By Ron Maxwell - CEO
In a world where young people are likely to experience an average of seventeen jobs and five careers, it has been argued that the humble career advisor is no longer a necessary part of our schooling system. For me, I would say it's the opposite – career advisors have never been more valuable to ensure individuals, and indeed, whole generations can compete in a global job market. The key lies in changing the model to realise its full potential.
The existing model is designed to help senior high school students understand their career options; taking into account their abilities and interests to put them on a path to success, and hopefully, personal fulfillment. The model is certainly intended to be unbiased and to work with each student as an individual, but somewhere along the way, many career advisors started viewing university as almost a blanket option for all students.
Whether this occurred because school rankings began measuring university entrance as an indicator, because parents began to view university as the best option for their children, or because society, in general, began to believe that everyone should get a degree, is open to speculation. But the reality is that it has the potential to put Australia behind when it comes to the skills required for the future.
With a level of uncertainty about the future, one thing is clear – learning will need to be continuous to keep up with the pace of change. It's no longer realistic for young people to think they will study and then have the same career until retirement. Our career advisors are well placed to become enablers of this new reality, with a few changes to the approach.
Career management is key
Recent research by the World Economic Forum indicates that, alongside technological skills, employers will continue to require people with higher cognitive, (critical thinking, complex information processing and creativity) social and emotional skills (empathy, emotional intelligence, resilience and agility).
These two skill groups are not typically included in Australian school curricula, which focuses more on STEM and literacy, so there is a great opportunity for career guidance programs to step into this void; essentially building skill sets that will carry students through multiple careers.
A focus on these career management skills would add significant value to our school leavers and their future employers, regardless of their career/s of choice. The social and emotional or ‘soft' skills will also enable them to better navigate uncertainty and rapid change, two things they are likely to encounter in our current and future job market.
It's about the right choice for each student
In a recent study of Australian students, around one third indicated that Vocational Education and Training (VET) had not been discussed as an option. This is concerning to me, and should be to us all, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the career advice given to our school leavers should be based on the best option for their interests and abilities, and if VET options aren't being discussed with most students, it's likely this isn’t happening.
Secondly, with our current and anticipated skills shortages across key industry sectors, such as aged care and hospitality, alongside many of our traditional trades, failing to discuss VET career options in this sector is only going to exacerbate these shortages.
Thirdly, 9 out of 10 jobs of the future are tipped to require a VET certification, making VET a great choice for current school leavers.
And lastly, we already have an overabundance of graduates across many of our university professions, so encouraging more students into these overcrowded spaces is only going to have an increasingly adverse effect on our job market.
VET has long been viewed as the poor cousin, despite having higher average graduate salaries than university, and a wide range of job opportunities. There is no better place to start changing community attitudes than in our schools, and career advisors are at the coalface.
Discussions need to start earlier
Many career guidance programs commence working with students in their senior high school years, around age 16, but, in my opinion, earlier is far better.
On a recent trip to Germany, I saw the positive outcomes of a model that encourages students to start thinking about their careers earlier in their high school education and make subject choices that put them on a pathway to success.
It can be hard when parent, school, and community attitudes tend to be heavily weighted towards university options, but changing the way we think about careers is key. Career management and a level playing field for all higher education options and career choices are critical to ensuring our kids have access to the skills to navigate a changing world.
If our school system is willing to make changes to the model, our career advisors have a unique opportunity to be at the forefront of shaping the next generation and keeping our job market strong into the future.