remaining 74%, who completed year 12, comprised 43% who entered higher education and 33% who did not.

When asked their main reason for leaving school, non-completers in the late 1980s most often expressed a desire to work, to train for work, or to earn money (76% of young men and 62% of young women). Dislike of or lack of success in school were the main reason for leaving school for 19% of young men and 25% of young women, while 5% of young men and 13% of young women left school for other reasons. The same general pattern was observed in the early 1990s.3

EDUCATIONAL PATHWAYS OF PERSONS WHO WERE IN YEAR 10 IN 1986-1988
Diagram - Educational pathways of persons who were in year 10 in 1986-1988

(a) Had completed a higher education qualification by the seventh post-school year, or were enrolled in higher education in the seventh post-school year. Includes some people who entered higher education without completing year 12 (2% of those who were in year 10).

Source: Australian Council of Educational Research 2001, Patterns of success and failure in the transition from school to work in Australia, (LSAY Research report no. 18), ACER, Camberwell.


Students’ literacy and numeracy skills in the middle school years have shown one of the strongest associations with subsequent participation in education.4 Those more likely to leave school early, in both the late 1980s and mid-1990s, include young men, students from families of lower socioeconomic status (as indicated by parents’ level of education and occupation), those located in rural areas, and those who attended Government schools. Those who spoke a language other than English at home or who were born overseas were less likely to leave school early. 3, 4 (See also Australian Social Trends 2001, Trends in completing school)

Pathways after leaving school
Close to 57% of those students who had been in year 10 in the late 1980s did not enter higher education. Over seven post-school years, many of these individuals moved between different activities such as education and training, full-time and part-time work, unemployment, and activities outside the labour force such as raising children. Seven years after leaving school, 69% of those who did not enter higher education could be said to have taken a relatively smooth pathway from school to full-time work. The mix of experiences in the path to full-time work varied between young men and women, and between school non-completers and completers. Of those young people who did not enter higher education, 20% went straight from school into full-time work and remained in full-time work over the period of the study.This was more common among young women than young men and most common among female completers (25%).

The training and work pathway - undertaking an apprenticeship or traineeship (where training is employment-based and under contract) and then continuing in full-time work for the remainder of the seven years - was the pathway of 13% of those who did not enter higher education. The training pathway was especially common for male non-completers, 30% of whom took this path compared with 16% of male completers. In contrast, training and work was an uncommon pathway for young women, involving 4% of female completers and 4% of female non-completers.

A further 12% of those who did not undertake higher education undertook full-time study before working. This study was principally in non-degree courses at an institute of TAFE and might include some students who after leaving school undertook courses equivalent to senior secondary school. In contrast to training, the study and work pathway was rare for both male and female non-completers (3% and 1% respectively) but accounted for 17% of male and 14% of female completers.

Of those who did not enter higher education, 24% experienced some kind of relatively brief interruption (lasting less than two years) before entering full-time work and staying in it for the remainder of the seven post-school years. This pathway was almost equally common for young men and women, and for completers and non-completers.


Pathways from school to work
Young people were interviewed annually, over seven post-school years, to identify their main activity in each year (one covering at least six months). They were then classified to eight pathways (combinations of annual activities).

Full-time work only covers those whose main activity each year was full-time work. Full-time work was defined as 30 hours or more per week.

Training and work covers those who undertook an apprenticeship or traineeship and then remained in full-time work.

Study and work covers those who studied full-time and then entered and remained in full-time work.

Brief interruption then work includes those who experienced a period of up to two years in which they were unemployed, not in the labour force (excluding full-time study) or working part-time, and then entered and remained in full-time work.

Extended interruption then work includes those who spent more than two but less than four years unemployed, in part-time work, or not in the labour force (excluding full-time study), and were in full-time work for the remainder of the period.

Mainly part-time work covers those whose main activity was part-time work (less than 30 hours per week) in at least four of the seven years.

Mainly unemployed includes those whose main activity was not working and looking for work in at least four of the seven years.

Mainly not in the labour force includes those whose main activity was not working and not looking for full-time work (excluding full-time study) in at least four of the seven years.

PATHWAYS(a) AFTER SCHOOL OF PERSONS WHO WERE IN YEAR 10 IN 1986-1988, WHO DID NOT ENTER HIGHER EDUCATION
Non-completers
Completers
Total



Males
Females
Males
Females
Persons
Pathway
%
%
%
%
%

Full-time work only
17
21
18
25
20
Training and work
30
4
16
4
13
Study and work
3
1
17
14
12
Brief interruption then work
23
25
24
24
24
Extended interruption then work
9
15
14
15
13
Mainly part-time work
3
7
3
6
5
Mainly unemployed
13
5
7
6
7
Mainly not in the labour force
2
23
1
7
7

Total who did not enter higher education
100
100
100
100
100

Total as a proportion of all year 10 students
93
92
49
40
57

(a) Summary of activities over seven years following the calendar year in which those who completed school were in year 12. For example, for persons who were in year 10 in 1986 the seven year period covered 1989-1995.

