Reinventing High School: Acquiring Skills for the Technological Revolution

Nicholas Wyman, CEO, Skilling Australia Foundation

Nicholas Wyman, CEO, Skilling Australia Foundation

The nature of work is in transition as a consequence of globalization, new technologies and the growing impact of Artificial Intelligence. Young people are leaving our education systems, and these young people who are charged with educating are ill prepared to face the future of work. In manufacturing, for example, the days of bolt-turning assembly work is rapidly giving way to knowledge-based activities such as computer-controlled automation, a new mode of manufacturing that requires not workers with fine craft skills but people who can program and maintain industrial robots to function.

Many other fields are being similarly transformed through the Industry 4.0 revolution: the traditional craft of metal machining is giving way to computerization; in healthcare, the advanced diagnostic equipment on which doctors greatly rely has given rise to dozens of skilled vocations: echocardiogram operators, lab and operating room equipment technicians, hospital IT specialists, and dozens more.

We look forward to our high schools, vocational schools, and post-secondary institutions to provide people who can step into these jobs, for the next generation of graduates will be required to bring a higher level of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) knowledge and training to even entry level jobs.

Understanding of how to work in a world with Artificial Intelligence will be a basic requirement to succeed in the labour market of tomorrow.

Australia’s position in the global economy and its regional strength will continue to present it with abundant economic opportunities if it can build a labour force that is up to the challenge. Unfortunately, currently our record in grasping these opportunities is mixed at best. Too many of our young people are leaving school with neither marketable skills nor relevant work experience. Many high school (and bachelor degree) graduates are unprepared to work in our changing economy, as they are learning from curriculum which is becoming too quickly outdated and redundant. Too many learn literally, not laterally and are often not aware of the projected impact of macro factors and the new skills required and take on new challenges.

Where can young people learn about the changing nature of work?

The Australian Government is to be commended for piloting an innovative approach to the school-to-work transition as a practical way to engage young Australians toward new and emerging careers. The Australian P-TECH or Pathways in Technology model was adapted from a model first started in 2011 in a school in Brooklyn, New York. There, a collaborative partnership was formed between technology giant IBM, the New York City Department of Education, the City University of New York, and later other multinationals (Since then, the P-TECH model has expanded to nearly 80 schools across the U.S.)

The P-TECH model aligns with the Australian federal government’s stated ambition to ensure that all high school students will have the skills they’ll need for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Hunter River High School in NSW runs a P-TECH skills-based program that is focusing on aeronautical and related aerospace industries where students have access to employer partners including BAE Systems Australia, Jetstar, Varley Group Engineering, and Ampcontrol. The program partners are working together to build student interest and skills in STEM and raise awareness of the breadth and depth of STEM related training and employment pathways that are being available in their region, whilst providing students with a clear industry supported pathway to achieve a post-school qualifications, and ongoing local employment. Currently, 14 schools across the country are participating in the P-TECH Pilot, as industry is increasing coming to realise if you want pure talent, you have to get close to the source.

Skilling Australia Foundation has been engaged by the Australian Government to assist local stakeholders to work together to implement P-TECH learning programs in Australia.

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