Can we help students navigate the future of work?

Four minutes
Jeanne Allegro Monday, September 4th, 2017

Last month, the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) launched its fifth research report on the ‘New Work Order’, which has looked at how disruptions to the world of work are affecting young people.

Teach For Australia’s Senior Manager of Measurement, Evaluation and Research, Jeanne Allegro, went along to the Melbourne launch of The New Work Smarts report to learn more.

The New Work Smarts report, 2017.

Through reviewing existing research and analysing big datasets, including the activities performed in the 20 billion hours Australians work each year and the skills sought in millions of real job advertisements, FYA’s reports predict the skills and capabilities that will be most in demand in 2030. The findings have major implications for how teachers and parents help students prepare for their futures:

  • Three global forces are rapidly changing the way we work: automation, globalisation and flexibility.
    • Nearly 60% of Australian students (70% in vocational education and training) are currently studying or training for occupations where at least two thirds of jobs will be automated.
    • 11% of service jobs could be provided from overseas.
    • The average 15 year old is predicted to have 17 jobs over 5 different careers during their lifetime.
  • It is now taking young people, on average, 4.7 years to transition from full time education to full time work.
  • The new set of basic skills are a core set of transferrable enterprise skills: since 2012, demand for digital skills has increased by more than 200%, critical thinking by more than 150%, creativity by more than 60% and presentation skills by 25%.
  • When a young person trains or works one job they acquire skills that will help them access 13 other jobs. Employers often demand very similar skills across multiple jobs, meaning young people should be thinking about seven job clusters: the ‘informers’, the ‘technologists’, the ‘carers’, the ‘generators’, the ‘designers’, the ‘coordinators’ and the ‘artisans’.
  • As technology reduces the need for workers to complete routine, manual tasks, workers will spend more time focusing on people, solving more strategic problems and thinking creatively.

FYA is cautiously optimistic about what this means for young people:

“To support young people to navigate these changing labour markets Australia will need to invest to ensure they are innovative, creative and enterprising. Amidst this uncertainty, young people need to make choices that will affect their future options and need to have information that simplifies the complex world of work, helping them navigate work and learning throughout their lifetime.”

This research is complemented by the University of Newcastle’s longitudinal study of almost 6,500 NSW school students on their career aspirations, which found:

  • Year level at school, gender and prior achievement were stronger predictors of career aspirations than factors such as socioeconomic status (SES), Indigenous status and school location. Students from low SES backgrounds have similar career aspirations to those from higher SES categories.
    • In teaching science and medicine, students’ perceptions of their relative academic performance was an important predictor of occupational interest.
    • The researchers note that the focus on ‘raising’ low SES students’ aspirations for higher education may need to shift towards ‘nurturing’ aspirations.
  • Australian children begin to form career aspirations from a very young age, but aspirations change over time:
    • In Year 3, children aspired most to having a career as arts professionals (musician, artist, writer and so on), followed by teachers, veterinarians, architects, and scientists (these were the top five occupations where a university education was involved).
    • Interest in some occupations – arts, architecture and veterinary science – declines in the later years of schooling, while interest in others – engineering, nursing, and social and welfare work – grows. Interest in teaching, medicine, legal and science careers is more stable across the school years.
Figure 1. Percentage of student survey responses for top 5 occupations, by school year level.

This research calls for a rethinking around skills building and careers education in Australian schools. For teachers and school leaders, the takeaways are:

  • start early
  • focus on building in demand enterprise skills
  • nurture students’ aspirations around types of work rather than specific jobs; and
  • ensure students can manage uncertainty.

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