Source: Australian Council of Educational Research 2001, Patterns of success and failure in the transition from school to work in Australia, (LSAY Research report no. 18), ACER, Camberwell.


In total, 69% of young people who did not enter higher education were involved in one of the four relatively smooth pathways to work discussed above. The remaining 31% of all those who did not enter higher education spent a considerable portion of their post-school years unemployed, working part-time, or out of the labour force (without studying full-time). Four more pathways summarise the post-school activities of these young people. The most common of these pathways involved 13% of those who did not enter higher education. They experienced an extended period in one of the above activities, or a combination of them, but had nevertheless experienced at least three years in full-time employment by the time they approached their mid-twenties. Male non-completers were less likely to be in this pathway (9%) than female non-completers (15%) and male and female completers (14% and 15% respectively). However, male non-completers were the most likely of the four groups of young people to have been in another pathway, that of being mainly unemployed in the first seven post-school years (13% compared with 5% to 7% of the other three groups).

The remaining two pathways accounted for those mainly working part-time and those mainly not in the labour force. Young women were predominant in these pathways. Working part-time in at least four out of the first seven years after school was the experience of 7% of female non-completers and 6% of female completers, compared with 3% of both these groups of young men. Being outside the labour force (and not studying full-time) for at least four out of seven post-school years was the experience of close to one-quarter of female non-completers (23%), but was considerably less common for female completers (7%), and quite rare for males (1 to 2%). Over half of the females in this pathway had children in or by their first post-school year (57%). By the seventh post-school year 86% had children. Each year between one-third and one-half of those in this pathway who did not have children gave their main activity as domestic duties. In each year, well over half of those in this pathway who did not have children said they would work if a job was available - that is they could be considered as marginally attached to the labour force.

Experiences associated with different pathways
As well as experiences of employment, training or study, there were other differences for young people following different pathways, including differences in job mobility, earnings, time spent unemployed and occupation. Job mobility was high among those young people who were in year 10 in the late 1980s and who did not enter higher education. Excluding those who were mainly unemployed or mainly not in the labour force, these young people on average had five jobs over seven post-school years. Job mobility was lowest (with an average of four jobs) among those who took either the full-time work pathway or the training pathway. Job mobility was highest for those in the pathway of extended interruption then work and the pathway of mainly part-time work (an average of over six jobs in each case.)

Of the pathways leading to full-time work, that of training then work resulted in the highest average weekly earnings seven years after leaving school ($570), followed by study then work ($543) and full-time work only ($522). Those who experienced either a brief (up to two years) or extended (up to four years) interruption in the transition to full-time work had the lowest average weekly earnings seven years after leaving school ($503 and $449 respectively). Factors affecting the average earnings of these latter two groups may include a relative lack of work experience and of qualifications.

The average time spent unemployed was naturally highest for those in the pathway of being mainly unemployed (49 months). However, spending a relatively long period unemployed out of the seven post-school years was also a feature of other pathways. For those who experienced an extended interruption (over two but less than four years spent out of full-time work or full-time study), the average time spent unemployed was 16 months. The average time spent unemployed was 13 months for those mainly in part-time work, 11 months for those mainly not in the labour force and 9 months for those who experienced a brief interruption (up to two years when they were not in full-time work or study).

PERSONS WHO WERE IN YEAR 10 IN 1986-1989, WHO DID NOT ENTER HIGHER EDUCATION:
TYPE OF OCCUPATION(a) SEVEN YEARS AFTER YEAR 12(b) BY PATHWAY
Pathway
Full-time work
Training/work
Study/work
Brief interruption/work
Extended interruption/work
Occupation
%
%
%
%
%

Males
Managerial/professional/technical
30
9
42
19
20
Skilled trades
12
66
17
28
25
Clerical
11
1
6
5
6
Sales and service
23
5
19
18
22
Plant/machine operators
12
7
6
12
3
Labourers
12
10
10
19
25

Total
100
100
100
100
100

Females
Managerial/professional/technical
19
5
24
22
10
Skilled trades
2
55
4
8
9
Clerical
42
20
41
24
30
Sales and service
30
15
27
40
33
Plant/machine operators
2
-
4
2
2
Labourers
6
5
-
4
21

Total
100
100
100
100
100

(a) The occupational groups used in this ACER research may differ from those based on the Australian Standard Classification of Occupations, edition 2, used elsewhere in this publication.
(b) Seven years after the calendar year in which those who completed school were in year 12.

Source: Australian Council of Educational Research 2001, Patterns of success and failure in the transition from school to work in Australia, (LSAY Research report no. 18), ACER, Camberwell.


