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Is a lack of qualifications holding women back?


Many women risk falling behind in their careers because of a lack of qualifications, according to recent research by Get Qualified Australia (GQA).

The study showed that a huge majority of women believe that a qualification is important for career progression, but only 29% are looking to seek one, GQA managing director Adam Wadi says. Further, of the women interviewed, 71% aren’t looking to seek a formal qualification in 2016 despite 59% potentially being eligible for one through Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL).

However he stresses that the research doesn’t reveal whether women’s personal domestic lives are a hurdle to attaining qualifications.

“It is hard to determine this from this particular study, however it could definitely be a possibility,” Wadi says. “The cost, time and effort associated with achieving a qualification has come up as a reoccurring barrier to qualification-attainment in other research we’ve done.

“Having other commitments, such as family-related matters, may definitely have an impact on the amount of time one has to study, especially if trying to balance that with work commitments.  It might also be the case that while they feel that qualifications are important to career progression, they might not necessarily consider it essential in their case, especially if they are self-employed.”

However, a clue to the low rate might be found in the 71% of women in the study who said they would find attaining a national qualification in their industry via recognition of existing skills and experience more beneficial than online/classroom study.

“The majority of women (59%) have been working in their current industry for 5+ years, making them highly eligible candidates for gaining qualifications through RPL, for which the minimum experience required is generally 3-5 years),” Wadi says.

“These industries include education and training, administration, community services, development, healthcare or medical, hospitality or tourism, and retail or consumer products. While this is lower than the 70% for males who have 5 or more years of experience in their current professions, it is still a high percentage.”

Wadi points out that childbirth is a factor in women continuing a career path, and can also affect their ability to draw on RPL.

“According to the ABS, in 2011, 68% of women had a job during their pregnancy, with only 53% returning to the workforce following the birth of their child, and 41% not returning to care for their child,” he says.

“The average age of their child upon returning to work was 28 weeks, which means they were away from the workforce for over two years. This is in comparison to their partners who, in 70% of cases, return to work within two weeks.

“Further to this, 86% of those returning to work after child birth utilised flexible working arrangements, including part-time work (65%), flexible work hours (35%), and working from home (26%). This is again in comparison to their partners who in only 19% of cases, accessed flexible working arrangement.”

Wadi says that these changes in women’s work patterns — if they return to work at all — can greatly impact the career direction of women to a much greater degree than men.

“This is especially the case if they’ve resumed employment in a different career or industry following the change, affecting the amount of current and recent industry experience they have,” he says.

“This is not to say that it affects all women, and changes it so profoundly, but that it may be one contributor to the lower percentage of women who have over 5+ years of current industry experience.”

However, the research happily showed that women are generally satisfied with their current jobs, with 69% claiming to be either satisfied or very satisfied. Of these, 44% of are employed full-time and 39% part-time – a significant statistical deviation from the 71% full-time and 20% part-time divide for men.

Wadi says that while results of previous studies have indicated that there is little difference in job satisfaction between full-time and part-time employees, others have suggested that the job security that comes with full-time work may have an impact on job satisfaction.

“What our results did show, however, is that where dissatisfaction was expressed, this was the result of bad management, low pay or minimal opportunities for job advancement and progression, not enough working hours, negative work environment, and bullying,” he says.

“This is in comparison to the male responses of boredom, low pay, unsuitability to job or industry, negative environment and too many working hours.  Whether these are linked to part-time or full-time work, however, our results cannot conclude.”

From what can be deduced, a large number of women are self-employed; so in this instance, they might not feel the need to seek a formal qualification, Wadi says.

“A qualification is often sought to polish one’s CV, increase employment opportunities, or achieve a promotion or pay rise. Being their own boss, they would not be motivated by these factors, and therefore be less likely to seek a qualification, even if it can reward and formally recognise their hard-earned skills and experience.”

However he pointed out that in 2015, the ABS found that 76% of people who had a Certificate III to Advanced Diploma level qualification were employed vs 66% with no post-year 12 level qualifications. It was also found that 42% achieved a promotion, pay rise or additional responsibilities once attaining a qualification, while 32% acquired a new or different job.

“Skills recognition & RPL was introduced by the government in the early 1990s, so attaining a nationally recognised qualification via the recognition of existing skills and experience has been around for over 20 years,” Wadi says.

“The issue is that this isn’t being promoted so people don’t know about it. If it was, then more women would be inclined to achieve a qualification. It would limit the barriers of cost, time and effort that many people experience when considering a qualification, and make a qualification more attainable and desirable.”

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