Pathways for the Future Program

The Pathways for the Future Program aims to create a comprehensive evidence base for the department to improve the education and training system to better prepare our students as lifelong learners and equip them with the knowledge, skills and attributes for meaningful work and life.

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 declined1, and it takes graduates longer to enter full-time work2. The department is responsible for preparing young people for rewarding lives as engaged citizens by regulating and supporting the early childhood education and care sector, delivering high-quality public education, and supporting the delivery of a skilled and employable workforce through vocational education, training and higher education.

The Pathways Program supports these objectives by providing unique insights into education, training and employment outcomes and the different pathways from education to work. The program aims to link the journeys of our students to enable more successful transitions between learning stages and education outcomes.

The Pathways Pilot Project

In 2017, the NSW Department of Industry led the Pathways for the Future Pilot Project 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 insights from the Pathways Pilot Project have already been used to help shape the Educational Pathways Pilot Project, which includes a range of initiatives to improve careers education for students.

The findings from the Pathways Pilot Project are starting to be made available to the public:

  • The summary report is now available. This report provides an overview of work undertaken by the Pilot Project, which identified the most common pathways from education to work and circumstances that influence employment and earning outcomes.
  • An interactive data visualisation tool is currently being developed to accompany the Summary Report, which will help users further explore the findings from the Pilot Project.

The new program of work

We are now working on a new program of work that expands upon the Pathways Pilot Project. 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 Pathways Program will provide a comprehensive evidence base for the department to improve the education system. Insights from the program 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 by providing valuable information about the outcomes of different pathways and the study choices that may impact these outcomes.
  • 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 work undertaken with the data will be done under strict governance and will comply with relevant legislation. Subject-matter experts will be engaged to ensure that the insights from the program are accurate and provide benefits to NSW students and learners.

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 being used for the Pathways Program?

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

To understand the different pathways from education to work, the program includes data on people who attended secondary school, undertook a vocational education and training (VET) qualification, an apprenticeship, traineeship or higher education qualification in NSW. This includes:

  • 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 program and then personal information is removed (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. The ABS DataLab is a secure, virtual data environment hosted by the ABS, with access provided only to authorised researchers. Researchers will only have access to de-identified data and must have undertaken training to safely handle the data. All outputs are further checked by ABS and are aggregated (grouped) to ensure individuals cannot be re-identified.

Your personal data (such as your name, date of birth and address) will only be used during the linkage process and will not be contained in the dataset, so your own journey through education and work will not be visible. In fact, all data outputs and insights will be combined with similar groups so that re-identification is not possible. 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?

Only authorised researchers for the program will have access to the de-identified data in the ABS DataLab.

In order to be authorised, researchers must be approved through the program’s governance processes and meet ABS safe people criteria. They must:

  • only use the data for an appropriate purpose, with a valid research aim and public benefit
  • undertake ABS training in confidentiality and the conditions of data use
  • sign a legally binding undertaking to maintain data confidentiality
  • comply with all conditions attached to specific data being accessed
  • comply with all relevant departmental policies and legal requirements
  • in some cases, secure additional ethics approval.

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 linking the data 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 Pathways dataset will only include de-identified data and will not reveal your personal information. All outputs are aggregated to minimise the risk of re-identification. Your personal information will be used and disclosed to our program partners for linkage purposes only during the creation of the Pathways dataset 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 Pathways Program 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 dataset 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 Project (including data from 1996 to 2016), or as part of the 2017 to 2020 data refresh. The withdrawal period for the last refresh ran from 24 September to 7 February 2022, and the department is no longer able to remove individual records because the data has been de-identified.

The online form to withdraw your data will open again before the next refresh, which is currently planned for the second half of 2022. If you have previously asked to have your data withdrawn from the Pathways dataset, your data will also be removed from the next refresh, so you do not need to complete this form again.

Frequently asked questions

The program will provide unique insights into NSW student’s education, training and employment outcomes and actual end-to-end pathways from education to work. This will form a comprehensive evidence base for the NSW Department of Education to provide better guidance to students on the outcomes of different study choices, improve the education system and enhance program offerings for our students and learners.

NSW students and learners will be provided with valuable information about the outcomes of different education to employment pathways and the study choices that may impact these outcomes. This will help them make better-informed choices about their education and careers.

The data from the Pathways for the Future Pilot Project has already been used internally to inform and evaluate several departmental programs including the Educational Pathways Pilot Program.

