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You are reading: A whole-community approach to career and education pathways information for rural people

In 2019, the NCSEHE commissioned four large-scale projects to improve access to information about higher education study options, pathways, and careers for disadvantaged students and those who influence them.

With a particular focus on low socioeconomic status (SES), regional and remote, and Indigenous students, the projects were conducted under the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment National Priorities Pool (NPP) program.

In this article, Professor Sue Kilpatrick and the research team provide an overview of project outcomes and findings from Informing key influencers of low SES regional, rural and remote students’ education and career pathway choices: A whole of community approach.

Education and career pathway decision making in rural, regional and remote (RRR) areas is crucial for building strong RRR societies and economies. Career advice services for rural adults are scarce, and rural schools alone are not well equipped to create locally relevant programs that facilitate, promote and enable students to actively understand, negotiate and be supported in their choices. Most careers advice and pathway decision research has focused on students themselves, yet research also shows that community stakeholders, including parents, families, employers, and other community members, can be key influencers of the education and career pathway choices of young people and adults.

Rather than targeting students in their education and career pathway decision making, this project developed and piloted a model of working alongside communities more broadly, to build community capacity to support education and career pathway decisions. The research addressed the question: How can a whole of community approach best equip key influencers to inform and support RRR student tertiary education participation?

Community working parties were established in three rural communities that were service centres for between 6,000 and 38,000 people. Working parties of local government, school, local industry, parent and community organisation representatives were supported by external researchers and each community was resourced with a part-time locally-based pathway broker. The pathway brokers were familiar with the local community context and were responsible for coordinating the project within their community. Each community was also resourced with a small budget for interventions to purchase training, develop resources and/or put on events.

Together, working parties and researchers:

  • considered community geographic, demographic, social and economic contexts and identified knowledge gaps among community key influencers of pathway decisions
  • selected, modified and implemented interventions proven to be effective in building knowledge and confidence of key influencers in supporting education and career pathway decisions of others
  • evaluated those interventions.

Project outcomes

Each working party identified that parents and families were not aware of the range of jobs available locally and education pathways to those jobs. All three selected an information intervention for parents and families.

  • The pathway brokers—some working party members and other interested people—worked together to arrange events in the three communities, including:
    • Community 1: A series of weekly information and discussion sessions on post-school education pathways.
    • Community 2: A Facebook page and a live panel with Q and A session, including local people working in a range of local industries — the recording was made available for later viewing.
    • Community 3: An evening face-to-face careers and education session for families and community, supplemented by rolling clips of local people talking about their jobs, as well as the pathways to their careers.
  • In one community with both high adult unemployment and high job vacancies, the pathway broker provided Learning First Aid Training to staff and volunteers in libraries, neighbourhood houses and online access centres in its region. Pamphlets, brochures and course guides, and digital display content from university and TAFE were placed in these community facilities.
  • In another community where specialist jobs in aquaculture, food production and health were seen to be hidden from the view of community members, an education not-for-profit organisation was contracted to modify an industry-based awareness program designed for school students and deliver it to families, teachers and other interested adults.

Each intervention was evaluated, and all were found to increase key influencer knowledge of—and confidence in—discussing career and education pathway options with students and potential adult students.

Project evaluation found the community-based approach was effective in embedding sustainable, place-based career and education information and support resources in rural communities.

Drawing on committed community members was important, and was enhanced by having a dedicated pathway broker resource. This was complemented by researcher networks to external resources. Involving local government and industry as well as schools was crucial to selecting appropriate interventions and getting community buy-in.

Sue Kilpatrick, Sarah Fischer, Jessica Woodroffe, Nicoli Barnes & Robin Katersky Barnes, University of Tasmania

The final report will be published by the NCSEHE in 2022.