Beyond the ATAR: Skills & Trades Pathways

Over the past few months, you or someone you know may have been one of the thousands of students who are weighing up their options after receiving, or not receiving, a single number: their ATAR.

While it is a result that inevitably holds a lot of weight, educators such as Victoria University’s Vice Chancellor and President Professor Peter Dawkins contends that the ATAR is just one piece of data and that a deeper understanding of students’ skills and abilities is necessary rather than “giving undue emphasis to this thing called the ATAR score.”

Year13’s research throughout ‘After the ATAR: Understanding how Gen Z Transition into Further Education & Employment’ demonstrates that Australian youth are predominantly engaging at school to produce an ATAR, rather than as a method of preparing for life after school.

Throughout their surveys of thousands of young Australians, Year13 uncovered many definitive trends amongst the youth of Australia. Namely, calling out for opportunities to explore their options, without the pressure and stress to act on them immediately. They need time to align to employment and education pathways, so they can make informed and confident decisions based on the right choice for them.

Additionally, some recent survey findings from Truth-Serum on behalf of Open Universities Australia are a reminder to Year 12 students who have received their ATAR that it is not the be all and end all of their career prospects. As part of the survey, Australians aged between 18 to 40 who graduated from university in the past three years were asked to answer key questions surrounding the ATAR. The results indicated that one in three university graduates indicated their ATAR has had no effect on their career outcome and found 38 per cent believed their ATAR “did not impact where I am in my career today”. Just 22 per cent of respondents believed their ATAR strongly or very strongly affected their career outcomes.

A paper published by Skilling Australia Foundation titled ‘Perceptions are not reality: myths, realities and the critical role of vocational education and training in Australia’ and indicated that nine of the 10 jobs with the fastest growth in demand over the next five years involve training at VET Training Providers. It seems the diversification of tertiary study options is going to help more Australian students excel in their chosen field – regardless of the ATAR they receive.

Within our WorldSkills Australia community, competitors have often expressed their joy at finding their passion within a trade or skill as opposed to attending university.

2017 Skillaroo Josh Morrissey finished school with a high ATAR offering him the option to head to university, but decided on a trade. Having grown up wanting to be an architect, Josh realised during his senior schooling that he preferred to work with his hands. He completed his joinery apprenticeship last year and went on to compete internationally in his trade, representing Australia last year at the 44th WorldSkills International Competition in Abu Dhabi.

“I’m not sure if I will ever study at uni. With the opportunities I have been presented through my WorldSkills journey and with my ongoing learning in the building industry, I wouldn’t see a need for me to study at uni any time soon,” he said.

Curtin University clinical psychology Professor Peter McEvoy says of the ATAR, “People need to be aware of the pathways, and it’s critical about the way they respond and gain motivation.

Students need to inform themselves of the pathways and find the information and looks towards their goals.”

Ultimately, any future employer will not be interested in your ATAR alone. The focus for the workforce of the future will be on transferable and adaptable skills, rather than those necessarily specific to a profession. Skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, adaptability, digital literacy, lateral thinking, collaborative communication and teamwork, and emotional intelligence are those that go beyond the ATAR, and beyond the divide between university and vocational education.

What has been your ATAR experience? We’d love to hear from you!