VCE students fly high doing practical VET classes – The Age

Originally published in The Age (print and online February 22 2016)

Tomorrow’s accountants, engineers, architects and scientists are undertaking practical VET courses during VCE to give them industry-ready skills.

Minutes before he brings the plane in to land, 16-year-old Oscar Carveth hears the tell-tale drone of another aircraft in the sky – a 747 from Thailand. It’s less than 1,500 feet away, bound for Melbourne airport; Oscar in his smaller plane is headed for Essendon.

“It’s like swimming next to a blue whale,” he says.

These days, Oscar is used to being a small fish in a much bigger pond. The year 12 student at Elwood College has been flying planes almost every weekend for the past year, clocking up hours for his recreational pilot’s license. He’s part of a small group of students taking the subject VET Aviation during their VCE. Now in its second year in Victoria, the subject will give Oscar enough flight time to also sit his private pilot’s license – and hopefully move into further  aviation studies at university.

“Having a private pilot’s license before university is a really big bonus,” Oscar says.

While VET certificates have traditionally been the realm of VCAL students and those looking to head into trades or tafes, a number of VCE students are now taking VET to gain an “edge” at university. The vocational training courses lead to nationally recognised qualifications, can be scored towards a student’s ATAR and offer specific skills not commonly taught in classrooms.

Students may choose practical VET subjects in areas that dovetail with a future career in architecture, engineering, acting, law, veterinary science, accounting and, like Oscar Carveth, aviation.

According to a VCAA spokesperson, the popularity of VET subjects is on the rise – up by more than 3,000 extra student enrolments in 2015 compared to 2011. While a lot of new enrolments were from VCAL students, last year, of the 51,603 students taking VET across the state, 31,974 were studying VCE.

“Where a VET study is in an industry relating directly to a tertiary course, it will clearly provide practical skills,” the VCAA spokesperson says.

More VET enrolments have also allowed schools to offer courses in more fields of interest such as arts, health and science. At Sunbury Downs College, teacher Natalie Gates says without VET many of her students wouldn’t be in school at all.

“Usually at 16, our students just drop out,” Gates says. “VET gives them something to walk away with, a qualification, and for our VCE students, there’s a recognition of their hard work in their ATAR.”

This year, an increasing number of her VET Business students have high ambitions – from accounting to management.

“They’re writing business documents and thinking in real life scenarios, not just learning the theory,” Gates says. “Right now, we’re trying to involve local businesses to open up employment opportunities.”

Government subsidies offered for VET courses also help bring them into closer reach of students. Costs can range from $500 a year for a subject such as Equine Studies to $15,000 for two years studying Aviation.

“The price of flying is always going to be high but through VET it’s a lot cheaper,” Oscar says. “I was crossing my fingers last year, hoping that would be the year they bring in Aviation, and I got lucky.”

Meg Dunn

meg vet

Meg Dunn made her stage debut at just four years old – in fairy wings and facing the wrong way.

“I played Peaseblossom the fairy in Midsummer Night’s Dream, I had one line and I was awful,” she says. “I couldn’t remember which way to turn so I had my back to the audience the whole time.”

Now more than a decade on, the year 12 student at Rowville Secondary College is well on her way to forging a career as an actor. Along with her VCE studies, Meg is studying VET Certificate III in Screen Acting, having already completed a Certificate II in 2015. She has also signed on with an agent and is now regularly attending professional auditions.

“I went into VET thinking it was just another drama class,” Meg says. “But the first audition I did, they asked me to do a chat to camera and without VET I would have had no idea what that meant. The things I learnt in class helped me find a credible agent, it helped me put together a show reel.”

Each week, students perform a filmed scene for feedback, either working alone or with their fellow actors. Having grown up on stage with her father’s theatre company, Nuworks, Meg admits it took her a while to adjust to screen.

“I hate watching my scenes back,” she says. “I over-use my face way too much.”

At the end of the year, Meg plans to audition for Australia’s three main drama schools – NIDA, WAAPA and VCA as well as RADA in the UK.

“It’s the only thing I’ve only ever wanted to do,” she says. “But it’s about resilience too, you have to have a thick skin.”

Fortunately, Meg says she’s already encountered some of her harshest critics working part time entertaining children’s parties as a Disney princess.

“It’s constant improvisation because you never know what the kids are going to throw at you,” she says. “The other day this little girl came right up to my ear and whispered ‘You’re not the real Elsa!’ I was mortified!”

Certificate II & III in acting (screen)

Subsidised cost to parents (two years): $2200

Provider: Australian College of Dramatic Arts, Boronia.

Hamish Webber

hamish vet

Hamish Webber has always been good with his hands. As a kid, he would build Lego cities. As a teenager, he began fixing things around the house, repairing bikes for cycling races. And, now in his final year of high school at Camberwell Grammar, Hamish is building houses.

“I can look at something and know how to fix it,” he says. “My brain just kind of works that way.”

