The number of courses is falling because students cannot find places
Craig Petersen, President of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, said the surge in vocational students needing internships has increased competition.
Nationally, 4.3 million students were enrolled in vocational programs in 2021, an increase of 9 percent from 2020. More than a quarter million students were 11th and 12th grade students doing a vocational course in school, an increase of 4, 2 percent compared to 2020.
“Schools are moving away from the ‘work experience’ of 10th grade, and in some cases that’s because of the difficulty in getting internships,” said Petersen.
Petersen said the role of work experience has also changed.
“Originally, work experience was not just about finding a career that interests you, but also about preparing young people for the workplace,” he said.
This may no longer be relevant as a record number of teenagers have entered the labor market and more than half of 15-18 year olds are employed.
Australia has also come close to meeting its national target of 90 per cent of people aged 20-24 having a Year 12 or Certificate III degree, meaning many young people are later moving into full-time employment.
Petersen said this reduces incentives for employers who previously used work experience as a means of finding new employees.
Year 10 pupil Estella Bayfield, who attends Pittwater House private school on Sydney’s North Beaches, gained a valuable internship at Taronga Zoo helping to care for native animals.
“As soon as I heard it [applications] “I opened up, I got it right away,” she said.
The zoo offers internships for up to 300 students throughout the year.
Bayfield spent the week chopping vegetables, cleaning pens and feeding animals. She wants to study zoology at the university.
“If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have known what it would be like to be a zookeeper [would have] I can think again about what I would like to do when I’m older. So it’s a really great experience to see what it’s like,” she said.
Rebecca Hamment, a careers adviser and associate principal at Lithgow High School, said the closure of large businesses in the area, including the closure of the Lithgow coal-fired power plant in 2021, has made finding internships more difficult.
Work experience is particularly important for students in situations where family members are not working, she said.
“We want to increase our students’ expectations … so students can see what’s happening outside of school.”
The school hosts events throughout the year to encourage companies to get involved and works with the Chamber of Commerce to organize internships.
Hamment said there has been a great response from small business owners in the community who are willing to take on students.
“We want anyone to be able to do it, and we’re also making it a community initiative,” Hamment said.
For Pittwater House students Jack Murphy and Maximilian Horvath, who organized internships at an insurance law firm and automated vertical farming company through family contacts, this experience gave them a better idea of what they wanted to study.
Murphy has concluded that the Australian Defense Force could offer a good career path.
“Work experience can tell you what you want to do in life and give you real-world experiences,” he said. “It’s important for students.”
In NSW in 2021 there were approximately 12,500 placements for the 114,650 full-time public school students in grades 9 and 10. That’s less than half of the 29,000 places in 2017, although more students will attend the school in 2021.
Five years ago, in 2017, just over one in four students had an internship. There were around 29,000 internships among the 102,000 students.
Rankings have been impacted by COVID-19, flooding and bushfires. The NSW Department of Education does not collect comprehensive data on work experience participation for all public schools.
Nor does the Victorian Department of Education collect data on the total number of internships, although it will sponsor 10,000 internships in popular sectors.
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Login here.