Educating the Future Workforce
Tom Worthington, MEd FHEA FACS CPGood afternoon, I am a computer and educational technology consultant. As an Honorary Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at the Australian National University I teach computer professionals in skills for and with computers. As a member of the Professional Education Governance Committee of the Australian Computer Society I help set the education standards for future professionals. ANU and ACS have made submissions to this inquiry, but my views here as an individual interested in education for work.
As you have heard from other speakers, it is generally agreed that technology will eliminate many jobs. Workers will need better soft and technical skills, plus retraining for multiple careers. I am example of this having had one career as a computer programmer and then retraining in Australia and North America as an educator.
The Australian education system already allows for work-ready learning across schools, VET and university. Some minor adjustments can make the system more flexible.
- Strengthen the VET system and have it blended with secondary schooling at the lower end and
university at the upper end. Students should be able to complete a VET qualification
at secondary school, go on to further study in the VET system (while working
part-time) and then to university, still while working. One area which can be addressed is to allow conditional student loans for shorter VET programs, particularly certificate IV.
- Make the university system more flexible. We need to encourage universities to offer nested, standardized programs which offer sub-degree entry and exit points. Students should be able to start with a sub-degree program and then continue their studies for a degree. Most university courses are already blended, but government policy and university practice needs to recognize that most university students now, in effect, studying on-line so they can work at the same time.One issue which needs to be addressed is international student visa conditions. Students are currently required to maintain a full time study load, which imposes considerable stress on them and their instructors. This could be reduced to a three quarter load and allow for more on-line study.
- Rather than focusing on traditional campus based three years university degrees, I
suggest policy should prioritize on-line, nested, programs which offer
sub-degree entry and exit points, with the flexibility to study off-campus. The ANU Vice Chancellor mentioned micro-credentials in his evidence.
- Soft skills can be addressed in specific university courses and in project work. Soft skills figure prominently in the ANU's "TechLauncher5 program of group project work for STEM students. Techlauncher students undertake team building exercises and have mentors, tutors and clients with industry experience. Some of this looks like fun, where students play with Lego, but there is also a lot of hard work on team and client relationship skills.
- In addition, we need teachers in schools, VET and university, who have training and formal qualifications in how to teach these skills. This is particularly a problem in universities where academic staff have higher research degrees, but minimal teacher training. Academics need formal teaching qualifications.