Amid a serious skills shortage in Australia, transition programs assisting school students into work while they are still at school have large and immediate benefits for employers, schools and students, according to studies by a senior Charles Sturt University (CSU) education researcher.
“Our studies showed transition programs are particularly useful for engaging students at school. They got more value from their education, they were more motivated to go to school and they developed identity and confidence in themselves,” said Professor Robyn Zevenbergen.
For the last two years, Professor Zevenbergen has investigated the benefits and costs of various school-to-work transition programs for students, teachers, employers and the business community. These programs have been funded by Federal and State governments in collaboration with employers from a range of industries, including hospitality, construction, marine and retail.
Professor Zevenbergen’s studies were based in southeastern Queensland, as around half of all transition places offered nationally are located in this corner of Australia.
The CSU researcher investigated what makes a school-to-work transition program successful, and where schools and employers can improve the experience for students. Schools now play a central role in transition of students from school to work as the compulsory age for schooling has gradually risen in recent decades.
Students were often major winners from transition programs.
“Participants in these programs saw more relevance in the social aspects of school, such as the need for uniforms and a structured working day. And most important for many, they walked straight into jobs and apprenticeships when they finished school,” Professor Zevenbergen said.
Zevenbergen noted the experince was an important opportunity for testing. “For students, they could test if ‘this is the career for me’. For employers, they could test how future employees would fit into their business.”
Employers and the general business community benefitted significantly from these programs.
“Through the programs, employers often received hard working, loyal apprentices who had already completed part of their training before they start work full-time. They were already inducted into workplace practices and ready to start work on leaving school.
“In a country with a serious skills shortage, this is one way of ensuring young people can enter the skill areas in productive ways. One company now only employs their apprentices through school-based programs. There are over 200 apprentices within this company.”
Schools also benefitted from tranistion programs. “We found more students were staying longer and completing school, as they saw value in their education. They also saw greater enthusiasm for learning and there were fewer behavioural problems and disruptions.”
There were limitations in many programs. Of particular concern were issues of equity, where some students in most need for this program were not accessing them, and only those most likely to succeed were taking part.
Success was also most likely where schools made special learning arrangements for participating students, such as allowing students to attend workplaces one day per week. Where significant student numbers are involved, this could require considerable flexibility in school timetables and supervisory resources.
Professor Zevenbergen is now engaged in similar research with students, schools and businesses in NSW and Victoria.