Category Archives: Employment and work

The persistence of health and education students

I recently received some new data on completion and attrition rates by ATAR, a surprisingly under-examined topic in Australian higher education. My Mapping Australian higher education publication summarises research suggesting a weak relationship between ATAR and average marks. However, data on 2005 commencing students shows a quite strong relationship beween ATAR and completion – the higher the ATAR, the higher the chance of completion. The whole cohort data is in this article.

We also have the data by field of education. Most disciplines have the same general pattern. But two, health and education, have higher persistence at lower ATARs, as can be seen below.

health ed atar completion
Source: DIICCSRTE

The same two broad fields of study also have graduates with high rates of retention in jobs related to their field of study, as seen in the chart below.

Degree job relevance

I’m inclined to think that the main reason is that people who choose these degrees have a relatively high degree of commitment to the end occupation from day one. A colleague notes that this may in part be because students in these fields don’t necessarily have many attractive alternatives. For people with lowish ATARs who don’t want to do voc ed, teaching and nursing have been paths to relatively secure and reasonably paid careers.

How well do agriculture graduates do?

A reader of my article on science graduates surplus to labour market requirements took exception to a figure showing poor job relevance of agriculture degrees. He points out (correctly) that this ABS category is ‘Agriculture, Environmental and Related Studies’, and argues that the poor outcomes are due to the environmental rather than agricultural element.

Unfortunately, the survey I was using in the figure does not report at sub-field level. However, the census does and we can see that although environmental studies is the biggest sub-field (the numbers in brackets) the more traditional agricultural areas don’t do especially well in leading to professional or managerial employment, the occupations the ABS deems to require bachelor-degree level skills.

agriculture
Note: Only includes people reporting a bachelor degree as their highest qualification. Those not working and those currently studying have been excluded.

On a quick glance there looked to be unusually large numbers in jobs classified by the ABS as ‘technicians and tradespersons’. Adding them in takes most disciplines up to 70-76% employment.

The numbers for recent agriculture graduates may be compromised by the inclusion of environmental graduates (they use a different disciplinary classification to the ABS; I am not sure what is included in agriculture). But their employment rates are slightly below average.

I am aware that employers in the agricultural sector report recruiting difficulties. But overall these figures suggest that agriculture is a relatively high employment risk course choice.

Why don’t female graduates work full-time?

On my Facebook page, there has been a bit of debate about my article in this morning’s Age. My basic point was that women with bachelor degrees are less likely to work full-time than men, and that this inevitably has consequences for what proportion of senior jobs go to women. These jobs are typically more than full-time, and usually go to people with a lot of experience.

Obviously childcare is a big part of the story. As the figure below shows (all data from the 2011 census), the more kids women have the less likely they are to work full-time during the years when children need care.

But the figure also shows that childless women are less likely than men to work full-time. And it shows that while full-time labour force participation increases as children grow up, women in their fifties lose interest in work regardless of how many kids they have had in the past.

Rates of full-time work, bachelor degree holders 2011


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Is law the new arts?

I often hear it said that “law is the new arts” – a generalist degree more than a pathway to the legal profession. The release of new census data today lets us examine this issue. Certainly Australia’s universities seem to be churning out lots of law graduates. According to the census, in August 2011 73,700 Australians had bachelor-level legal qualifications as their highest qualification. That’s up by nearly a quarter on August 2006 (59,500).

We might expect that this would overwhelm the legal profession. But it is managing to absorb a large number of law graduates. The figure below shows that for male graduates the share working as legal professionals (mainly solicitors, barristers and judges) is down a bit on 2006, but still more than half by their late twenties.

Male law graduates working as legal professionals

Young women are similar to their male contemporaries, suggesting that the labour force is absorbing most graduates, though at a slightly lower rate than in 2006. But by the second half of their thirties, the proportion working as lawyers drops below half. I have not yet examined what else they are doing in any detail. But a quick look at overall rates of graduate workforce participation shows the same pattern as the 2006 census: even for childless female graduates full-time workforce participation declines in their thirties.

Female law graduates working as legal professionals

Certainly 2006 compared to 2011 shows that a lower proportion of law graduates are working as lawyers in 2011. And there is no doubt that law graduates are found in many different jobs (I have a LLB gathering dust in my spare room). But as there is still a clearly dominant occupational outcome for law graduates, it is not yet the “new arts”.

Where do journalism graduates work?

