Youth unemployment poses serious challenges across the country. Illuminate Education Founder Adam Mostogl outlines why skills-based learning could hold the key to preparing students for a knowledge-based economy.
Across Australia, youth unemployment is climbing to levels that are, frankly, scary. There are regions where having one in five young people out of a job is just the average (Brotherhood of St Lawrence, 2016), and that’s not taking into account the effect that underemployment has on communities. However, it’s not just the evident lack of basic transferable workplace skills preventing young people from thriving, we’re also looking at students disengaging in the classroom at alarming rates. There has been a lot of tinkering around the edges to drive engagement, both in employment opportunities and in the classroom, but we are at the point where we need to rewrite the way we deliver education to give our young people the best opportunity to succeed.
When it comes down to it, we need to return back to the point of education. The Melbourne Declaration states that the purpose of education is to create active and engaged citizens, and when the workplace is one of the key areas where students will meet this criteria, have we missed something? The working world is constantly changing, and as a small business owner myself, I am seeing that on a regular basis.
So instead of looking at simply preparing students for a single career path or job opportunity, we need to prepare our youth for the changing world that they need to thrive in and even mould.
As Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change” so we need to prepare our students for the changing world.
This is not to be an indictment against every teacher and school leader who is passionate about supporting students. Most passionate teachers I have met understand that students need something different to what is in the Australian Curriculum or what the system is meant to provide, so this is not news to many of you. Instead, consider this article to be one that gives new insights and perspectives to the discussion, and helps all schools look at making the changes in their systems to support students to adapt and survive in this changing world, because the knowledge they are leaving with at the end of their time in school is no longer enough, or at times even relevant.
HOW BAD IS THE JOBS CLIMATE?
We’ve all see reports of youth unemployment, which in August 2016 was 13.1 per cent across the country, but there are numerous regions throughout Australia where it’s above one in five young people who are out of work (Brotherhood of St Lawrence, 2016). Now while these are just figures and percentages, this represents a significant reduction in the potential economic output of Australia. For instance, if our youth unemployment rate was comparable to our national unemployment rate, it would generate up to $11.3 billion in additional GDP (Foundation for Young Australians, 2016). This is not just affecting our economy, it can also be affect the confidence of our young people as they cannot find a place to work and add value to their own community. Then there is another 17.5 per cent of our youth population who are underemployed (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016), which is often harder to measure but just as important of an issue to tackle. Combining these two numbers together, it means that 1 in 3 young Australians are not working or working as much as they would like to – and that should be alarming.
Now it’s not only our education system that needs to be aware of what is happening, but everyone has a responsibility reduce this figure. Educational institutions play a key part in facilitating this shift to preparing students for a changing world, but where do we start?
One fundamental shift is on how we assess and support the growth of skills, not just knowledge. While we are moving into a knowledge-based economy, the biggest challenge is that we learn things in the classroom that are not always connected with the way they are used. A student can pass a maths test, but if they can’t quickly calculate change when working that first job handling cash, then have we really made an impact? And with resources like the internet at our fingertips, how do we prepare students to research information beyond typing the exact question into a search engine. Further to this, how do we allow students to critically consider this information before handing it in for an assignment.
The reason that I opened with looking at how we assess skills is that so much of what we focus on in education is measurable. The OCED rankings on subjects or NAPLAN results (as examples) are held up as report cards on how we are doing in education, but the skills that young people need are not as easy to measure in traditional assesses like these examples. Once we can measure them though, we can then put the focus on them to give the outcomes that matter in the long run in balance with academic outcomes.
Skills-based learning also opens up the horizons for young people, as they can then use these skills across multiple jobs into their future. The idea of having a single career for life is a luxury for our young people, and we need to prepare them for all possibilities. Current data suggests that young Australians will have seventeen jobs across four different industries in their lifetime – and that is just the average (Foundation for young Australians, 2016). If we focus on the core skills in the classroom that students can then apply across all of these different industries or job clusters, then we are better preparing our youth to succeed. We have all seen the data on the risks of automation and globalisation affecting job opportunities across Australia, so preparing students to use their skills in a wide variety of fields is of utmost importance.
The skills that we focus on in our education programs through illuminate Education are the following nine which we believe are critical to all opportunities for our youth;
• Collaboration: as many modern workplaces are team environments where everyone needs to work together
• Communication: to be able to talk with people, no matter the relationship
• Creativity: as the ability to think differently when solving problems is vital to being innovative
• Critical thinking: to be able to evaluate information and situations swiftly to handle anything that comes up
• Digital literacy: in being able to use technology productively in all situations
• Financial literacy: in being able to handle money and help businesses remain efficient
• Presentation skills: as the ability to present and convey information is crucial for many job opportunities
About the author:
In any given week, Adam Mostogl might be helping young entrepreneurs to kick-start their companies, stimulating small businesses to challenge the status quo, challenging communities to understand their potential or teaching hundreds of students to embrace innovation to solve the problems of the future. Adam is passionate about embracing creative and innovative solutions to common problems, founding illuminate Education in 2010, which has inspired over 2800 young Australians to recognise how they can be the job creators of the future at primary and high school levels. Adam is also the Executive Director of The Van Diemen Project, which supports Northern Tasmania to see self-employment and entrepreneurship as an employment possibility as well as business advice and mentoring. Adam is also a director of Northern Tasmania Development Corporation, the Launceston Chamber of Commerce and an advisory board member of the Peter Underwood Centre for Educational Attainment.
Adam was announced the 2015 Tasmanian Young Australian of the Year for his endeavours in entrepreneurial programs, education more generally as well as community development. He was also given an honourable mention (and was the only Tasmanian) in the 30under30 list for young Australian entrepreneurs for 2015.