10 March 2018
The Economic, Education and Skills Committee, Inquiry into career advice activities in Victorian Schools
Dear Members of the Inquiry Panel
Our reading of submissions already made to this inquiry suggests they fall into two broad groups:
• those who believe that something comparable to historical careers education is still relevant today; but that, in a variety of ways and for different reasons, it is not being effectively implemented
• those who believe that the world of work is changing so rapidly that conventional approaches to career education are no longer relevant.
We believe that both of these analyses are correct, but overall the second group (with which we very firmly align) have not developed their thinking far enough – and if they did this would help those charged now and in the future with helping students navigate their way into their futures become much more effective. None of the submissions made to this inquiry doubt that the landscape for those finishing their school education has changed, and continues to change faster than is comfortable for many people. Even the language used to describe the transition from secondary school has changed. Once this was called the ‘school to work’ transition, now it is more commonly called the transition to ‘the post-school environment’.
Many jobs our parents would recognise still exist. However, as many submissions have noted, the skills required to succeed in these jobs have changed, putting considerable stress on those trying to help students gain access to these jobs. There is clearly much to be done in most schools to make students (and teachers) aware of these changing job requirements and to better prepare those who would like to access these jobs, and make them part of their future career. But jobs our parents would recognise make up an ever smaller fraction of the work opportunities facing today’s students when their schooling is over.
Many other submissions have noted the increase in part-time, casual and temporary employment, as well as the rise in self-employment (including the so-called ‘gig’ economy). Some have suggested that virtually all future jobs will involve significant human/machine interaction, if not integration. Some submissions have questioned whether the rise of artificial intelligence will replace so many jobs that very few future adults will have access to any jobs at all.
The more these latter observations reflect future reality, the greater is the challenge for the education system in general, and specifically for careers education. It is our view that the trends are quite clear, and that access to a “9to5, Monday to Friday, 40 years in one career” world is shrinking faster than economic and political systems seem able to adjust. It also seems clear that the pace of social and technological change is unlikely to decrease. In such a world, apart from a very small group fortunate enough to decide while still at school what job they wish to pursue (and who continue to doggedly pursue that goal), the future can only be very uncertain.
Which gets to the heart of this submission and to the role that futures thinking might play in helping reshape careers education. Of all of modern societies’ institutions schools seem to be among the most obviously future-focused – the role of our education system is to prepare today’s young people to take their place in tomorrow’s world. Throughout much of history the world has been changing slowly enough that it was reasonable to assume that the next generation could be educated in much the same way as the current generation. This is no longer the case.
The world is not only changing fast, it is changing unpredictably; and it is this uncertainty that challenges conventional approaches to preparing young people for life after school. Not only do we not know what jobs will exist in the future, we don’t know how people will access those jobs, how they will shift between them, and how they will structure their lives outside their jobs. Preparing all of today’s young people to thrive in the face of such uncertainty is perhaps the biggest challenge facing today’s educators.
With respect to the world of work and jobs, the Foundation for Young Australians (in submission 72) have done fantastic work in identifying the key skills that today’s students will need no matter how their employment future unfolds. Shifting educational focus towards acquiring and reinforcing these core skills is both a big job and an urgent priority. Even this good work, however, perpetuates the commonly held view that the future is knowable today, and hence that the job of educators (particularly careers educators) is to understand it well enough to provide some element of predictability and certainty about the future employment outcomes of their students.
Psychological research consistently shows that almost all humans find attempting to function in the face of significant uncertainty extremely stressful, yet this is the reality of twenty first century life. Helping clients prepare for an uncertain future is what futurists do, and we believe the futurists’ approach would greatly assist educators in preparing their ‘clients’ for an inevitably uncertain future. Essentially the futurists’ approach encourages internalising recognition that there is no such thing as “the future”. Rather there are multiple alternative credible futures and effectively navigating into these futures involves first taking the time to explore the viable alternatives and then making informed choices between them. With respect to careers education, as has already been noted, the world of work and jobs is fragmenting in many different ways. No one pathway guarantees success, and no-one can anticipate which pathways will benefit which students (even if this could be anticipated, the environment is so changeable that the same student can reasonably expect different pathways to be more promising at different times in their life).
We acknowledge that it is difficult to acknowledge that those in charge don’t know what the future will herald. However, this acknowledgement is the first step towards creating the sort of flexibly self-confident young person who can successfully negotiate their post-school future not just in the first few years after they leave school but for the rest of their lives. We will recognise that this inquiry has tackled the fundamental issues facing careers education when its final report first acknowledges that all those who work in this area are ultimately uncertain about the future that today’s young people will face, and then recommends actions that will support students, teachers and parents to move forward resiliently in the face of that uncertainty.
ABOUT THE FUTURES FOUNDATION The futures foundation is a not for profit membership based organisation. All Australians with an interest in engaging more effectively with the future are invited to join. A sizable minority of our membership consists of secondary schools, and as a result the foundation is intimately involved with these schools in a variety of future focused projects.