The occupations that people had seven years after school tended to vary by pathway. There were also differences in occupations between men and women in the same pathways, consistent with the general pattern of the workforce. Some pathways are strongly associated with certain types of occupation, the most obvious being that of the training and work pathway which was strongly associated with a skilled trade (66% of young men in this pathway and 55% of young women). However, skilled trades generally employ a greater number of men than women and many young men arrived in skilled trades by other pathways. For example, more than a quarter of young men in the pathways of brief or extended interruptions then full-time work were in a skilled trade occupation in the seventh post-school year. The study then work and the full-time work pathways were more strongly associated than other pathways with a managerial, professional or technical occupation, especially among young men (with 42% and 30% of young men in these respective pathways in this broad occupational group). Among young men the pathways of brief or extended interruption then full-time work were associated with being a labourer (19% and 25% respectively were labourers compared with around 10% of those in other pathways). The extended interruption then work pathway was also associated with being a labourer among young women (21% were labourers compared with 6% or less of women in other pathways).

Undertaking higher education
The transitions to work of the 43% of year 10 students from the late 1980s who undertook higher education contrasted with those who did not undertake study of this type. About 6% of those who entered higher education either experienced extended interruptions in the path to work, or had not settled into the workforce after seven post-school years (and were not studying full-time). This contrasts with the 32% of those who did not enter higher education who were in such pathways. A further 17% of those who undertook higher education experienced a short period (less than 12 months) in activities other than full-time work or full-time study but were in the full-time workforce at the end of the study. However, most made a smooth transition to the full-time workforce, with 45% going straight from school to higher education and then to the workforce; 9% following a similar path except that they initially deferred study for work; and 7% remaining in work for the whole seven years while studying part-time. Another 16% were still studying in the seventh post-school year.5

School leavers in the 1990s
More recent information on post-school activities is available, regarding young people who were in year 9 in 1995 (approximately 245,000 students according to the National Schools Statistics Collection).2 Many of this group were available to enter the labour force between 1997 and 1999, if they did not go on to higher education. This information covers the activities of these young people from 1997 to 2000, or from ages 16 to 19 years in most cases. By 2000, 9% of those who had been in year 9 in 1995 had left school without beginning year 11 and 13% had begun either year 11 or 12 but had not completed year 12. The 79% who had completed year 12, comprised 38% who had entered higher education, and 41% who had not. Those who entered higher education had not completed degrees by 2000, so it is only possible to compare the early experiences in the labour force and education of school non-completers and completers who did not enter higher education.

MAIN ANNUAL ACTIVITIES OF PERSONS WHO HAD BEEN IN YEAR 9 IN 1995 WHO DID NOT ENTER HIGHER EDUCATION
1997
1998
1999
2000
School completion status, main activity for year
%
%
%
%

Non-completer
Still at school
39
4
-
-
Full-time study (after leaving school)
7
12
10
5
Full-time work
36
56
63
67
Full-time work and part-time study or training
20
31
28
28
Part-time work
6
9
9
8
Unemployed
8
13
11
11
Not in the labour force(a)
4
5
6
9

Total
100
100
100
100

Completers who did not enter higher education
Still at school
100
100
5
-
Full-time study (after leaving school)
-
-
28
17
Full-time work
-
-
48
61
Full-time work and part-time study or training
-
-
20
22
Part-time work
-
-
11
12
Unemployed
-
-
6
6
Not in the labour force(a)
-
-
3
4

Total
100
100
100
100

(a) Excluding full-time students.

Source: Australian Council of Educational Research 2003 School leavers in Australia: profiles and pathways, (LSAY Research report no. 31), ACER, Camberwell.


In 2000, unemployment was more common for non-completers than completers (11% compared with 6%) and non-completers were also more likely than completers not to be in the labour force (9% compared with 4%). However, most non-completers had used the years when most of their contemporaries were at school to gain experience in the workforce, and many also gained qualifications. By 2000, 67% of non-completers were in full-time employment as were 61% of completers. Of those in full-time employment, non-completers had the higher median weekly income in 2000 ($430 for early school leavers, $400 for later school leavers and $350 for school completers). By 2000, non-completers also had lower job mobility than completers, with 67% of early school leavers and 63% of later school leavers in the same job as the previous year, compared with 57% of school completers. A greater proportion of non-completers than completers combined full-time work with some kind of study or training in 2000 (28% compared with 22%) and by 2000, 50% of early school leavers and 34% of later school leavers had completed some kind of qualification.

Earlier research from the longitudinal surveys has shown similar short-term advantages for non-completers. For example, if compared in the first few years after leaving school, those who left without completing year 12 had higher average earnings than completers. However, in the long-term, the average earnings of school completers overtook those of non-completers.1

Endnotes
1 Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) 2001, Patterns of success and failure in the transition from school to work in Australia, (LSAY Research report no. 18), ACER, Camberwell.
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Schools Australia (various issues), cat. no. 4221.0, ABS, Canberra.
3 Australian Council for Educational Research 2000, Non-completion of school in Australia: the changing patterns of participation and outcomes, (LSAY Research report no. 16), ACER, Camberwell.
4 Australian Council for Educational Research 2003, School leavers in Australia: profiles and pathways, (LSAY Research report no. 31), ACER, Camberwell.
5 Australian Council for Educational Research 2001, The pathways from school to further study and work for Australian graduates (LSAY Research report no. 19), ACER, Camberwell.

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