The Future of Work by Australian Graduates report by the Australia Institute said vocational degrees tied to occupations including healthcare, engineering and teaching have the best employment rates.
“This suggests that part of the solution to graduate employment challenges are better strategies for directly linking degrees to jobs: for example, through paid placements, occupational licensing, and accreditation,” report co-author Jim Stanford said.
Chief executive of peak body Universities Australia Catriona Jackson said its data shows graduates continue to command “a strong employability edge overall”.
Ms Jackson said universities had an emphasis on practical workplace experience as part of degrees.
“Almost half a million uni students had the opportunity in 2017 to get practical workplace experience as part of their university study and we know that helps prepare them for a long and successful career,” she said.
Kaitlin Gonzalez, 23, who is studying for a bachelor of early education and care at Nirimba TAFE in Quakers Hill, says the course has provided her with practical industry-based experience. She has also been working part-time for two years at a long day-care centre in Sydney.
She started a university bachelor of education course after leaving school in 2015, but decided at the end of her second year that she wanted a more “hands-on” and personal experience. She said TAFE had equipped her well for getting a job.
“I think early childhood teaching was a great choice,” Ms Gonzalez said.
Lachlan McGowan, 27, completed an honours degree in science in 2014 and spent the following year looking for a job. “I am a very unemployed university graduate,” he said.
“There were plenty of environmental consultancy jobs, but no one was taking graduates. Everyone wanted five to 10 years of experience. I don’t see a lot of science jobs going around. I’ve never seen any evidence of the STEM skills shortage.”
Mr McGowan is now studying for a master’s degree in science communication in Canberra and is hopeful his new field “won’t be made obsolete by automation”.
The report from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work said predictions that half of existing jobs were under threat of being automated were “overstated”.
“None of these expected outcomes from automation and other labour-saving vectors of technological change are visible in the Australian context,” the report noted. “Rather than worrying that companies are investing too much in new technology, we should be concerned with how to encourage them to invest more.”
The report said there was little empirical evidence to back reports of acute shortages of science and other STEM skills. Federal Department of Employment and OECD data had shown fewer shortages of occupations in professional and technical fields than in the years before the financial crisis.
Dr Stanford said employers had also reported they wanted more applicants with better verbal, social, problem solving and communication skills.
He said Australia could learn from other countries, especially in Europe, which have taken “a more hands-on and direct approach to forecasting future skill requirements, planning higher education offerings accordingly and channelling graduates directly into relevant career opportunities”.
Executive director of Graduate Careers Australia Noel Edge said he commissioned the report because more research was needed on the future work environment for graduates.
NSW Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee said that for some, the best qualification for a meaningful job was a university degree.
“There will always be a place for university degrees, but at the same time we know that many of the fastest growing occupations require a VET [vocational education and training] qualification,” he said.
Anna Patty is Workplace Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.