ACER eNews

Junior secondary school students and the world of work

A report that investigated the educational and occupational plans of junior secondary students prepared by ACER for The Smith Family was released in March. The study surveyed 3271 financially disadvantaged students in years 8 and 9 who are part of the Smith Family's Learning for Life Program.

The report: Junior secondary school students' perceptions of the world of work found more than one third of the surveyed students do not fully understand the education level required to achieve their dream job.

Of greatest concern, 23 percent of these students expect to gain employment in their chosen field despite the mismatch in their education and career plans, setting them up for disappointment later in life.

The main findings of the research conducted by ACER for The Smith Family show students with an unrealistic view of future career options are more likely to:

•  be male (32.3 percent of males misunderstand the level of education required for their preferred job against 21.9 percent of females);
•  report below average achievement at school;
•  have low levels of vocational engagement; and
•  be unhappy and keen to disengage from school.


Many of these students are already considered 'at risk' due to their difficult financial backgrounds. The inability to achieve their work aspirations could lead to them feeling further disenfranchised, slipping into a downward cycle characterised by low levels of education, low paying jobs or unemployment. However, the news isn't all bad, according to The Smith Family's National Manager of Strategic Research and Social Policy, Dr Rob Simons.

"These students are seeking jobs across a wide spectrum of occupations, demonstrating they are not marginalised or demoralised about their future prospects," he said. "The research highlights the importance of helping students better align their study plans with their chosen field to channel this enthusiasm and avoid difficulty with gaining meaningful employment when they are ready to enter the workforce.

"For some students, this may mean re-thinking when they intend to leave school. For others, it will mean setting more realistic career goals that will engage their interests and be attainable given the level of education they intend to reach."

Of the students surveyed, more than half (52.3 percent) intend to undertake further study after school with students identifying University, TAFE and apprenticeships or traineeships as likely options. Students' perceptions of their own school performance weighed heavily on their plans for further study with those who perceive themselves as doing better at school most likely to plan post school education.

The Smith Family is currently undertaking further research into the perceptions and post school plans of older Learning for Life students in years 10, 11 and 12, with results due to be released later this year.

The full report What do students think of work? Junior secondary school students' perceptions of the world of work by Adrian Beavis, David Curtis and Niola Curtis and further information on the Learning for Life program are available on The Smith Family website at

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