First steps

A job may be the best start your child can make to­wards their fu­ture, De­bra Bela writes

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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.’’

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