Publication Date



Paper presented to the conference on Vocational Education and Lifelong Learning in Australia and Germany, Australia Centre, University of Potsdam, Germany.


The concept of “pathways” has been a powerful organising idea in Australian education and training over the past 10 years. The imagery of the pathway, with its sense of order and structure, and linked education and training experiences that lead to employment, has had a significant impact on Australian policy. Two related trends have been affecting young people: a rapid decline in the number of fulltime jobs available to 15-19 year-olds; and increasing education participation rates among 15- 24 year-olds. In this environment policy makers have used the pathways concept in pursuing two major objectives: (1) to strengthen or even create pathways that connect schooling and work for the majority of young people who neither enter university nor obtain an apprenticeship after leaving school; and, (2) to help young people navigate their way through the increasingly complex array of education and training options that are now available. Australia has not been alone in engaging in “pathways engineering” during the 1990s. As the recent OECD comparative review of education-to-work transitions in 14 countries reported, most countries have been attempting to make the pathways by which young people move from school to work more attractive, open and flexible, and to provide more opportunities to combine vocational learning with general education (OECD, 1999). A common motivation in these policy initiatives has been the desire to better prepare young people for an increasingly uncertain economic and social future. The pace of change is so rapid that individuals need to acquire new skills and knowledge throughout their adult lives to maintain their employability and capacity to engage effectively in society – in other words, to be active lifelong learners. There is a growing recognition that a successful transition to work depends on having a sound foundation for further learning, as well as having skills that the labour market requires now. Although many of the pathways policy initiatives adopted by OECD countries during the 1990s share similar rationales and objectives, the particular forms they have taken in each country have been greatly influenced by existing education and labour market structures and approaches to policy making. This paper attempts to provide an overview of the main features of education and training pathways in Australia and the policy challenges they give rise to.