Education and Work

By Athanasou, James A. | Australian Journal of Career Development, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Education and Work


Athanasou, James A., Australian Journal of Career Development


One of the great causes for celebration in my household is the arrival of the publication Education and Work (Catalogue No. 6227.0). It is a momentous occasion as we ponder the comings and goings of the educational side of the career spectrum. We usually throw a party and invite various politicians, bureaucrats and constructivists for a dose of hemlock. Regrettably, none take up this invitation.

Why is Education and Work so important? It summarises the enrolments in post-compulsory education (generally after age 15 years in Australia) for the 13.6 million Australians aged 15-64 years. As is widely recognised, educational achievement is a key factor in career development, yet sadly it is lacking in many of our career development theories. Even the local shopkeeper knows that grades and qualifications are now important from a practical perspective in order to gain entry into many courses, occupations and jobs in Australia--this is known widely as the greengrocer theory of career development. This is because qualifications are often the passport that determines to a large extent the nature and course of a person's career. It is an area that is worthy of study in its own right not only because of the influence of educational achievement on individual aspirations but also from a national and social perspective. Education influences a society but a society also determines the education and training it is prepared to provide and to whom it will be provided. Maybe it is appropriate to consider some of the findings about the educational experience of people that is based on the monthly Labour Force Survey of the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Let us start with the topic of age and education. Although it is recognised that post-compulsory education and training occurs across the age range, you might be surprised to know just how many older age groups participate in formal education. I hope that you don't mind too many statistics. There were 389,000 aged 25-34 years, 251,000 aged 35-44 years and 219,200 aged 45-64 years. This means that modern career and educational development is ongoing and spread across the lifespan.

Have there been changes in the participation of different age groups over time? Of course there have. You don't think I would ask that question if I didn't have the answer! The greatest proportional increase has actually been in the age group 55-64 years from 19,500 in 1997 to 40,100 in 2007. Just in case you imagine this is some sort of statistical aberration, the age group with the second-highest proportional increase was those aged 45-54 years. Of course the greatest quantitative increase was in those aged 20-24 years because they accounted for almost one third of new enrolments from 1997 to 2007. So education and career development is focused on young people but is clearly not a once-only decision for many Australians.

Education and work display large sex differences just as with many other comparisons in life. More females than males are enrolled in a course of study. But this is not evenly distributed across all educational levels. There are more females at postgraduate, graduate diploma, bachelor's degree and diploma/advanced diploma levels. There are more males at the Certificate III/IV levels. Clearly there are structural barriers within the field of education and probably there is a need for affirmative action.

Neither is formal education distinct from one's labour force status. Mostly it is undertaken while working and this blurs the distinction between education and work. Almost 686,000 are working full-time and studying while some 851,600 are studying and working part-time. Those 834,400 who are not in the labour force and who are in education or training are probably devoted to full-time study. The message here is that for most individuals, education will go hand in hand with a job throughout much of their career. This is not widely accepted amongst many laypersons who have the idea that you leave school, do some study and then enter a so-called career.

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