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Tertiary qualifications significantly enhance job prospects

Media release 4 minute read

Tertiary qualifications significantly enhance job prospects for young Australians, according to two studies released today by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). The studies tracked the progress of a national sample of 2168 young Australians in their first seven years after leaving school.

Among tertiary graduates in the sample, only 6 per cent were unemployed or completely outside the workforce in their seventh year after school. For young people without a tertiary qualification, the equivalent figure was 17 per cent.

The two studies form part of the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) research program, which is jointly managed by ACER and the Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA).

The first, Patterns of Success and Failure in the Transition from School to Work in Australia, followed the progress of Year 10 students who did not obtain a tertiary qualification (university degree or TAFE diploma) in their first seven years after school.

The second, The Pathways from School to Further Study and Work for Australian Graduates, followed Year 10 students who obtained a tertiary qualification. The two reports provide a comprehensive picture of young people moving from school into work.
Students obtaining tertiary qualifications tended to be female rather than male; come from higher socio-economic backgrounds; have parents with post-secondary education; come from urban rather than rural backgrounds; have attended independent or Catholic schools; to have higher literacy and numeracy scores; and to have completed Year 12. Although the influence of social background on educational attainment has been gradually declining over time, the differences among some social groups require ongoing policy attention.

According to Dr Phillip McKenzie, Deputy Head of Policy Research at ACER, tertiary qualifications help to protect young people from labour market difficulties in making the transition to work.

"The results clearly indicate those who obtain a qualification enjoy a successful pathway into employment with the overwhelming majority (89%) either working or studying full-time in their seventh post-school year," Dr McKenzie said.

The majority of those without a tertiary qualification also made a smooth transition from school to full-time work, over the longer term, especially when in the first post school year their principal activity was an apprenticeship, traineeship or full-time employment.

Those most at risk of unemployment during the first seven post-school years were students without tertiary qualifications. Thirteen per cent spent up to four years in unemployment, part-time work or outside the labour force; 5 percent in part-time work while searching for full-time employment; 7 per cent in long-term unemployment; and 7 per cent did not enter the labour market at all. Young women were more likely to be in the latter category than young men.

Particularly vulnerable to long term unemployment were young people who had been low achievers at school; those who did not complete Year 12; school leavers from lower socio-economic backgrounds; and students with disabilities.

Dr McKenzie said that a poor early start in making the transition to employment has adverse long-term consequences. He underlined the importance of preventative measures within the education system and intensive follow-up measures for school leavers experiencing problems in the labour market.

"It is important that government policies are aimed at reducing the incidence of early school leaving and improving the information and counselling available to young people and their families. It is also important to track the experiences of school leavers and to provide early intervention to assist those at risk in the transition process," Dr McKenzie said.

"From an educational policy perspective, the strongest thrust needs to be preventative, by improving young people’s foundation skills for lifelong learning, and providing learning environments that are attractive and relevant to the great majority of the young. Offering a range of pathways suited to differing interests and needs at the end of compulsory education encourages a higher proportion of young people to remain in education and training."

Lamb, S., McKenzie, P. (2001). Patterns of Success and Failure in the Transition from School to Work in Australia, LSAY Report 18, Melbourne: ACER.

Lamb, S. (2001). The Pathways from School to Further Study and Work for Australian Graduates, LSAY Research Report 19, Melbourne: ACER.

The full reports are available in print from ACER Press, phone (03) 9277 5447; fax: (03) 9560 4799; email

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