Yes we can!

So there’s been a survey on the state of health of high school work experience system and the verdict is in.

It’s broken!

Tell us something we don’t already know!

We’ve been treading water for years now. Although many schools throughout Australia have managed to run excellent work experience programs in partnership with local business and industry, many more have been left to piece together programs ad hoc and disproportionate in what they deliver.

Much of the onus has fallen on students

That’s fine, considering work experience is supposed to entail the process of search, interview, work and reflect; or it may have been fine a decade or two ago before the GFC. You remember the time? Jobs were plentiful. Rules were a little more relaxed. Businesses were not tied up in the red tape of insurances and other legal issues. They even had the staff (and the time) available to mentor and explain.

The survey doesn’t bring anything new to the surface

Often teachers find organising work experience burdensome and difficult, and students find securing a work placement stressful. (This isn’t surprising considering all of the above.) Some students are better placed than others with contacts through parents or friends. Others have no idea where to begin, and in rural and regional areas the choices can be limited.

Limping along on stopgap measures

The desperate scramble by teachers and students alike can see placements landing on reluctant family members, the school office or library, or a workplace ill prepared to provide any meaningful workplace experience. It’s no wonder some students find their placement boring, irrelevant and a waste of time. A week of menial tasks is hardly conducive to engagement and meaningful reflection.

The survey found that some schools have scrapped their work experience program altogether, preferring instead to concentrate on ATAR results. That’s not only opportunity lost, but also an issue worthy of an entirely different discussion!

The existing concept of work experience is outdated

No surprise there either. How closely does your students’ workplace experience resemble that of your own school days? We haven’t really kept up with the times (let’s face it, we’ve been busy); nor have we kept up with the need to foster a more innovative and entrepreneurial approach to the work experience program. Work experience has at best been crafted and taught by passionate career education professionals; at worst, neglected or cobbled together by teachers seconded from other disciplines. The survey might not tell us anything new, but it does highlight the urgency of taking positive action so that we don’t continue to fall short.

It’s time for other stakeholders to step up!

With careers more fluid and far ranging, the workforce more competitive, and the skills and capabilities required more complex; connecting the classroom and the workplace is not as straightforward as it once was. Work experience education needs a far more collaborative approach. For too long now the bulk of the responsibility has been has been placed on schools. It’s about time business, industry the community and the government stepped up!

Everyone benefits

Well-run secondary school work experience programs give young Australians valuable experience of the workplace. They also give students something tangible to aspire to and an understanding of the path towards their aspirations. We all benefit from this in the long run. Put simply, preparing young people for the workforce is vital for the economy to thrive. The future of Australian business and industry rests on the resource of raw talent and enthusiasm that can be found in our schools.

A call to action

The South Australian Education Minister John Gardner is calling on stakeholders and the community to come forward with ideas about how to improve the work experience system in South Australian schools. This could benefit all Australian schools.

Let’s take him up on it!

Let’s not put the minister’s call to action to waste. We understand that the successful connection between schools, business and industry needs a dedicated, experienced and enthusiastic network of educators, community members and workplace insiders.

  • How can we implement these connections?
  • What are the barriers and how can we address them? (Time? Resources? Training? Administration?)
  • How can we ensure that every school and community as the opportunity?

Let’s get a conversation started, share our ideas and put them forward to the minister. More importantly, let’s follow up and hold every stakeholder to account so that we can make genuine change.

A few things to reflect on
  • If the existing concept of work experience is outdated, what do we replace it with?
  • What do our students want, need and value?
  • What should business/industry gain from a well-coordinated program?
  • How do we track the success or otherwise of partnerships?
  • What should we demand of our policy makers?
  • What role should all stakeholders play?
  • Industry receives government grants. Should some of these be on the proviso that they engage more with secondary schools, communities and the workers they will rely on in the future?

Why not chat with your colleagues, students, parents, community members and any other stakeholders in your work experience space.

Write in with your ideas and observations. We would love to start a discussion and get the ministers involved.

Looking forward to hearing from you on these pages!