Insights from the Pathways for the Future Pilot Project are being released from late 2021, including the Summary Report, which is now available.

The Pathways Program will provide an evidence base to improve our understanding of the education-to-work pathways of NSW students.

Program researchers will use the data to help improve the education system as a whole. Areas for investigation include to:

  • Better understand possible education-to-work journeys based on different cohorts and regions.
  • Understand the pathways to positive employment outcomes.
  • Understand the different challenges faced by students including barriers to education and work, and where students may need additional support.
  • Highlight areas of success that can provide guidance and insights to help improve the system.
  • Evaluate how well existing policies and programs are improving outcomes for students, and inform policy improvement.
  • Provide students with better career guidance to suit their aspirations and needs.
  • Use evidence-informed practice and standards to impact positively on priority areas.
  • Understand issues such as skills shortages with a view to helping to overcome them.

Individuals will not be identified in any program outputs. Personal information is removed from the Pathways dataset during the linkage process prior to any analysis being undertaken.

The NSW Department of Education is not only responsible for schools but also for tertiary education, including vocational education, training and university. Currently, education data is disconnected, which limits the department’s understanding of how students transition between different learning stages and how they successfully transition into further education and employment.

Other data sources, such as census data and individual education datasets, do not provide clear information about the real pathways students take through education to work.

The Pathways dataset provides unique insight into which educational choices lead to more successful outcomes in further education and employment. Improving our understanding of education-to-work pathways can help us to provide students with more accurate career information, develop better policies and programs, and support students throughout their lifelong learning journeys.

The linked dataset can also provide a robust evidence base for government to understand the areas where students may need additional support and areas of success that others can learn from. The asset can help shape policies to address issues like youth unemployment and help to prevent unintended consequences of such policies.

The program is fully compliant with NSW Privacy Legislation.

The NSW Department of Education and its partners are committed to meeting all legal and privacy 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.

As with other research assets, we sought and received approval from a Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) to use data that has already been collected by NSW and federal government agencies for the Pathways Program to further improve our students’ outcomes. As consent to use the data for the Pathways Program was not obtained at the time of collection, Monash Health HREC assessed the risks and benefits and approved a waiver of consent for the Pathways Program. This is permitted under NSW Privacy legislation and provides an exemption for the requirement to seek consent from all individuals for the purposes of the linkage process which is the only time where personal information is used. As noted above, the final dataset does not contain personal information.

Further information is available on the program’s website about the protection of personal privacy and the lawful use of the data.

The department plans to refresh the data in the Pathways dataset annually. This will include updating current datasets to include the most recent data. New datasets, as approved by Monash Health HREC, may also be included.

The NSW Department of Education does not hold your personal information in the Pathways dataset and authorised researchers for the program cannot access your personal information within the dataset.

The dataset is held securely by the ABS within the ABS DataLab and does not include your personal information. Outputs (such as analytical results) from the ABS DataLab cannot report on individual people. Outputs report on groups of people with strict rules about the minimum number of individuals per group.

Outputs are further checked by the ABS before we can use them to ensure that they adhere to the DataLab’s strict output rules to further minimise any risk of re-identification.

Personal information is only used by the CHeReL and the ABS for the linkage process. It is not included in the analytical dataset that is accessible by program researchers.

At the completion of the program, your personal information will be securely and permanently destroyed in accordance with government requirements and legislation.

Opportunities will be given for the public to withdraw their information from data being added to the Pathways dataset before each annual refresh. This is a condition of the ethics approval provided by Monash Health Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC).

In 2021, the window to withdraw ran from 24 September to 7 February 2022. It is not possible to identify and remove your data once it has already been linked and de-identified for use in the Pathways dataset, as there is no personal identification information in the final dataset.

Further information about withdrawing your information from the dataset is available in the website section How to withdraw your data from the program.

1 Reserve Bank of Australia, June 2018, Labour Market Outcomes for Younger People. Available at: Labour Market Outcomes for Younger People | Bulletin – June Quarter 2018 | RBA.

2 Pennington A & Stanford J (2019), “The Future of Work for Australian Graduates: The Changing Landscape of University-Employment Transitions in Australia”. Available at: The Future of Work for Australian Graduates - The Australia Institute.

Contact us

If you have any questions about the Pathways Program, you can contact the team at Pathways.Project@det.nsw.edu.au.

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

If you would like to contact the Monash Health Human Research Ethics Committee directly about the Pathways Program, you can contact their team at research@monashhealth.org.

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