A job may be the best start your child can make towards their future, Debra Bela writes
WORK can give students an edge in the employment market, whether it be a part-time job during high school or a gap year after studies.
But ultimately a student who is embarking on their senior school studies or about to graduate should follow their heart.
International author and student counsellor Heather McAllister says the key to finding the best career start comes from understanding who you are.
Her latest book, Who You Are Is What You Do: making choices about life after school, is designed to help students ‘‘ unpack’’ their core values and strengths to determine where their career interests lie.
‘‘ One of the difficulties students do face is the number of options they have,’’ McAllister says. ‘‘ The best thing to do is go with the things you like if you want to have a sense of wellbeing in your life.
‘‘ If you’re doing something you hate eight hours a day, how’s that going to affect you?’’ She says there are four main paths out of school: taking a gap year, going straight into work, enrolling in vocational education and training (VET) and university.
‘‘ A lot of parents are afraid of that gap year, that their child will not come back and complete education,’’ McAllister says. ‘‘ In actual fact, the stats show it’s a good idea.
‘‘ For some students it gives them that break they need to go out and just be and discover that if they are looking for employment how important that qualification is.’’
However, a young person’s experience in their first year out of school has a significant impact on their later labour market prospects, according to the Australian Fair Pay Commission.
If they find full-time work, that trend will continue.
If they are unemployed, they are more likely to have continued periods of unemployment through their career.
It also is possible to combine work with school studies without jeopardising academic performance and subsequent career prospects.
But the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth finds more than 12 hours of parttime work can have a negative effect on tertiary education rank scores.
Most students who combine the two work about 11 to 12 hours a week.
McAllister encourages students to take a part-time job to learn valuable skills highly sought by employers.
‘‘ It’s foot-in-the-door stuff at this stage,’’ she says. ‘‘ Getting a feel for what it is like to be employed. They have to meet some requirements – they need to be punctual, they need to be nimble about what they do, efficient in a whole lot of skills. Be honest and reliable. In a recession or difficult times, it is easier to be employed with (work) experience.’’
The introduction of a student loan scheme for VET courses, called VET Fee-Help, is also encouraging students to consider a trade after school.
There are now a record 448,800 apprentices and trainees undergoing practical training across Australia.
The Council of Australian Governments aims to double the number of diploma completions by 2020 as an ageing population and growing resources sector create a dearth of skilled tradies.
Last year, 77 per cent of VET student graduates found employment after training, up 1.1 per cent from 2010. And 44 per cent of graduates who were not employed before training were employed after training in 2011, similar to 2010 results.
Choosing the path to university also is a popular option after school. In 2011 there were an extra 50,000 undergraduate students enrolled at Aus- tralian universities compared with the 2009 figures.
McAllister says university is an increasing commitment in time and money.
‘‘ A three-year degree is not going to make it for you,’’ she says. ‘‘ If you really want to go places, the higher the qualification the higher the income.
‘‘ If you want to get a decent job, expect three years of a qualification, but then it’s the postgraduate course on top of that, that is your vocational qualification.’’
The top five starter salaries for Australian university graduates are between $58,000 and $80,000.
If the choices still seem too daunting, McAllister always suggests the ‘‘ don’t panic’’ button. ‘‘ Don’t be afraid. It is a process. It’s not a one-off decision,’’ she says.
‘‘ If you get it wrong at this stage of your life, it’s better than doing a set course and after 12 years finding you are bored with it. Keep the options open unless you really know what you want to do.’’