The latest education report released by the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University has found that a lack of industry and community engagement in schools means that students are not being adequately prepared for the world of work.
The education report found that effective school-industry partnerships could smooth the transition from school to workplace in light of changing demands due to technology advances. Declining numbers of school-industry partnerships mean that school students may be missing out on these opportunities.
School-industry partnerships offer a range of activities to students, including real world learning projects, mentoring programs and career-taster days. Mitchell Institute Director, Megan O’Connell explains that the importance of these activities is increasing as workplaces change and evolve.
“Schools alone can’t foster the many skills and capabilities students need to thrive in the digital age,” Ms O’Connell explained. “Partnerships between schools and industry is one of the best ways to make sure students understand and develop the skills they need for their future careers, so this needs to be a priority for all Australian schools.”
The changing future of work
The report was commissioned to address the changing face of employment across all Australian industries due to emerging smart technologies such as AI, robotics, Internet of Things and big data analytics. To drive future growth and innovation, the report highlighted the need for young people to develop three areas of critical knowledge, skills and capabilities. These include:
- STEM skills, which have been estimated to add $57.4 billion to GDP over the next 20 years
- Digital skills, including data analysis, building digital platforms and developing software
- Transferable skills and capabilities, such as using critical thinking, problem solving, analytic and judgement capabilities to perform non-routine tasks
The report found that the real world learning opportunities providing by school-industry partnerships improved learning outcomes in all three of these key areas.
It examined several studies on the impact of school-employer engagement programs on student outcomes. Programs such as giving students careers-related tasks in mathematics classes were found to increase student opinion of the task’s relevance and boost their test scores. Greater employer exposure during schooling was also linked to greater earning potential after graduation.
Ms O’Connell says that many students lack the opportunities to experience the world of work first-hand. “We need to make sure every student can access meaningful experiences that provide connections with people outside of usual school and family networks. All students should be able to think about how the world of work aligns with their passions and interests at school.”
The report recommended that schools prioritise school-industry partnerships by investing more time and resources into these activities. To address the barriers preventing these partnerships, it was recommended that schools work with the government to alleviate regulatory issues and equity barriers.
“Currently there are complex administrative requirements getting in the way of partnerships working – we need to do more to simplify these across the country,” Ms O’Connell said.
“To achieve the benefits, we need a system that supports industry partnerships alongside the curriculum in all Australian schools.”
One school-industry partnership already enjoying success is the Schools Plus program, which is running in three Perth schools. Students participate in weekly STEM-themed robotics classes, supported by Google. The partnership was facilitated by Australian Schools Plus, a not-for-profit organisation. Google provides funding, expertise and time for its staff, including engineers.
Extra resources for teachers
The report highlighted that teachers often lack resources which showcase the applicability of the curriculum to real-world careers. To help them bring classroom material to life, teachers can use resources such as Careers with STEM, a print and digital careers platform for students, teachers and parents.
Both the magazine and online platform feature study tips, quizzes, articles about the STEM careers of the future, a comprehensive tertiary study directory and inspiring profiles. Careers with STEM showcases relatable people from diverse backgrounds, who are often using their STEM skills in unexpected ways. Students are also alerted to upcoming STEM-related competitions and extra-curricular programs, such as the FIRST robotics competition and the Questacon invention convention.
Careers with STEM, published by Refraction Media, includes a quarterly magazine, which is distributed free of charge to every Australian secondary school, and a digital hub at CareerswithSTEM.com.au.
The Mitchell Institute report, Connecting the worlds of learning and work, is available at www.mitchellinstitute.org.au.