How we can prepare the next generation for many careers

By Ron Maxwell - CEO

The future of work is a highly debated topic, and while there are many uncertainties about what's next, many agree on one thing: those entering the workforce today are likely to have higher job mobility than ever before. It’s not just about jobs either; younger generations may have multiple careers too. 

To accommodate this changing world, and to keep Australia competitive in a global job market, we need to rethink how the we prepare for the future of work.  Our education systems are typically set up for a single career model; that is, you choose a career when you finish school, you get your degree or qualifications, and you work in this space until retirement. 

This new world of work means that up-and-coming generations will need to continually upskill and reskill, to stay ahead of the game. They will also need a strong foundation, and a grounding in work-ready skills like critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, leadership and communication.  

It starts in our schools 

In my opinion, our schools need to be focusing on the skills that will enable students to navigate a diverse career. I've talked before about how career guidance is no longer about helping a student choose a career path, it's about giving them a toolkit to manage a diverse career.  

It’s about developing the skills that make a person employable across industries and roles. The most valued skills in a workplace are often not the technical ones, particularly as these change at a rapid rate, but the so-called ‘soft skills’. The ability to solve problems, think critically, and work well with others will always be sought after.

Higher education needs to be more agile 

Our higher education system needs to change too. We should be developing educational solutions that meet the demands of industry, with the agility to adapt as fast as the technologies that are shaping them. For me, the answer lies in shorter, more focused learning experiences.

VET could be the solution 

The Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector is well-placed to provide a solution. Its competency-based nature means students are building the required competencies and with integrated work placements and on-the-job learning opportunities, they are also building practical and social skills. However, for the sector to meet industry demand, some challenges will need to be addressed.

The highly regulated nature of VET can stifle innovation, and the slow turn-around time on changes to training packages may be leaving Australian trainees and apprentices behind. I have seen many examples where the technology or equipment used as part of a training package is outdated before the student graduates, and this is a big problem in a world that moves as fast as ours.  

The other issue is money. To get the latest technologies into our classrooms, the sector desperately needs adequate funding. Current models vary wildly, with most being inadequate to meet the demands of today, let alone those of tomorrow. 

These are certainly obstacles, but they are not impossible to overcome, and with the stakes so high, it's important that we start addressing the issues now.  

The stakes are high

I recently read a report that categorised the high demand jobs of 2030 in three ways: high tech, jobs requiring specialist knowledge, high touch, hands-on jobs, such as plumbing, and high care, jobs requiring emotional support, such as aged care or childcare. Many of the jobs in these areas, particularly in the high touch and care categories, require VET qualifications.

We need to get the system right if we are going to deliver these critical services. Imagine a world where we don’t have people to care for our elderly, for example. This would impact everything, from quality of life to the economy. This is a real issue. With current aged care shortages, we could be looking at patient-to-carer ratios of up to 400:1 in some areas by 2031.  

Industry must play a role 

There is much talk in the media about how employers can support higher job mobility, such as the recent debate about industry-based long service leave, but in my mind the first shift needed is in attitudes to training. 

In many industry sectors we see employers relying on government incentives and funding for training. Organisations need to collaborate more closely with education providers to ensure employees have the funding for, and ongoing access to, the right training opportunities to succeed in the longer term. 

When job mobility is high, it can be easy for employers to dismiss the value of this – a mindset of ‘they won't stay long enough to see a return on investment'. This needs to shift to seeing the wider value, and that it is an investment in the future of the industry. 

At the end of the day, from individuals to organisations to the wider economy; we all stand to benefit from stronger industries. With any major change, comes great opportunity, but to realise the benefits, it is critical that our governments, education systems and organisations work together to stay ahead of the game.