Business Chamber push to ensure HSC graduates have skills to work

Published by: The Daily Telegraph 

Over the past 30 years we have seen inventions such as the internet, GPS, iPhones, e-mail and e-commerce change our lives, the way we run businesses and the way we interact. So it is surprising that the NSW school curriculum is only now under comprehensive review for the first time since 1989.

The onset of new technologies, industries and opportunities dictate the need for a comprehensive review of what our children are taught and how.

As the CEO of the peak business organisation in NSW, I constantly hear from business owners that young people entering the workforce lack the skills they should have gained in school, such as numeracy and literacy, critical thinking and effective communication.

On the other side of the desk, we are also hearing from our young people that good, reliable and unbiased career advice just isn’t there when they need it most. They, and their parents, experience high degrees of anxiety in attempting to navigate options that will hopefully provide them with a rewarding and meaningful career.

Simultaneously, hundreds of businesses will continue to advertise roles which young people simply don’t have the skills, training or experience to fill.

No one seriously believes that schools should be the beginning and end point of a young person’s learning journey, but there’s certainly things we can be doing to ensure that they are better able to take a positive step towards employment at the end of their 13 years at school.

With HSC results released yesterday and ATAR results coming today, it’s worth pausing to ask whether these numbers are the best reflection of what students are learning, and if the curriculum that is being taught is the best way to help them achieve their goals in a changing economy.

Our 2018 Skillsroad Youth Census of more than 30,000 young people showed that almost 20 per cent felt pushed into a university pathway, while only 3 per cent felt encouraged to pursue an apprenticeship or traineeship, and 23 per cent said that they would have liked to have known more about the pathways available to them.

While school provides a great platform for learning, there is clearly more to be done in the areas of careers advice and the provision of flexible skilling pathways — pathways that allow students and their parents to select learning options that prepare and provide for exciting and rewarding futures.

These pathways should focus on providing the skills required and demanded by employers, skills that will help aspiring jobseekers to build a career and not just to get a job. Parents have a huge role to play as well.

Collectively, we need to get rid of the stigma that seems to accompany a young person considering an apprenticeship or traineeship instead of going to uni, because the statistics show that they are far more employable, and secure longer lasting employment.

It is also odd that we have a hyper-focus on ATAR results, yet only one in four students are admitted to university on the basis of their ATAR.

This review presents the perfect opportunity to overhaul our education system, to focus it on the future needs of our state and to help ensure that NSW remains the number one state in our nation.

This is why the NSW Business Chamber has put forward five key recommendations for the Review:

1 Put student needs at the centre of the system.

2 Refocus the curriculum to ensure all students can build and develop industry relevant general capabilities as well as literacy and numeracy skills.

3 Decouple the ATAR from the final years of schooling by revitalising and re-emphasising the HSC as a final credential that celebrates and recognises the attainment of skills and capabilities by all students.

4 Ensure more contemporary careers advice to students and their families is available from Year 9.

5 Reduce the breadth of the curriculum by removing subjects that are more effectively delivered outside the school system.

Students, parents, communities and business expect this to be a major milestone in transforming NSW schools, preparing our future workforce and supporting our young people to succeed regardless of whether their career journey involves technical training, an apprenticeship or traineeship, a job or university.

Stephen Cartwright is CEO of the NSW Business Chamber

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