I would like to draw your attention to two articles, quite separate in intent that indicate the challenges and opportunities that face your children, our students, as they move into the adult world after graduating from the caring environment of The Knox School.
Alan Finkel is Australia’s Chief Scientist and wrote an opinion piece in The Australian of August 29 that reflected on societal expectations of tertiary education.
At The Knox School, we have an enviable record of placing students into their tertiary education course of choice, and do so for all our students, each year. A bachelor’s degree is the majority choice for our students; an overwhelming majority choice. As Finkel notes this is an unmistakeable national trend.
However, Finkel suggests that societal expectations around a university education have not adjusted with changing trends. Yet with half of Victoria’s year 12 cohort heading to university, our expectations remain that graduates will head into professional roles linked to their professional degrees.
With lots of university graduates, there are pressures on employment in related professional fields. Finkel points out that as we produce 15,000 law graduates each year and only have 66,000 jobs in law, the chances of a long term career in law are slim. Similar tensions apply in economics; medicine is on the verge of oversupply and people talk about too many primary trained teachers and accountants.
Finkel says that we need to adjust our instinctive reactions. It is time to recognise that it is not a failure to progress to a job that has no obvious link to one’s degree. In the mass education era, the capacity to pivot (my emphasis) is probably the most reliable predictor of success.
He goes on to ask and then answer: Why do so many more jobs require tertiary credentials today than in the past? A modern economy, increasingly centred on services, demands workers with excellent analytical and communications skills. Skills acquired through a science, technology, engineering and mathematics degree happen to be extremely useful for complex problem-solving in a technology-rich world.
In short: STEM skills are needed for traditionally non-STEM jobs. And the idea that STEM graduates should do only STEM jobs is irrational….No one should interpret this complex picture as a reduction in the value of undergraduate training.
Universities have never turned out graduates who are “job ready”. Their value proposition is to produce graduates who are “job capable”. Experts in their disciplines with the foundations of workplace skills.
Finkel goes on to describe how he has undertaken several professional pivots in his career, describing mastering a discipline at university and mastering job-specific demands literally on the job. Finkel was trained as an electrical engineer, but his first working career was in neuroscience and he has successfully pivoted again several times since.
It is time for the narrative to change, in fairness to our graduates and in anticipation of the national needs. Let’s abandon the historical expectation that degrees and careers should be tightly linked. Instead, let’s unchain our thinking and embrace the opportunities.
One of the opportunities Finkel alludes to is presented in how a school run by a friend and colleague, Dr Paul Browning, has addressed the entrepreneurial skill needs of students. Christine D’Mello, writing in The Age on August 29, outlines the entrepreneurial pathway that St Paul’s School in Brisbane has developed as the result of their strategic planning. In their planning the St Paul’s community looked out to 2028, a time when their younger students would reach year 12. There they found two critical uncertainties: the first was the development of technology and the second was the effect of new technologies on employment.
One example of student success is Sarah Seferis, now in Year 12, having had great success with her fashion blog over the past few years, showing what can be achieved by young people with ideas, creativity, drive and determination. Whilst Sarah’s blog has taken a lower profile this year as she prepares for her VCE exams, the site is worth a visit. http://sbysarah.blogspot.com.au
Over the last months we have been preparing ways we can better support students like Sarah and in 2017, students have elected to undertake a new elective called Enterprise to develop entrepreneurial skills and our first Young Entrepreneur Scholarship holder will join the school in 2017. We will continue to evolve and develop as we see best how to advantage our students.
Deep knowledge in a discipline developed through university education remains a significant component for career success, but of itself is now but a part of the total scenario. The skills for an adaptive future are also needed. Complex problem solving, critical thinking, communication skills, teamwork, people management, judgement and decision making are all listed in the Future of Jobs Report, developed by the World Economic Forum.
Earlier this week I attended a seminar where Professor Iven Mareels, Dean, Melbourne School of Engineering, University of Melbourne spoke and he emphasised that he wanted equal numbers of girl and boy students entering his faculty and all of them need the skills listed above. He listed in order, written and verbal communications skills, teamwork and then Maths as his requirements, just to make his point. He went on to say that engineers spend 70% of their time writing reports and if they are not written well, the project will never be funded, supported or even noticed.
Whether it be learning how to successfully pivot from one opportunity to another, building and improving our communication skills, empathy and resilience and/or whether it be how to turn ideas into business successes, we need to continually assess and refine how we use the precious time and resources available to young people in their school years.