This year, Hamish is completing his Certificate II in VET Building and Construction (Carpentry) through the Box Hill Institute. He plans to study architecture at university.

“Having knowledge of the building trade really helps because it give you a step over most people,” he says. “You know what you’re talking about, you’ve been in the situation.”

While Hamish is already familiar with architectural drawings from studying Visual Communication at school, he says nothing can beat building off blueprints. Twice a year, his VET class come together on their school holidays to spend time on a construction site, tackling large scale projects too big for class.

“Marking a house out with string from the plans, you see how it all works,” Hamish says. “It can be overwhelming at first because you’ve got all these measurements and symbols. It’s almost like another language to learn.”

Hamish, who also bike races at state and national level, had no idea what VET could do for his university ambitions until a school information evening.

“I always thought you go to school and you may drop out at year 10 and do an apprenticeship or tafe,” he says. “I didn’t realise you could do both on top of each other.”

Now off campus once a week, he’s enjoying the practical nature of the course.

“Tafe is a different environment to school,” Hamish says. “It’s more hands on and they trust you to do what you’re doing, they don’t spoon-feed you anything. It’s a nice taste of what tertiary study is like.”

Certificate II in building & construction (carpentry) pre-apprenticeship (partial completion)

Cost (two years): From $770 to $2900 depending on school and government subsidies

Provider: Box Hill Institute

Ellie McLean

ellie vet

Year 12 student Ellie McLean has a tough choice ahead of her when she graduates in December – not between which university to attend or which course to study but which horse to bring with her from her family farm in Kilmore.

“I have four horses,” she says. “I want to study veterinary at Wagga Wagga and they have stables there but I can’t take them all.”

The Assumption College student has just completed her second year of VET Equine Studies, hoping to one day work on large animals as a veterinarian.

“You know that stage where most kids want to be a vet and then they grow out of it? I just never grew out of it,” Ellie says.

The 17-year-old has been hand-rearing lambs since before she could see over their shoulders. For Ellie, a typical school day begins at 5 am to the demanding chorus of hungry animals.

Last year, she completed her Certificate II in Equine Studies online through GOTAFE, learning everything from medicine and disease to breeding and anatomy. Teachers and students also attended residential camps together, where the work became more hands on. But Ellie already had plenty of opportunity to test out her knowledge at home.

“I’ve tried to put a lot of it into practice on the farm,” she says. “So if I was learning bandaging, I’d bring in one of the horses and put different bandages on each leg and really see how it moves.”

Ellie has also undertaken two extended work placements at breeding studs – including two weeks at the prestigious Darley stables in Seymour.

“That really opened my eyes to what it’s like,” Ellie says. “By the second day, I had my own horses to look after. I was lucky – they were short-staffed when I was there and we had a few medical cases I got to look at.”

In December, Ellie received an outstanding score in Equine Studies, something she says will now not only contribute favourably to her ATAR but help her at university.

“It’s definitely given me an edge,” she says. “The Wagga course is extremely competitive but I’ve worked at Darley and I’ve done this course so that’s a great foundation for first year university.”

VET certificate II in equine studies

Subsidised cost to parents (two years): $1000.

Provider: GOTAFE (online)


Oscar Carveth

oscar vet

Oscar Carveth was ten when he realised he wanted to be a pilot. Born in London, he was starting the first big adventure of his life, shifting from the UK to Melbourne with his family.

“I’d always been fascinated by flying, we lived near an airbase and my grandpa used to design aircraft,” he says. “But when we flew over here I guess being on a plane kind of re-sparked that and became ‘I want to do this’.”

Within a month of starting VET Aviation in 2015, Oscar was flying planes – booking weekend flights through the Tristar flight school at Moorabbin airport.

“The first time was really scary,” he admits. “People often ask ‘how do they teach people to fly a plane?’ Well the answer is they literally put you in a plane and put you in the sky.”

Now in his second year of the course, with enough hours under his belt for a recreational pilot’s license, Oscar says there’s no more fear in the cockpit.

“These days, I’m landing planes, taking off, practicing engine failures,” he says. “My mum always says ‘tell me what you did when you’re safe on the ground again’.”

But on the ground there’s even more work to cover: “folders upon folders” to learn, medicals to pass, papers to sign.

“It doesn’t distract me from my other subjects but you find you prioritise it,” Oscar says. “Even if you’ve got a tonne of homework to do on a Saturday, you’re not going to put anything in front of flight.”

Fortunately, Oscar has found his time in the air helpful in his other VCE studies, in particular Maths Methods and Physics.

“You’ll be sitting in class and it’ll all come together,” he says. “When you’re in the plane and they say ‘increase the throttle’, suddenly you can see the physics working.”

VET certificate IV in aviation (partial completion)

Total cost (two years): $15,000, not including CASA medical and extra flights

Provider: Tristar Aviation

By Sherryn Groch
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