THOUSANDS of school leavers are missing lucrative job opportunities because they are pushed into university at the expense of apprenticeships - leaving gold-plated positions unfilled.
Businesses and youth organisations argue the heavy emphasis on university is skewing the career paths of young Australians who could be taking up a trade or vocational training.
A national study of 5000 students and parents uncovered serious flaws in the way educators prepare young people for their work life - at a time of double-digit youth unemployment across Western Sydney, as businesses have jobs going begging.
Youth unemployment has reached 13.2 per cent in Parramatta, 11.6 per cent in the southwest and 9.9 per cent in Blacktown.
One third said their school either discouraged or did not talk about apprenticeships despite a national skills shortage and high youth unemployment. Parents also said they were frustrated with the emphasis schools placed on university at the expense of vocations.
Small business owner Sarkis Akle is desperate to find workers for his three hair salons.
"Trades are struggling to attract applicants … there is such a huge emphasis on higher education even when people are not suited to it," he said.
Skills Minister John Barilaro said he wanted to "bust this myth" that a university degree was the preferred choice to a vocational path way.
"We are embarking on a campaign designed to change public perceptions of vocational education and training," he said.
Second-year apprentice Monique Khalifeh, 19, took up a psychology degree at university after being told "hairdressing is a go nowhere job".
After six months she decided to follow her heart, applied for an apprenticeship at Hair by Phd and has never looked back.
She said: "When I stopped my studies to follow my passion and join Hair by Phd as an apprentice I can honestly say it's been the best decision I ever made.
"Every day I am learning new skills and contributing to an amazing business in Parramatta, and I am really excited about my future here."