ACER eNews

Economic downturn forces school leavers to rethink plans

The impact of the global financial crisis has forced many young Victorians to rethink their plans for work and further education, a major survey of school leavers has found. 

A paper presented to the Monash University-ACER Centre for the Economics of Education and Training (CEET) annual conference in Melbourne on 30 October used data from the On Track survey to show that school leavers from the class of 2008 have experienced the most challenging labour market for many years.

“Although aggregate unemployment has not risen as fast as many feared, teenage unemployment rates have risen quite sharply since mid 2008,” said co-presenter of the paper, Dr Phil McKenzie, Research Director of the Transitions and Post-School Education and Training program with ACER.

“In Victoria, for example, although the total unemployment rate has risen by one-third from 4.4 per cent in September 2008 to 5.9 per cent in September 2009, unemployment among 15-19 year-olds has risen at double that rate: from 11.9 per cent to 19.7 per cent.”

The paper by Dr McKenzie and Dr Trish Corrie, On Track Project Manager for the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), examined the impact of the economic downturn on young Victorians who left school either during 2008 or at the end of the school year through an analysis of changes reported from 2008 to 2009. On Track is a large-scale annual survey of school leavers commissioned by the Victorian Government.

As well as education and employment destination data, On Track  collects information on leavers’ attitudes and views.

The 2009 survey was conducted in April-May by the Social Research Centre (SRC) in collaboration with ACER. This year, for the first time, survey respondents were asked ‘Has the current economic situation influenced your decisions about what to do after leaving school?’ If they answered ‘yes’ respondents were then asked ‘In what ways did it have an influence?’

In all, 22.4 per cent of the Year 12 or equivalent completers indicated that the current economic situation had influenced their decisions. The most frequently cited influence (‘jobs/ hours have become more important, 17%) indicates the greater financial pressure school leavers now face while ‘can’t find a job’ (15%) shows that some experienced difficulties in securing work. Around 13-14 per cent indicated that they had either ‘chosen a different career path’ or were ‘considering a different career path.’ One in ten cited an influence in terms of ‘encouraged me to consider study’ which is broadly consistent with a recorded rise in university participation.

Overall, the main changes evident for Year 12 or equivalent completers from 2008 to 2009 are:

  • an increase in the proportion of completers enrolled in university at the time of the survey (up by 1.8 percentage points) although no change in the proportion enrolled in VET courses;
  • a decline in the proportions engaged in employment-based training through apprenticeships or traineeships (down by 1.9 percentage points in total);
  • a decline in the proportion working full-time (down by 2.5 percentage points) which is only partially offset by an increase in the proportion working part-time (up by 1.2 percentage points); and
  • an increase in the proportion of those unemployed and looking for work (up by 1.3 percentage points).

In broad terms, early school leavers have experienced similar changes in their labour market outcomes between 2008 and 2009. These include: increased proportions in education (VET in this instance rather than university); decreased proportions in employment-based training; a decline in full-time work; and an increase in the proportion looking for work. However, if anything, the changes look to be more marked for early leavers. Dr McKenzie noted this is cause for concern.

“One of the main findings from research on youth transitions is that the young people who struggle most are those who do not get a job or further training shortly after leaving school,” he said.  

“Unfortunately, it is this group of early leavers who are likely to fare even worse in any economic downturn. It becomes even more important therefore that young people at risk in the transition process are identified as quickly as possible and offered appropriate support.”

The full paper, Has the economic downturn influenced school-leaver destinations? By Trish Corrie and Phil McKenzie is available from the CEET website at

For further information about On Track and its publications visit

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