How schools of today can meet the workforce needs of tomorrow

One of the biggest dilemmas for schools has always been how to best equip their students to function effectively in changing work environment? With the digital age and the fourth industrial revolution already happening all around us, this issue is more important than ever.

In her recent interview on The Mentor List, Jan Owen, CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), noted that today’s school-leavers will have 17 jobs in 5 industries on average. That’s a far cry from sticking with one job or career type for life so we need to ensure that young people know how to gain the skills they will need to carry them through all these different jobs.

To start with, we need to know what these skills are. As we don’t know what changes will happen in the workforce, even in 10-years’ time, we can only hope to teach skills that will help young workers adapt to rapidly changing situations. They will also need to know how to continue to learn new skills as the needs arise.

The types of skills that need to be focused on include:

  • Technical and academic skills (especially advanced computer literacy skills such as coding).
  • Critical thinking and evaluation skills.
  • Creative thinking skills.
  • Communication and collaboration skills
  • Personal and social skills.
  • Cultural and ethical skills.
  • Skills that foster the capacity and willingness to learn new skills.

Traditional literacy and numeracy skills will also continue to be very important, especially considering these skills in many current school-leavers are woefully inadequate.

The trouble is that schools simply don’t have the time or resources to fit all of this (plus things like physical and arts education) into the curriculum. How this gets resolved is a matter of much debate. This, too, is part of the problem.

“Becoming too bogged down in the detail of content misses the much bigger point about how we best prepare our young people for life after school”

Patrick Griffin. The Conversation 2013 Old school or new school? Teaching future skills and traditional subjects together

Many jobs versus resume expectations

The FYA has done extensive research into the nature of the future workforce. One of their key findings is that careers will be shaped by clusters of jobs not necessarily connected by industry but by skill sets and personal dispositions (such as ‘carers’). Identifying the skills in one job can lead to up to 13 other jobs that would otherwise seem completely unrelated. Workers will build a portfolio of skills and capabilities that they can transfer from job to job.

Many of today’s workers are already embracing this concept and joining the ‘gig economy’. That is, they are not employed full-time by one organisation but they take on various forms of contract, part-time, and freelance work as their situations and opportunities change. For many, this is a lifestyle choice as it gives them the freedom to work when and where they want. It also means they will always have a different kind of job security. While their current work may only last for a fixed period, they also know how to create more opportunities for themselves. Often, they could even be working on several different jobs or projects at the same time.

Gig economy workers do face some big obstacles, though. One is that having a long list of short-term jobs doesn’t look good on a traditional resume. For many employers (and bank managers approached for a loan), it looks like the person hasn’t been able to hold a job or they may not be trustworthy. Long gaps between jobs make resumes look even worse. The work they have done doesn’t have the same value as full-time work even though the person may have very valuable and transferable skills. Owens argues that skills like these should be recognised in job credentials as being highly valuable.

The role of business in future education

“Finally, we need learning and training providers who work with the business community and individuals, and a system which employs latest technology and best-practice to reduce barriers of demography and geography to provide equal access to all (Queenslanders).”

Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland: The Right People at the Right Time: Developing a Skilled Workforce that meets the needs of Queensland’s Economy. Blueprint for Queensland’s education and training system November 2011

FYA has collaborated with NAB to implement the $20 Boss program in schools throughout Australia. In this program, students are given $20 to set up their own real-life business and are coached through the whole process. At the end of the program, they are encouraged to pay back the initial $20 investment. The program aims to give students practical skills to use in business and to show them that being their own boss can be a viable career choice. In 2016: 236 schools registered, 10,186 students participated and 2,500 businesses were created.

Many commercial and non-profit organisations, such as Apple, Telstra, CSIRO, McDonald's, and Microsoft, have become active partners in Australian schools in recent years.

An extensive list can be found in the March 2010 report by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Unfolding opportunities: a baseline study of school business relationships in Australia. Appendices to the Final Report - Appendix six – Examples of school business relationships.

The aims of such partnerships include fostering skills in areas such as leadership, creative thinking, literacy, community engagement, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and also entrepreneurial skills.

Given that these are the very skills that students will need to help them navigate the future workforce successfully, it looks like we might be on the right path.

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Jan Owens is a highly regarded social entrepreneur, innovator, influencer and author who has spent the past 25 years growing Australia's youth, social enterprise and innovation sectors. Her lifelong mission is to unleash the potential of young people to lead positive change in the world.

Discover more about Jan’s amazing journey from being a young social entrepreneur herself (before the term was even known) to becoming the CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians and YLab, the global youth futures lab and also the author of Every Childhood Lasts a Lifetime (1996) and The Future Chasers (2014).

Jan shares her successful habits and tips on following your passion in life in her recent interview on The Mentor List. Tune in today to see why the workforce of the future is one full of hope.

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