An Education Worth Having

An Education Worth Having

The candid confessions in the ABC’s series My Year 12 Life reveal some of the challenges which an out-dated education system creates by sticking with a ‘one size fits all’ approach to learning.

As the author of Beautiful Failures, Lucy Clark, highlights in the story of her daughter’s schooling, our education system “long ago became a race”. Its narrow definition of success teaches students that acing a test is more important than learning to apply skills and capabilities in a real world context.

Our children and young people are growing up in a world driven by automation, where 40% of existing jobs will be transformed or disrupted in the next decade. Globalisation increasingly means jobs being undertaken remotely. Australian students are not only collaborating and competing with those sitting next to them, but with 750 million educated and ambitious young people living north of Darwin.

At the Australian Financial Review’s Business Summit this week, keynote and Economist, John O’Neill spoke about the opportunity, and centrality, of China, India and Indonesia for Australia’s future. For me, this reinforces that we must turbocharge the connections, collaboration and learning for young people who are the next generation of Australia’s workers and entrepreneurs. They will have a very different relationship with the region.

The increasingly flexible nature of the modern workforce will likely see a 15-year-old today navigating a portfolio of 17 jobs in 5 different industries. Sometimes self-employed, at other times working with and for, others.

Our rapidly changing world is already leaving some young people behind. With rising debt, soaring house prices, the struggle to find secure, full-time employment, stagnant wages and recent cuts to weekend penalty rates, it’s no wonder many young people are feeling enormous mental stress and apprehension about their future.  The way the odds are stacking up must feel like a war is being waged against them.

The Foundation for Young Australians’ (FYA) research, Renewing Australia’s Promise highlights the challenges facing young job seekers in a changing world of work. With up to 30% of young people aged 15-24 unemployed or underemployed, it’s also taking them an average of 4.7 years once they finish full time education to find a full-time job.

The traditional approach of teaching students to ace the test is not helping young people overcome these multiple challenges. We urgently need to disrupt the education system so that it better prepares students for the complex careers they will have in the workforce of the future.

Last week I attended the Universities Australia Conference. There was much discussion about universities’ role, place and future in the fabric of a community and nation; and its ability to respond to and lead innovation. Given that higher education is a sector with an imperative to transform, as it transitions to a new era commonly described as the fourth Industrial Revolution – the week was too polite. The old and new worlds didn’t collide so much as perform an elegant dance around each other.

In the absence of fierce argument, there was much inspiration on offer. I moderated a panel of young people who spoke about how universities can better engage and prepare students for the future. They were adamant that university was about learning and personal development at a formative stage of their lives. They were huge supporters of the physical campus and it’s ‘place’ in their community, something Deloitte’s Ian Harper also emphasized to the conference. These young people are also just as forthright about their concerns: the 50% churn of students in and out of first year uni, the potential to be seen as a ‘failure’ if you don’t know what you want to do with your degree.

Recent data from Citibank shows that, globally, young people are desperately seeking more real world preparation – with 78% believing internships and apprenticeships are critical for success, but 60% saying that they don’t have access to these opportunities. An astonishing 69% of young people dream of starting their own business, and a report on startups released at the Universities Australia conference cited the fact that 4 out of 5 startup founders in Australia are university graduates. However, over half feel they need more skills and training to take their idea to reality.

Immersive, real world experiences build the universal skills and capabilities, which enable young people to adapt to an ever-changing environment. In the past, these skills and capabilities were called ‘soft skills’, a term that fails dangerously. The new term, ‘enterprise skills’, comprising the set of critical and lifelong skills that are now essential, including communication, digital literacy, critical thinking, creativity, financial savvy, collaboration, and an entrepreneurial mindset. These skills are essential to meet employer demands today and navigate the world of work tomorrow.

Managing a ‘portfolio of work’ in the future will also require career management skills to ensure young people can transition between jobs in a more flexible and fluid work environment.

Our young people have creativity, energy and courage in spades but there is a clear and present danger. At FYA, we have published four significant reports on the New Work Order. In some ways they are directed at young people – to inform, educate and empower them with a new mindset. But this won’t be enough to ensure our young people can thrive in the future.

As Mark Scott so aptly pointed out earlier this month, “for Australia, it is education’s moment”.

Our collective, national vision must be one in which every child and young person is equipped for a lifetime of learning, diverse ways of working, and the hearts and minds to help build the future.

Jan Owen AM
CEO, The Foundation for Young Australians