How well are we future-proofing students?

by James Reid04 Jul 2016

Reports have shown that within 10-15 years, nearly 40% of Australian jobs will be automated.

This has prompted the Federal Government, schools and private industries to collaborate in a push to improve students’ Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and ensure they’re ready for the jobs of the future.

The recent opening of two Pathways in Technology (or P-Tech) schools in Victoria is delivering new STEM opportunities to students and bridging the school-university divide. The P-Tech model allows private sector employers to partner with a school to provide STEM skills to students who are interested in learning, or improving, skills in these fields.

Other initiatives such as Full STEAM Ahead, Tournament of the Minds (TOM), Code.org and the Lumifold program, are being rolled out across Australia to provide students and teachers with the theoretical and practical skills needed to close this gap.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda is encouraging a stronger focus on STEM education in schools, as well as school-business partnerships to provide exclusive training and education in these fields.

But some warn that technology is taking on professions once seen as safe from automation, such as law, accountancy and banking.

“We always used to think of automation as moving everybody up,” Hugh Durrant-Whyte, director at the Centre for Translational Data Science at the University of Sydney, told the ABC.

“The big difference now is that machine learning and artificial intelligence are solving jobs that we thought traditionally were very highly qualified jobs. It's eating out the middle of the job market, rather than the bottom end.”

The full-time employment rate for new graduates is now under 70%, the lowest rate in more than 30 years.

Jan Owen, chief executive of the Foundation for Young Australians, told the ABC that the education industry needed to change – and fast.

“We've had incredible education in this country, but there is no-one that genuinely really thinks it's fit for purpose now and into the future, at high school or at higher [education],” she said.

"So there is significant disruption coming around how young people learn, what they learn and then how that's going to be applied throughout the course of their lifetime."

Nicholas Wyman, CEO of Skilling Australia Foundation (SAF), told The Educator that the world was rapidly changing and this alone called for a new approach as to how schools motivate and link students with promising career opportunities.
 
“Australia has definitely dropped the ball in terms of manufacturing because we’re not focusing in the right place…on the right kind of manufacturing,” he explained.
 
Wyman referred to Andrew Liveris, the Australian-born CEO of The Dow Chemical Company, who told the Federal Government five years ago that Australia must become more involved in high-tech manufacturing due to high labour costs.
 
“In Australia, we need to ask ‘what is our thing?’ There are 1.1 million people employed in service industries, but we need to seek out other industries that will be in demand once kids leave school,” he said.
 

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