Indigenous TAFE graduates: patterns and implications

Author/editor: Schwab, RG
Year published: 1997
Issue no.: 138


Technical and Further Education is now recognised as one of the most significant and popular avenues for Indigenous participation in education, yet a reliable statistical portrait of Indigenous participation in TAFE has never been readily available. Even less has been known about the success stories in this sector; the Indigenous students who have completed TAFE studies. The Graduate Outcomes Technical and Further Education Australia 1995 provides for the first time a range of important insights into the experience of Indigenous TAFE graduates, yet the findings of that survey have not been widely accessible and the analysis of data related to the Indigenous graduates has thus far been negligible.

This paper focuses on comparisons between Indigenous and non-Indigenous TAFE graduates and reveals some important similarities and differences between the two graduate groups. Among the key findings are:

  • a wide variation in the distribution of Indigenous TAFE graduates, often disproportionate to the Indigenous population, among the various States and Territories;
  • an over-representation of Indigenous graduates among recipients of basic Certificates, coupled with an under-representation among recipients of more specialised Trade Certificates, Advanced Certificates, and Associate Diploma and Diploma qualifications;
  • a comparatively higher likelihood of employment among non-Indigenous graduates;
  • increased employment opportunities for Indigenous TAFE graduates when compared to other Indigenous people;
  • somewhat more Indigenous respondents indicated they were looking for full-time work than did non-Indigenous graduates;
  • relatively low levels of institutional recognition of prior learning for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous graduates;
  • a relatively higher proportion of Indigenous graduates who indicated they undertook their course of study for 'personal development' reasons;
  • a higher likelihood for Indigenous graduates to have received some form of support from an employer or business during the final semester of study; and
  • nearly half of the non-Indigenous graduates were undertaking further study at the time of the survey.

The survey shows that while it is certainly useful, a TAFE qualification does not provide a guarantee of a job for Indigenous people or anyone else. Though the chances of employment increase, there is still a marked lag in Indigenous employment in comparison to the experience of non-Indigenous graduates. Policy makers will need to have a much better understanding of the individual factors (and their interplay) that are relevant to not only the successful completion of TAFE courses but the employment outcomes of the individuals involved in order to address this issue. Survey instruments such as the Graduate Outcomes Technical and Further Education Australia 1995 Survey will be useful in that regard but cannot provide all the answers.

One factor that needs to be better understood is the role of employer support in TAFE completion. The survey data suggest the possibility of a link between support and educational success. Policy makers searching for approaches to increasing the success of Indigenous TAFE students would benefit from additional insight into the various forms of support currently available to employed Indigenous students in urban, rural and remote areas.

One of the most visible differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous TAFE graduates was the emphasis placed on TAFE as an avenue for personal development. The educational interests and aspirations of Indigenous people are diverse, and that diversity could well create new opportunities to encourage Indigenous participation in education. In the educational policy arena it may well be worth adapting the focus of outreach activities for some segments of the Indigenous community to highlight not jobs, but personal development.

The study indicates that unemployed Indigenous TAFE graduates are more likely to remain in the labour force, searching for work, than their non-Indigenous counterparts. There is clearly a solid interest on the part of unemployed graduates in employment and, though their numbers are small, labour market programs targeting this group might have a higher probability of succeeding.

ISBN: 0 7315 2573 6

ISSN:1036 1774

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