Australian teenagers should be encouraged to learn a trade at school rather than automatically directed towards university study, a senior government minister has announced.
In a radical change of policy, assistant education minister Sussan Ley has called for a massive expansion of school-based apprenticeships, in order to prepare young people for careers such as "building trades, cooking or animal husbandry".
This marks a significant change of direction from the policies of the previous Labor government, which lost in last year's election to the Coalition of centre-right parties led by Liberal leader Tony Abbott.
Labor focused on increasing the number of learners progressing to university. As a result, in 2012 just 9 per cent of students aged between 14 and 18 were engaged in apprenticeships and traineeships. Even among school leavers, only 19 per cent went on to take a vocational qualification, half the proportion who went on to higher education.
Although in Australia students on apprenticeships are based in schools, many of them spend part of the week with a local employer. Ms Ley has insisted that the qualifications should be "equivalent to academic courses in rigour" and should prepare students for "real jobs in the real economy".
"I also want to be sure we have a system which makes it clear to our kids that they no longer have to choose between school and a trade - that they can graduate Year 12 with the necessary skills to successfully continue their training with an employer," she added.
The announcement was welcomed by Martin Riordan, chief executive of TAFE (technical and further education) Directors Australia. "The increased school student demand [for vocational education and training in schools] brings a need for redoubling efforts for quality, so industry capacity to support the process is essential," he said.