Ready or not – the future waits for no one.

Ready or not – the future waits for no one.

This week more than 200,000 year 12 students will find out whether a full year of study, stress, hopes and dreams have paid off when their ATAR results are released.

The notion that 13 years of hard work is summed up by an ATAR score is daunting. But what’s even more intimidating for some is the new world that awaits beyond the classroom door no matter what the score is.

Over the past year we’ve heard from many people about the role our learning systems play in preparing us for this future.

For young Australians there is a sense of frustration. despite following the education ‘playbook’, applying themselves and doing all the right things, our students aren’t learning the requisite skills and capabilities required to ensure they can survive in a changing world

Young people like Alana Leadbeater, who despite achieving the 99+ holy grail of ATAR scores wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald just two weeks ago that she graduates feeling uncertain about her future and believing she’s an employer’s second choice.

Some have called this account childish and entitled – that our education system is not responsible for instilling life skills in our young people.

If a young, highly educated individual leaves school with the penultimate of scores and yet still lacks the skills, mindset and confidence to secure work, it seems fairly reasonable to say that their education has failed them or, at the very least, missed the mark in some way.

And Alana isn’t alone. 

Over the past decade, there has been growing consensus that Australia’s education and training systems must evolve to ensure they are responsive and relevant to the changing world of work and needs of the future workforce.

In the past few years, studies and reports released by the Committee for Economic Development Australia (CEDA), the Australian Productivity Commission, the Australian Industry and Skills Commission, Innovation and Science Australia, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Business Council of Australia have all shone a torch on the need for reform.

FYA would go further. Based on the research and data analysis, we believe we must aim for collaborative transformation of our education and training systems if our economy is to grow and thrive.

Automation is predicted to transform every job across the Australian economy by 2030, with the way we work also becoming increasingly flexible due to the gig economy and a growing casualisation of the workforce. Already some young people are being left behind, with 1 in 3 either un or underemployed, and transitions from education and training to full time work taking longer and longer.

More than half of all students and 71% of VET students are currently being trained for jobs that will be radically affected by automation by 2030. 90% of future jobs will involve digital literacy. Transferable ‘enterprise skills’ will be critical for workers to negotiate an average of 17 jobs over five careers in their lifetime.

At the same time, skills shortages in key areas are costing employers with small businesses being particularly affected. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2018 finds that by 2022 at least 54% of employees will require reskilling and upskilling in order to adapt to restructured value chains and new technologies.

Adding to this pressure, our ageing population means older Australians are leaving the workforce in larger numbers than young people can replace them. Currently Australia has 4.5 workers per retiree; by 2030 this will reduce to 3.5 workers per retiree, meaning reduced tax revenues and additional pressures on our quality of life and standard of living.  

As the Federal Government commits to renewing the Melbourne Declaration – our national commitment to education for all – young people must be front and centre. Our learners today are central to driving the new economy. We must commit to seeing lower youth under and unemployment and to a generation of happy, healthy people.

Our goal should not be to ensure that young people are simply finishing school, but to make certain that every young person has built a ‘portfolio’ of skills and capabilities to thrive in the new economy and the wellbeing and confidence to contribute to shaping our collective future.

The conversations, debates, varying views and priorities, will continue but we must now urgently prioritise a comprehensive and strategic investment in young people as 21st century learners, entrepreneurs, innovators and contributors in equal part.

The future of a further 200,000 more young Australians rests with what we do here and now.

Jan Owen AM

CEO, The Foundation for Young Australians

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