Equipping students with 'enterprise skills'

Teachers can better prepare students for future careers by helping them develop 'enterprise skills' such as digital and financial literacy, critical thinking and teamwork, according to analysis of millions of job ads.

The new research reveals youngsters entering the workforce can't rely solely on industry-specific technical skills to secure a position as employers are increasingly looking for candidates with enterprise skills, which are sometimes referred to as 21st Century or soft skills.

The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), which has published the findings, says Australia needs to invest in a national strategy to ensure students are developing enterprise skills 'inside and outside the classroom'.

Its study analysed 4.2 million online job ads in Australia between 2012 and 2015. After being filtered down to early-career roles relevant to youngsters more than 50 fields of information were extracted for each posting to piece together a picture of what employers want.

FYA reports that, from 2012 to 2015, the proportion of jobs that demanded critical thinking increased by 158 per cent. For digital literacy, creativity, presentation skills and problem solving the increase was 212 per cent, 65 per cent, 25 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively.

The analysis of job ads also found key enterprise skills make a difference to pay. 'Compared with jobs that do not list these skills, jobs that request presentation skills paid an additional $8853 per year, digital literacy an additional $8648, problem solving an additional $7745, financial literacy an additional $5224 and creativity an additional $3129. This pay premium reflects the value that employers place on these skills and their relative scarcity.'

Detailing the research results in The New Basics: Big data reveals the skills young people need for the New Work Order the non-profit organisation notes it's not just IT and technology where digital skills are in demand. '[They are required] in jobs as diverse as veterinarian, art director, personal assistant and dentist.'

'No longer can a young person rely on the technical skills particular to their field of work to get their foot in the door,' FYA Chief Executive Officer Jan Owen said in a statement. 'They will also need a toolkit of transferable enterprising skills including communication, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, digital and financial literacy.'

In relation to financial literacy, problem solving and digital literacy, the report cites Australian Council for Educational Research analysis of PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results and TALIS (Teaching and Learning International Survey) data.

'Critically, around one-third of Australian 15 year-olds are not proficient in problem solving, financial literacy or digital literacy. Furthermore, only 1 in 10 teachers have recently participated in professional development to help students develop generic, transferable skills for the future workplace.

'... Unfortunately, less than half of Australian secondary school teachers report frequently involving students in “small groups to come up with a joint solution to a problem or task".'

Outlining its vision for an enterprise skills education program, FYA says it would: start in primary school and build year on year throughout high school; be taught through experience and immersion; include information about future jobs and career skills; and involve students, schools, parents and industry representatives working together to design learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom.

It suggests Australia can look to Canada and Singapore as countries that have already taken steps to redesign the curriculum to embed enterprise skills. On the topic of teaching methods, it highlights a curriculum redesign in Japan aimed at promoting integrated learning, that includes students spending time on cross-curricular projects.

When it comes to developing teachers, FYA says: 'While it is widely acknowledged that inquiry-based, collaborative and project-based learning are a very valuable way to develop enterprise skills, these teaching methods are challenging to develop in teachers.' It suggests embedding skills in initial teacher education and ongoing teacher PD.

To download a copy of The New Basics: Big data reveals the skills young people need for the New Work Order (PDF 1.8 MB) click on the link.

As a classroom teacher, are you incorporating the enterprise skills highlighted in the FYA report into your planning?

Are there opportunities to work collaboratively with the community and local businesses to better prepare students for the jobs of the future?

As a school leader, what PD support is available to help staff improve their skills in teaching methods such as inquiry-based, collaborative and project-based learning?