Based on 2016 figures from a Mitchell Institute report, in your class of 25 students, three will be unemployed after leaving your classroom, and only one-in-four of those who don’t go on to further study will score a full-time role.
More than half of your class will need to do unpaid work to get a foot in the door, and for those who do study, only one third of VET students will find work in the occupation they trained for.
As well, almost one third of those who complete a bachelor degree won’t be able to secure a full-time role.
Youth unemployment rates averaged 12.7 per cent in 2016, holding steady since the global financial crisis (GFC).
The world of work is changing, and young people, a particularly vulnerable cohort of jobseekers, are not always cutting the mustard.
According to the latest report from the Mitchell Institute, we need to make some changes, and these changes must start in the classroom.
“Our education system was formed in the manufacturing era, it was not designed to teach students how to navigate complex environments and multiple careers,” the report’s co-author Megan O’Connell said in a statement.
“Young people need different skill sets to what is taught in the traditional curriculum if they are to thrive in high-tech, global, competitive job markets.”
“Our basic education model hasn’t grown with the broader economy. Many young people are being left behind and without significant change, we can expect to see more missing out in the future.”
As part of their New Work Order report series, The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) has identified three main factors making it difficult for students to successfully transition into the world of secure employment – automation, globalisation and casualisation of the workforce.
“We’re in a time of very significant transformation and disruption of many jobs and many industries led by automation, particularly,” Jan Owen, CEO of FYA explains.
In fact, according to the New Work Order: Ensuring young Australians have skills and experience for the jobs of the future, not the past report, over the past 25 years, Australia has lost one million jobs in manufacturing, administration and labouring, but gained more than one million jobs in the knowledge and service industries.
“Secondly, we’re in very much a globalised environment where lots of jobs can be done in lots of different places,” Owen continues.
“And thirdly, [there’s] this idea that we’re in a very casualised economy, so there’s less work around than there was before.”
In order to prepare students for a world where their competition for jobs might include someone sitting at a computer in China or Sweden, or in some industries, robots and machines, some suggest education needs a rethink.
“What we know is that school is largely focussed on filling young people and children up with knowledge,” O’Connell says.
“It has to happen, kids need to be literate and numerate, and they do need a core base of knowledge, but that shouldn’t be the only focus.
“We actually need young people to be able to do things as well, so they need a broad range of capabilities, not just to be able to absorb and recall things.” Owen agrees.
According to the New Work Mindset report, instead of training for a particular occupation and working in that area for life, some studies have estimated Australians will make 17 changes in employers across five different careers.
Instead of developing a set of skills to set them up for a particular job, FYA says students need a portfolio of broader capabilities which set them up for work within a cluster of jobs.
Capabilities such as problem solving, creativity and social intelligence for example, to set them up for work in one of seven new clusters, they call ‘the generators’ , ‘the artisans’, ‘the carers’, ‘the informers’, ‘the coordinators’, ‘the designers’ and ‘the technologists’ .
“...because if jobs are going to change constantly, which they are, and new jobs are going to be created, which they are, then you’ve got to look at what skills and capabilities [are] transferable across to new and different jobs,” Owen says.
According to Owen, the time for action is now, and the people to act are teachers.
“I couldn’t emphasise how important the role of the educator is in the next 20 years of Australia, and of the next generation of learners and workers that are going to contribute and grow and develop the Australian economy. To me educators are probably the most important people in our community,” she says.
Owen says the ‘teacher’ as we know it is almost a thing of the past.
“What we want are educators who have a range of skills, including teaching, but also have very advanced skills in facilitation, in curation of learning, in brokering opportunities and experiences, in connecting people to people, students to others, students to students.
“This is a new role description for the educator of the 21st century. And it absolutely starts at school,” she urges.
“There’s no point waiting for that to happen at university, higher education or in TAFE.”
Owen says we need to look at the Australian Curriculum, what we’re measuring, and how adaptable it is.
At the very least, she feels general capabilities need to be weighted more heavily, and present across every subject area.
“So this comes down to how you best utilise the national curriculum to achieve different sets of results,” she says.
“So when at one point the Australian Curriculum probably had very different targets around what it wanted to achieve, they were academic maybe, ATAR scores or a kind of league table, now we’re saying that curriculum needs to continue to develop and live in the 21st century, be live in the 21st century to really benefit students.”
