Pathways for the Future Program

The Pathways for the Future Operational Data Asset is a nation-first linked dataset that brings together de-identified demographic, education and employment data from NSW and Australian Government agencies as well as private sector educational and training providers. The Operational Data Asset provides a comprehensive understanding of how young people move through education and into work.

Our aims

Young people in NSW are facing an increasingly complex and dynamic labour market. The quality and security of many entry-level roles has declined, and it takes graduates longer to enter full-time work. The Pathways Program aims to improve the effectiveness of the education and training system to better prepare our students as lifelong learners and equip them with the knowledge and skills for meaningful work.

The Pathways Pilot Program

In 2017, the NSW Department of Industry led the Pathways Pilot Program to better understand young people’s education-to-work pathways, drive improvements to education and work outcomes, and lift overall system performance. The pilot was a pioneering project that linked data on young people in NSW aged 15 to 24 from 1996 to 2016. The data is de-identified and aggregated, and individual students and learners cannot be identified.

Using this data, we analysed different student and learner groups, mapped their pathways through senior secondary school, tertiary education and into work at age 24, and explored the drivers of positive employment outcomes.

The findings from the Pathways Pilot Program will start to be made available to the public from late 2021.

The Expanded Operational Data Asset

We are now working on a new program of work that expands upon the Pathways Pilot Program. We plan to fill gaps in the data and to extend the age range to better understand students’ lifelong learning journeys through education and work. The dataset will also be refreshed regularly, ensuring the data remains up to date.

How the data will be used and the public benefits of the program

The program will provide unique insights into education, training and employment outcomes and actual end-to-end pathways. This will form a comprehensive evidence base for the NSW Department of Education to improve the education system and enhance program offerings. NSW students and learners will be provided with valuable information about the outcomes of different pathways and the study choices that may impact these outcomes. This will help them make better-informed choices about their education and careers.

The Operational Data Asset will provide a comprehensive evidence base for improving, shaping and evaluating government policies and programs, as well as operating the education system. The data can be used to:

  • identify the barriers and drivers of effective education and employment outcomes
  • support students and learners to make better-informed decisions about their studies and careers
  • evaluate the effectiveness of government policies and programs
  • shape policy development and targeted interventions for students who may be experiencing additional barriers to education and employment.

All outputs will be aggregated and no individuals will be identified in the analyses or outputs. Refer to Protecting personal privacy and the lawful use of the data below for more information.

What type of data is included in the Operational Data Asset?

The Pathways Program uses demographic, education and employment data from NSW and Australian Government agencies as well as private sector educational and training providers.

The Operational Data Asset will include de-identified data on people who attended secondary school, and people who undertook a vocational education and training (VET) qualification, an apprenticeship, traineeship or higher education qualification in NSW.

The Operational Data Asset includes the following data:

  • School data: data collected by the NSW Department of Education, NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) and Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) including on enrolments, attendance, NAPLAN, Higher School Certificate, VET delivered to secondary students, school staffing profiles and demographic features, including disability adjustments and characteristics of students’ parents and carers.
  • VET data: government-funded VET, apprenticeships and traineeships, TAFE NSW data, and data from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) Student Outcomes Survey.
  • Higher education data: University Admissions Centre (UAC) data on university preferences and offers, and ATAR.
  • Employment data: Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data on income, employment, support payments and demographic features, including data from the census, the Australian Tax Office, Services Australia, the Australian Government Department of Social Services and Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

The data will focus on students and learners aged between 11 and 67 to capture the lifelong learning and end-to-end pathways undertaken within NSW from 1996 to 2020.

How data is stored and security is ensured

Data from the sources above contains personal information for the relevant individuals. This data will be linked for each individual to capture the information needed for the Operational Data Asset and then de-identified by the Centre for Health Records Linkage (CHeReL) and the ABS. The de-identified, linked data will be stored securely in the ABS DataLab environment. The ABS DataLab is a secure, virtual data environment hosted by the ABS, with access provided only to authorised analysts who have undertaken training to safely handle the data. All outputs are further checked by ABS to ensure individuals are appropriately de-identified before they are released.

Only aggregated and de-identified data will be used by the program to provide insights. This means that your personal data (such as your name, date of birth and address) and your own journey through education and work will not be visible at the individual level in anything published by the program. Similar groups will be combined together to minimise the risk of reidentification and only high-level statistics will be published. For example, a report may show that x% of NSW university students who studied nursing went on to become nurses.

Who can access the data?

Authorised analysts for the program will have access to the de-identified data in the ABS DataLab to undertake permitted research. These analysts and their projects must comply with relevant legislative requirements, confidentiality undertakings and any conditions attached to the specific data being accessed, and any relevant departmental policies. In some cases, additional ethics approval may be required.

Protecting personal privacy and the lawful use of the data

The NSW Department of Education and its partners are committed to meeting all legal, privacy, ethical and data security requirements. All program partners are committed to upholding the privacy, confidentiality and security of the personal information they collect and provide to the program in accordance with the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 (NSW) (PPIPA), Health Records and Information Privacy Act 2002 (NSW) (HRIPA) and other relevant legislation.

In order to comply with this legislation, the program has obtained ethics approval consistent with the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Research Involving Humans from a Human Research Ethics Committee. Under section 27B of the PPIPA and clause 11 of Schedule 1 of the HRIPA, the department is permitted to depart from certain requirements to obtain consent of individuals under this legislation relating to collection, use and disclosure of personal information.

In addition to legislative protections, and as a requirement for ethics approval, the program's internal practices, governance, methodologies and technology are specifically designed to maintain the confidentiality and security of the data. This includes undertaking privacy impact assessments (PIAs) to identify and mitigate the risks and impacts to personal privacy of each stage of work.

As set out above, the process for creating the Operational Data Asset requires that all personal information (such as names and dates of birth) is removed from the data and de-identified information is stored in a secure research environment at the ABS. Only aggregate, anonymous information will be released publicly. For example, the findings published may highlight the proportion of young people that undertake an apprenticeship or traineeship in NSW and their employment outcomes, but will not show any information on individual students.

How to withdraw your data from the program

Once the linking of data is completed, the Operational Data Asset will only include de-identified data and will not reveal your personal information. All outputs are aggregated to minimise the risk of reidentification. Your personal information will be used and disclosed to our program partners for linkage purposes during the creation of the Operational Data Asset as described above. This will be done securely by CHeReL and the ABS, and your personal information will be kept separate from the rest of the data.

The Operational Data Asset will provide more accurate insights to help the department make better decisions in supporting students and learners through their lifelong learning journey. Individuals whose information is in the Operational Data Asset will not be identified in any publications or outputs.

It is not possible to identify and remove your data if it has already been linked and de-identified as part of the Pathways Pilot Program, which also ran a withdrawal process. This includes data from 1996 to 2016. Find more information about the Pathways Pilot Program

However, you can have your data removed from any new datasets being added from the 2017 to 2020 data refresh and new datasets from 1996 to 2016.

If you wish to have your data removed before it is linked to create the Operational Data Asset, please complete this short online form by 30 October 2021. After this date, your data will be linked and de-identified as part of the Operational Data Asset and the department will be unable to process further requests to remove individual records.

Contact us

If you have any questions about the Pathways Program, you can contact the team at

More information in relation to the department's management of privacy can also be found on the Privacy information and forms page.

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