Setting students up for success in the workforce

With today’s school students entering a highly competitive workforce, gaining exposure to businesses throughout their school years is more important than ever.

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With today’s school students entering a highly competitive workforce, gaining exposure to businesses throughout their school years is more important than ever.

Participating in Work Inspiration has been a powerful experience for the students of Dandenong High, giving them a broader perspective of the type of work they can do and the types of places they can work, according to the school’s Assistant Principal Vicky Argyropoulos.

Supported by NAB, Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), The Smith Family, and the Department of Education, the program helps businesses establish work experience programs to inspire young people to think differently about work. Students explore career journeys, connect with their business and meet and talk to staff.

Dandenong High originally signed on as a pilot school and over the past two and a half years has rotated more than 100 students through Work Inspiration programs facilitated by NAB.

“Typically, we’d tell kids they need to get some work experience, and they would go to something safe, for example, an entry level supermarket experience in their suburb,” says Argyropoulos. “That’s not very effective in terms of giving them a broader view

“So when this program originally came across my desk, I was very interested. I wanted our students participating to provide them with an alternative. But it ended up being much more than that with participating students reporting back they felt valued, they felt heard and felt there’s somebody listening to them who’s got their back. And that’s a very powerful experience.”

Exposing students to business

Invigorated by the success of Work Inspiration, Dandenong High has also signed up to $20 Boss, another initiative of FYA and NAB, which gives secondary school students at participating schools $20 to run a business for a month.

“Kids are demanding a lot more, the world of work is demanding a lot more, and schools have an obligation to empower young people,” says Argyropoulos. “A collaboration between schools and large corporates such as NAB can only benefit students.”

This sentiment is backed by research by Dr Anthony Mann, the UK-based Director of Research and Policy, Education and Employers Taskforce. He found students who had four or more meaningful interactions with employers while at school, such as career talks or work experience, are more likely to find work and to earn more throughout their career.

Dr Mann attributes the improved prospects of those students who engaged with businesses to the increased social capital (access to sources of non-redundant, trusted information) enabled by employer engagement.

“The vast majority of schools are open to working with the wider business community, and many companies are developing bespoke programs,” says Jodi Kennedy, Head of Community Engagement at NAB.

As well as the aforementioned Work Inspiration and $20 Boss, NAB is a principal supporter of High Resolves, which sees NAB employees making regular visits to select schools over six months supporting young people to take on social issues in their local community.

“There’s been a real shift in the past few years where business, government, and education have realised that they can’t do this alone,” says Kennedy. “With the changing work landscape there’s a recognition that all three sectors need to work together to give young people the opportunities they need to set them up for success.”

Preparing young Australians for an ever-changing workforce is a growing challenge, according to a study released in March by research company McCrindle and the Career Industry Council of Australia.

“Today’s school leavers are the most digitally supplied and globally connected generation in history but also have more post-school options to consider than any previous generation – they need help transitioning from education to participation,” says Mark McCrindle, Principal of McCrindle. “We know that school leavers today need life and career skills that can future-proof their employment in this changing, multi-career era and this is what career practitioners provide.”

McCrindle’s research also shows that the average Australian stays with their employer for just three years and four months. If this plays out in the lifetime of a school leaver today, they’ll have 17 separate employers in their working life

Encouraging students to be more entrepreneurial

Lynda Gratton, Professor at the London Business School, concurs, saying that longer lifespans mean people can expect to work into their 80s and have multiple careers. A global survey she conducted of Gen Zs (those aged 12 to 18 years) asking them what jobs they expect to have in the future had many respondents nominating starting their own business.

“Why? Because technology has changed the whole landscape of corporations and work,” says Gratton. “What this means is even small businesses employing five or six people can have a global reach, and they are beginning to realise that. It’s not that they want to become a billionaire or build the largest company in the world; they want to become an individual producer. By that I mean there’s a group of three or four of them and they make a decent living building their own business.”

Kennedy says that even within large organisations employees are increasingly encouraged to be entrepreneurial.

“Using NAB as the example, change is the new normal, we’re constantly being challenged to do things differently and to raise the bar,” she says. “The things we’re encouraging people to learn through programs such as $20 Boss, Work Inspiration and High Resolves, is that entrepreneurial thinking is applicable regardless of what area you decide to go into, whether that’s small business, working for yourself or a large corporation – they are the skills of the future.”

Gaining a competitive edge

Unlimited Potential, a 2014 report fromFYAsupported by NAB, shows the scope of the challenge facing young Australians, with many finding the transition from education to full-time work challenging. Close to 30 percent of young Australians in the labour force are unemployed or underemployed, something that’s costing the Australian economy 790 million lost hours in 2014, equating to $15.9 billion in lost GDP. The social impact is equally compelling, with the loss of confidence, hope and self-esteem leading to mental health issues costing $7.2 billion per annum.

Kennedy’s advice is that students seek out opportunities from the start of their secondary school years to better prepare them for the workforce.

“From Year 7 they need to be exploring career options,” she says. “Even spending two hours with a contact they have via family, friends or a school network, exposes them to different types of workplaces. It might mean volunteering their time on weekends or school holidays, but it’s important to gain exposure to the workforce throughout their school years to see what the jobs they’re interested in actually involve.”

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