Home | Policy & Reform | Grades no fix for youth unemployment: Mitchell Institute

Grades no fix for youth unemployment: Mitchell Institute

A senate inquiry has heard that Gonski funding aside, schools aren’t doing enough to prepare students for life.

Mitchell Institute Director Megan O’Connell told the inquiry on the future of work that an intense focus on grades has led to other skills, like communication and collaboration, being neglected.

“It’s always been there, but it has intensified since the introduction of NAPLAN,” she said. “Schools focus on measurable outcomes because that’s how they’re essentially ranked.”

This matters because vast youth unemployment persists despite increasing numbers of young people completing Year 12 and obtaining university qualifications, O’Connell contended at the Melbourne hearing.

Youth unemployment has been in the double digits for almost 10 years, compared with the overall rate of 5.6 per cent, reached yesterday. In some areas, particularly regional ones, the youth rate is above 20 per cent.

While university, which is grade-dependent, can lead to greater employment prospects, this is not universal. “For example, around half of all science graduates are only employed part-time four months after graduating and many of these (40 per cent) are working in fields unrelated to their degree,” O’Connell wrote in an op-ed that summarised her inquiry speech.

Employers report that graduates lack requisite ‘soft skills’, like those relegated in school classrooms, she added.

She used this point to argue for greater VET participation, and incentives, mainly in wage-form, to make this happen, as VET qualifications lead to more secure, in-demand employment. Eighty per cent of VET grads are employed, post-training. This, she said, is because connecting with industry is an integral component of most VET courses.

Low-paid sectors like early childhood education and aged and disability care need more workers, she informed.

Moreover, Mitchell Institute modelling shows that the workforce will soon require half VET-qualified, half university-qualified employees.

“In this light, it is particularly concerning that recent Mitchell Institute modelling warns that we could see a total demise of our important VET sector if recent enrolment trends continue,” she wrote.

“It is astonishing that our vocational sector continues to be dragged through the mud despite the vital role it has to play in Australia’s future.”

The sector is indeed outraged about the government’s recent, Budgetary actions. In a speech to the NSW Business Chamber last week, TAFE NSW managing director­ Jon Black said high student loan costs were a major factor in falling enrollments in the provider. TAFE Directors Australia supported Black’s comments.

But O’Connell remains hopeful about children’s employment futures. Solutions to increase school leavers’ employability include the teaching of ‘soft’ capabilities, which, although widely prescribed, are often de-prioritised, as well as better and earlier career planning in schools.

Regarding the latter, this “should start in primary school,” she advised. “Teachers can learn about students’ passions and use that to guide them in terms of subject choice and later career motivation.”

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