Tighter links between high school and the workforce could help alleviate skills shortages

Skills shortages are an enduring issue in the Australian labour market today.

Across many industries, such as technology, trades and healthcare, there is a significant gap between available skills and those required by employers. As a result, employers struggle to find suitable talent for their organisations, and this can have a flow-on effect, even limiting our economic growth potential.

Australia will need to tackle these shortages from all sides. Building more links between high school and industry would contribute to a long-term solution.

Learning from successful models overseas

There are already some successful models globally that Australia could adopt to bridge the skill gap. The vocational education and training (VET) model in Germany, Switzerland and Austria is one, as is this high school pathway being rolled out in Indiana, USA. It combines classroom-based education with on-the-job training, equipping students with the skills businesses need, and offering them a clear path to employment.

We are seeing some steps in this direction here at home. For example, five Sydney high schools are trialling a program allowing students with an aptitude for tech to skip university and commence working in tech roles that may have otherwise required tertiary studies.

Increasing work-integrated learning opportunities

More work-integrated learning opportunities are a must. These programs give students a taste of life in different careers. Done at the right time, the programs would allow students to make subject choices that equip them for their chosen careers.

Of course, we already have a fantastic one in NSW – School Based Apprenticeships and Traineeships (SBATs). The program enables students to begin working in and qualifying for their chosen career while finishing their HSC studies.

And there are some great success stories across the country, such as Callaghan College in Newcastle, which had an impressive 102 students enrolled in SBATs in 2022, the most of any secondary school in the state.

It's an excellent option for those who may have finished in Year 10 in the old days to continue their studies while building an employment pathway. It would be good to see more schools actively encouraging students to make use of it.

Closer collaboration with industry

The vocational education and training (VET) system collaborates closely with industry and employers. It works to keep VET relevant and ensure students have the skills employers need today and into the future.

As we look for new ways of addressing skills shortages, I think there is a fantastic opportunity for industries, from trades to tech and the professions, to engage with high schools. This could be looking at specific curriculum streams targeted at students interested in a specific industry. Or, it could be industry bodies talking to our education departments about the skills needed in the workforce to ensure the curriculum is aligned, particularly when it comes to life and soft skills, from creativity to critical thinking. 

This way, academic learning and practical skills can be interwoven into a student's educational journey to create highly employable and career-ready future generations.

Benefits abound

Alongside addressing skills shortages, a career-driven approach to education could increase student engagement, particularly during senior high school. By helping students build a bridge between academic learning and real-world application, learning can become more meaningful. In addition, we'll be equipping the next generation with the tools to thrive in the workforce.

Australia's skills shortages won't be resolved by a single solution. It will take a multifaceted approach. However, integrating education systems and the world of work should certainly be in the mix.

What could we achieve if we reimagine our approach to education, creating more pathways between the classroom and the workplace? We wouldn't just be tackling skills shortages but laying the foundations for more robust, enduring economic growth.