Future workforce requires broad capabilities

A new Mitchell Institute policy roundtable report says young people are ill-prepared for the future of work and suggests that cognitive, social and emotional skills should be considered alongside or contribute to ATAR.

The report, Preparing young people for the future of work, says that currently at a system level ‘only narrow measures of education achievement and certain outcomes are captured, valued and prioritised'.

These ‘narrow measures' include the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results and Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks (ATAR).

‘Measures which capture broader cognitive, social and emotional dimensions of children's development exist in the early years via the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC),' the report notes. ‘However as children progress through school, these important measures are not tracked at a national level, and are measured in inconsistent ways, if at all, in the states and territories.'

The researchers suggest that both NAPLAN and ATAR are given disproportionate weight and are driving the priorities of teachers, school leaders and education departments. ‘For capabilities to count they need to be measured and reported at a national level, assessed in schools and communicated to parents and considered alongside or contribute to ATAR.'

Impact on students and industry

The research shows school-leavers today are experiencing a journey from school to the workforce that is taking longer than those who completed school 10 or 20 years ago. Additionally, many low- and medium-level jobs are being automated or contracted offshore. The report says that some research estimates that 40 per cent of jobs in Australia are at high risk of being automated in the next 10 to 15 years.

‘For workers to benefit from the employment opportunities brought about by current and future technological developments, they will need to acquire a different set of capabilities than what is currently prioritised,' the report says.

The researchers say that university education is undertaken by the majority of young people but knowledge alone garnered through tertiary education is not sufficient for employment. ‘Young people without capabilities to work in teams, solve problems and collaborate do not fare well in the labour market – a fate effecting around 40 per cent of science graduates.'

While many traditional industries like manufacturing have been in steady decline, the report notes ‘growth is seen in the ‘non-routine' industries –­ those requiring innovation, creativity, problem-solving, relationships and responsiveness to changing circumstances'.

Vocational education and apprenticeships

Since 2012, investment and participation in vocational education has been declining, in turn reducing the educational opportunities and pathways for many young people.

The report notes that current vocational education and higher education investment levels are not sufficient to ensure the system has capacity to meet future tertiary level education and training needs. ‘In 2016, unemployment continued to trend upwards for young people, with over 260,000 15-24 year olds categorised as unemployed. A notable shift in employment patterns of young people in recent years has been the growing number of young people in part-time or casual employment and fewer young people with full-time jobs.'

The researchers say that of the almost one million new jobs to be created in Australia between 2016 and 2020, ‘around 483,000 of these jobs will require a bachelor degree or higher and around 438,000 will require a VET qualification'.

It adds, ‘However, the decline in investment and quality of the VET sector means that young people will not be adequately skilled or equipped to take advantage of the growth in the economy.'

It is also suggested that the separation between vocational or academic streams may also be exacerbating inequality. ‘This has been found to be the case for Indigenous students in some regions where “cohorts of students are directed toward these [vocational] options on assumptions about their culture or SES backgrounds”.'

Possible reforms and solutions

In preparing the report, the Mitchell Institute brought together a roundtable of education practitioners, government leaders, policy specialists and researchers who suggested two possible reforms: transforming secondary education and revitalising apprenticeships.

While these experts were from diverse backgrounds with contrasting views, the report notes that ‘there was absolute consensus on the need for change'.

Four key priority areas were identified as possible solutions:

  • Prioritising building young people's capabilities – Supporting and equipping educators to cultivate young people's capabilities within both academic and vocational learning streams;
  • Valuing vocational education – Shifting community perceptions about different and valued pathways, including the value of VET and limitations of focussing only on academic learning;
  • Navigating employment – Improving career exploration and career guidance options for school students to expand young people's understanding of the variety of pathways available; and,
  • Meaningful vocational education ­– Reforming VET in Schools policy by expanding the framework through which VET in Schools is taught and assessed is a necessary reform. (Torii & O'Connell, 2017).


Torii, K. & O'Connell, M. Preparing Young People for the Future of Work. Mitchell Institute Policy Paper No. 01/2017. Mitchell Institute, Melbourne.

In what ways do you measure the cognitive, social and emotional capabilities of your students? How do you ensure these measurements are consistent across your school?

The report says ‘knowledge alone garnered through tertiary education is not sufficient for employment’. How do you ensure you’re teaching students skills they can apply in the workforce, like teamwork or creativity?