The Higher Education Supplement this morning has a series of articles on journalism degrees. I did send some 2006 census statistics in, but they don’t seem to have made it to print.

The good news is that back then there were reasonably good rates of employment in professional and managerial jobs, 74% of bachelor graduates and 83% of masters or above graduates. However, only a minority of them were working as journalists, as seen in the figure below. Around 9 percentage points more were in related occupations such as PR or advertising (and there could be more working in the media industry, but in other roles).

I had a quick look at the broad fields of study of people working as journalists. A caveat here is that the census asks about the main field of study in the respondent’s highest qualification. Many people taking a postgraduate journalism qualification are likely to have a bachelor degree in some other field. With that caveat, the broad “creative arts” category that includes journalism courses is the field of study of nearly half of journalists, with “society and culture” (essentially humanities and social sciences, but also law and economics) providing more than a quarter of journalists with their education.

Bachelor degrees the science employment risk

The Higher Education Supplement this morning ran an op-ed version of my critique of Ian Chubb’s promotion of science courses. About 60 words were cut from the original. Editors often have to shrink articles to the available space, but in this case an important source was omitted. The employment outcomes in the last few paragraphs are from the 2006 census, not the Beyond Graduation survey as the op-ed appears to say. An amended version of the op-ed is under the fold.

Those paragraphs were the only part of the article that I had not reported before. In the past, I have said that science graduates as a whole have about average rates of graduate employment in professional and managerial jobs. However, closer analysis tells a more interesting story. People with postgraduate science qualifications have above rates of professional and managerial employment. But people with bachelor-level qualifications have lower rates of such employment – males 5 percentage points below the male average, and women a massive 13 percentage points below the female average. That’s a pretty bad outcome, and one worth further investigation when the 2011 census is released later this year.

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The employment numbers for maths

In this morning’s Higher Education Supplement, Chief Scientist Ian Chubb was given prominent coverage for his marketing of maths courses (it was based on this speech). The HES reported:

“Unfortunately for Australia – though perhaps fortunately for you – demand in Australia for maths graduates has outstripped supply,” the professor told the gathering at the University of NSW.

It meant that every one of the 100 or so mostly honours students in the crowd should be able to get a good job on graduation.

But as I have pointed out before, there is reason to be sceptical about these claims. While not poor, work outcomes for male bachelor degree holders who majored in maths are nothing special.

And the Graduate Destination Survey, which investigates employment outcomes for recent bachelor degree graduates, finds in most years their full-time employment rate (as a % of those seeking FT employment) is below the average for all graduates.

I haven’t investigated outcomes for people with postgraduate maths qualifications. I expect that they might be better. But for undergraduates, a maths major is no guarantee of easily finding a good job.

The HECS-HELP handout nobody is taking

Back in 2007, I thought that Labor’s election promise to introduce HECS remissions for people entering specified occupations might have something going for it, at least compared to other mechanisms for steering labour market preferences via higher education funding.

It’s not paid unless the graduate actually enters the desired occupation, and provides near-term financial relief, which is more attractive than cuts to student contributions – which effectively mean that someone entering first year will typically gain financially in 8 to 12 years time (when they finish repaying earlier than they would have otherwise). (The ATO site on the scheme is here.)

However a report in The Australian this morning shows that only 405 people applied for the benefit for 2009-10, and only 232 were approved.

This is consistent with some analysis of graduate occupational choices by Graduate Careers Australia, done at my request comparing the first year of the program (2009) with the year before. Statistically, the two years were identical in the proportion of graduates entering the occupations being favoured by the government. I did not publish the data at the time because GCA argued that the scheme was new and that 2009 was a bad year for graduate employment, so more people could have tried to enter those occupations but failed (though if there are no jobs anyway, a policy aimed at increasing demand for non-existent jobs is not necessary).

The 2010 data should be examined, but the very small numbers claiming the benefit suggests that this scheme is so unsuccesful that the government can’t even give money away (far more than 232 would have been able to claim just for pursuing the career they were going to pursue anyway).

Perhaps this policy escaped the last couple of rounds of higher education cuts because its failure meant its costs were much lower than anticipated. But as the government is imposing cuts on the public service, getting rid of a complex and bureaucratic policy that is not obviously achieving anything would make sense.

Do you want to work in a think tank?

At Grattan, there are a couple of early career research jobs available. Research associates usually rotate through the different Grattan programs (higher ed, school ed, energy, cities and productivity).

At CIS, there is a more senior job for an economist.