Back to basics: Are we failing our youth on education? 

Ron Maxwell - CEO

I've written many times about the need for overhaul in our education sector. There are many reasons why and I’ve often argued that education reform needs to be a priority at both State and Federal government levels.

What’s troubled me recently is the apparent lack of focus on the ‘basics’ i.e. the focus on core skills that will enable our school leavers to be successful, both in the next stage of their education journey and in the workforce. It led me to the question: Are we failing the next generation when it comes to their future employment? 

Education is crucial  

We all know the value of a good education. What’s troubling is the apparent lowering of Australia’s results in areas such as maths and English. While the education curriculum needs to be broad to cover all the skills and talents our future workforce needs, there’s no doubt that the ‘core’ skills sets need to be a major focus. 

It’s something I often hear lamented amongst the business community: That young Australians lack some of those core skills required to be successful in the workforce. That is something that should worry us all. 

The reality is that we are now part of a global workforce and our children will be competing for employment opportunities not just in a local or even Australian based market. The knock-on effect of our youth emerging from the education system without strong fundamental skills means that businesses will need to find skills elsewhere, something I as a parent do not want to see. It leaves us open to a growing cohort of disadvantage, with a growing group of young Australians finding it hard to find employment. 

This competition for employment means that those without strong fundamental skills can be left behind. In the VET sector we often see this and run courses to help bridge the gap; but is that the only answer?

Rapid change reduces our time to adapt

Another factor is the speed of change we’re seeing in all industries today. Technology is disrupting many sectors and the speed of that disruption is new. In the past the time to adapt to changes in the labour market were such that you could transition a workforce over time. Those timeframes have been eroded, meaning that adaptability is a core skill our youth needs.

That focus on being resilient to change is a core skill for employment. There’s a need in our school system to recognise that and help prepare school leavers for a future where not just multiple jobs, but multiple careers will be a reality. As parents, we have a role too in ensuring that our children embrace adaptability and are resilient enough to know that there will be a need to constantly update and reassess their skills throughout their careers.

How do we change?

For me, there are a number of areas we could concentrate on now to help alleviate the challenge.

While funding and the right policies always have a role to play, an overarching review of our education sector is crucial. It’s not just a ’get back to basics’ discussion. While that needs to be part of it, and rightly so, there also needs to be a focus on how we educate our school leavers better to access career opportunities. For example, I cannot understand why we don’t consult employers as a part of this process. They could easily have a voice in helping government understand the core skills our graduates are lacking. For me, that has to be part of the solution. 

Secondly, we need to keep working on the balance between university and VET. For too long VET has been seen as the poor cousin and we need to educate our school leavers on the advantages of careers in this space. These careers need those fundamental skills as well, so it’s a win-win for all levels of tertiary education if we work together to better prepare school leavers for those next steps

And finally, everyone in the community has a role to play, especially those of us who are parents. Talk to your kids about their future, help them build those core resilience and adaptability traits I mentioned above. On a personal level, it’s something that I have discussed with my children, in particular my son who is currently completing tertiary education. We openly discuss that technology is a disrupter and how he can best prepare himself for the future workforce. In a way, it helps in rationalising change and understanding that it’s ok to embrace it. My hope is that it helps him to find the right career option.