Young Australians are studying for longer than ever before but are disengaged and struggling to find permanent jobs. Young people entering technology-rich, global, competitive job markets need different skill sets to what our education system has traditionally valued.
Unless schools broaden learning objectives, many students will fail to become capable, successful adults – putting Australia’s social and economic wellbeing at risk.
Young people need to bring more than knowledge to the modern workforce. The most crucial capabilities for the future include critical thinking, creativity, curiosity and communication skills.
Our approach to education is not equipping young people with the broad capabilities that will enable them to thrive in complex education and employment settings. It is time Australia made changes to prioritise teaching, assessing and reporting capabilities.
Our education system can better meet the needs of young people navigating a complex future. Pursuing the kind of systemic change we need will not be easy. It involves a number of fundamental changes to the way we conceptualise and deliver learning opportunities to young people. However, there are a number of practical and achievable pathways to change.
While there is no silver bullet solution to Australia’s educational challenges, exploring innovative ideas and approaches is an important starting point. The ideas discussed here relate to:
- The later years of secondary school, as they are a time when many young people test, explore and develop their interests and make decisions about future career pathways.
- New approaches to apprenticeships, as they have provided an important and effective labour market entry point for generations of young people.
Both of these education and training models hold significant potential for renewal, to meet the changing needs of young people and the economy.
The separation of academic and vocational learning
All young people – irrespective of whether they pursue a trade, service or professional career – need a foundation in broader capabilities such as problem solving, communication and collaboration, as well as deep knowledge, technical skills, and literacy and numeracy. Yet, while school students have the option of studying both academic and VET subjects, the two streams of learning are rarely interlinked, meaning students will learn either academic content-based knowledge or vocational technical skills, but rarely engage with both content and application.
The separation between vocational or academic streams may also be exacerbating inequality, given students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be encouraged to pursue vocational pathways. This has been found to be the case for Indigenous students in some regions where “cohorts of students are directed toward these options on assumptions about their culture or SES backgrounds”.
Community preference for academic pathways over VET qualifications
- There is a persistent tendency for many parents, students and schools to view VET as a much less prestigious and valuable pathway, compared to the academic pathway that leads to university. Devaluing vocational learning can unfairly stigmatise young people undertaking vocational qualifications, and can lead to young people pursuing an ATAR instead of a pathway that may suit their interests and learning needs better.
- Given that school funding levels are driven by enrolment numbers, schools may feel they must prioritise academic achievement over providing quality VET opportunities in order to attract and retain enrolments.
Limitations of the current VET framework in schools
- Using the national VET framework in the school system, under current settings, does not meet the needs of many students. National VET qualifications focus on developing the technical competence for specific tasks in the workplace, with training packages largely oriented around very specific fields of work. However, most school students do not use the VET qualifications they obtain at school to go directly in to a job, and most do not continue on to higher level qualifications in the same area.
- The training package model is not sufficiently flexible to provide vocational learning opportunities which deliver transferrable skills and prepare young people for a broad range of occupations.
- Students could benefit from gaining the capabilities that underpin employment in multiple fields or across job clusters (such as resilience, collaboration, lifelong learning, problem solving, entrepreneurial skills) (FYA 2016). A strong grounding in these core capabilities will better enable them to navigate multiple careers as well as continue with their learning if this is a chosen path.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Preparing young people for the future of work | Mitchell Institute