The Mackenzie Institute’s latest paper, by Tom Karmel, explores whether pre-apprenticeships and other forms of pre-vocational education are worth the effort.
As a preparation and taster of a particular occupation pre-voc. courses make sense. But because of the large number of Cert I and II qualifications that might have at least some vocational focus it’s easiest to keep things focused on the trades. That’s where the concept is clearest, and that’s what the paper does.
What did Tom find?
The paper, entitled “The efficacy of pre-apprenticeships” was released in September this year. It uses NCVER data, especially the Apprentice and Trainee Experience and Destination Survey. Using this survey has some drawbacks Tom points out, but it’s the best information currently available.
Tom suggests that there is evidence of the value of pre-voc. programs, but it’s very thin he thinks. There is evidence of their value in improving “the probability of getting an apprenticeship from undertaking a pre-apprenticeship but still around three quarters of those undertaking a pre-apprenticeship did not go on to an apprenticeship.”
On the other hand, “those undertaking pre-vocational training which is assessed as not being highly relevant report lower levels of satisfaction and lower completion rates than their peers who undertook no pre-vocational training.” However,
“those who had undertaken highly relevant pre-vocational training reported higher levels of satisfaction and higher completion rates than those who had not undertaken any pre-vocational training. This provides firm evidence that pre-vocational training can be of benefit.”
There are also effects by occupation, he found. But he believes it is clear that “the programs need to be well designed to have a positive effect.” They have to be relevant.
He took a look at equity issues too, as the thought was that this may provide a pathway into the trades for those experiencing some disadvantage. He concludes, though, that “pre-vocational training is not particularly focused on those from a disadvantaged background.” Nor does it appear to work well for them as he reports that “their satisfaction levels and completion rates are lower for those who have undertaken highly relevant pre-vocational training.” It does seem to work for those “who left school at year 11 and those who live in regional areas.” Both these groups “show higher than average levels of satisfaction if they had undertaken highly relevant pre-vocational training.”
What does he suggest?
The problem, as he sees it, is that the data we are collecting is not good enough. It needs to be ‘comprehensive and coherent’, he suggests.
“we need to (1) append a flag to the relevant courses and (2) identify an apprenticeship or traineeship as a possible outcome in the annual student destination survey. In the absence of the data it is not possible to evaluate its effectiveness and there is every chance that governments are not getting value for money from these programs. Just because the idea of a pre-apprenticeship or pre-traineeship sounds good does not mean that it is good.”
We also need to be clearer about the purposes of such programs. And here, I think, he has hit the nail on the head. One of the issues is, however, that we are trying to be very clear about outcomes of programs when these are often not that clear. Nor are we necessarily gathering all the information we need. This means we can be undeservedly ‘dudding’ these lower level programs because we are not clear on their purposes and not measuring their outcomes fairly. Rather than being truly pre-vocational as Tom is describing them they are actually ‘pre’ pre-vocational or enabling programs which are giving students in them, hopefully, the tools they need to succeed down the track. It gets back to quality of the programs, and the immediacy of their relevance to a vocation.
His conclusion is a fair one I think. Tom argues that:
“we have a choice. On one hand we could get serious about training designed to get people apprenticeships or traineeship, put a proper effort into designing its structure and content, and ensure that it is properly included in the national VET statistical systems. On the other hand, we could forget about pre-apprenticeships and pre-traineeships, despite their political attraction, and worry about the role and design of lower level vocational training as a whole.”