O’Connell says we need to focus on literacy and numeracy, and the broader capabilities, and these must be assessed.
“I think it’s a crucial step, it tends to be in education that we don’t value what we don’t assess and report on, both to parents and publicly,” she says.
“I mean one of the reasons why we value things like maths and science, yes they’re important in the world, but Australia’s also ranked on them in PISA.
“So we do need to test and assess capabilities. And that’s something that even the OECD is looking at, because they’re looking at problem solving as part of PISA, so it’s part of a worldwide movement.”
Owen says we then need to work on a consistent view of what the new educator’s role is.
“So I think we’re pretty clear that there’s a new educator and that we should be absolutely focusing pre-service and undergrad teacher training on that new educator role and that we should be upskilling and retraining the existing teacher workforce to that new role,” she says.
“And that’s urgent because that role is so central to young people’s lives. “They can learn online and get access to content anywhere anytime … from anywhere in the world. That’s not what’s at issue here.
“What’s at issue is, are they accessing the right knowledge experiences, exposure, engagement, learning modes across their [schooling] … so that they are emerging from school education as these highly capable learners, not just school educated students?”
Owen acknowledges some teachers are already addressing the new work order, and changing the way that they operate, but says they’ve come to this on their own.
“Kudos to those people, but actually what we need is an entire system that is pointing in the same direction,” she says.
While some are calling for an education revolution, a reimagining of the curriculum and pedagogy, Blaise Joseph, Education Policy Analyst at the Centre for Independent Studies is not yet convinced.
“I do notice there’s no evidence that’s been presented that employers think that the lack of broader capabilities are impediments to employing young people,” he says.
“And I think there’s probably also a lack of evidence on whether or not broader capabilities will be useful to young people in 21st century workplaces, can actually be taught at school, and can actually be assessed in a meaningful consistent way.”
O’Connell admits it is “trickier” to assess capabilities, than it is to assess spelling or algebra.
“...it’s absolutely possible, but you can’t sit a student down and make them take a test to see if they’re curious or if they’re creative, or if they have communication skills.
“It requires much more nuancing in how you assess it, which means it takes greater capacity for teachers to do so, teachers will need more support to actually be able to teach and assess the capabilities,” she says.
“I don’t want to come across as being disparaging of the proposal to teach broader capabilities in school,” Joseph continues, “but it’s just, we do need the evidence before we do this because teachers already make a big effort to have things like teamwork.
"Teachers already have a pretty good understanding of what’s happening in 21st century workplaces and the changing nature of employment.
“So if we want to do a complete refocusing of the education system, when our core curriculum isn’t being taught that well in Australia, literacy and numeracy results are declining, we need a lot of evidence to do that, and we just don’t have it at the moment.”
Casting our gaze abroad is often a good way to reflect on our own situation and progress. Joseph suggests this is where we start to gather the evidence needed to justify change.
“So the first thing would be, the countries around the world which are succeeding, what are they doing in this regard?
“Also, countries around the world with the lowest youth unemployment, what are they doing?” he says.
According to Owen, Finland and Canada are two countries making great progress towards having their young people productively engaged in the workforce.
“The new kid on the block that’s doing really well is Estonia. Who knew? So Estonia has adopted a very aggressive program of education in the country, and a learning program to make them a competitive country by investing in education and learning, and by re-thinking school education,” she adds.
“And then you’re seeing countries like Singapore, and some of the regions of China that have done very well academically in the past, and now they are calling for a modernisation in their systems around these enterprising skills, and these new capabilities around collaboration, problem solving, and entrepreneurial mindset, and teamwork and communication and presentation.
“So they’re looping back to ensure that those are part of their curriculum, because they ended up being very, very focussed on academic achievement and that has caused some significant student issues around wellbeing,” Owen says.
According to Owen, we have no excuses for leaving our young people behind.
“There are economic barriers, there are no geo-political barriers around instability in Australia.
“We are not living in a war zone, we are a highly educated nation, we can absolutely up-skill our teachers to be the educators of tomorrow,” she says.
“We have whole schools trying new things and really stretching the bounds of what they’ve done in the past, and really trying to reinvent themselves and we need that to be articulated as an entire vision for the country, and Australia as an education nation.
“There is no reason that we shouldn’t be the best in the world.”