Careers snakes and ladders
Written by Cameron Magusic, Marketing and Communications Executive at Gooroo.
Across Australia, secondary school students are casting off the chains of exam season.
This is after countless early starts and late ends to note revision, memorisation of quotes and a multitude of practice exams. All for that elusive Australian Tertiary Admission Ranking (ATAR), which will determine whether students are able to enroll in the university course they have selected with their first preference.
If a tertiary institution does not offer entry into a course that is a student’s first preference, it may be that this student is accepted into the course that is their second or third preference.
How have these preferencing decisions been made? It’s important to consider the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of being a 17- or 18-year-old, when these decisions are being made.
It’s just as important to consider the role of school career practitioners in this preferencing process, if not more so. If they have recommended careers to students, what is it about those careers that make those students suited to them? What about the role that practitioners have played in informing the decisions that students have made to select the subjects they are studying for in their final exams?
It might be said that the role of school career practitioners is integral to students selecting their course preferences — so integral that the economic, education, jobs and skills committee of the Victorian parliament recently published their final report into career advice activities in Victorian schools after almost 12 months of submissions, public hearings and report drafting.
The committee’s report made 37 findings and 46 recommendations based on 91 submissions. Over 90 witnesses gave evidence over four public hearings, with the first finding the most startling: “Career development services at Victorian schools are not meeting the needs of students who want ‘hands on’ experience and tailored guidance from career practitioners who have the time and expertise to support them.”
An article in the Australian Financial Review in July this year said, “Education experts and employment consultants say the careers advice at secondary schools is failing school students, leading to high university dropout rates and low representation of regional and rural students at university.”
So how can we do better in a process that plays a large part in determining a student’s future?
CAREER EXPLORATION AT SECONDARY SCHOOLS
Martin Valentino and Letian Wang work at Culture Amp, an organisation that makes it easy for others to collect, understand and act on employee feedback.
They were recruited as part of Culture Amp’s intake from the 2017 Tin Alley Beta (TAB) program. TAB is a premier tech start-up paid internship program designed to support high-growth technology start-ups in Melbourne. Gooroo technology was used to match, screen and rank candidates for each of the roles.
They have different cultural backgrounds — Valentino is from Indonesia, and Wang is from China but completed Year 12 at a grammar school in Melbourne — and their experiences of career counselling are similar.
Valentino, who studied accounting and information systems at the University of Indonesia before changing to computer science at Mercubuana University, believes that more exposure to the “real world” in secondary school would have enabled him to make better decisions about his university degree sooner.
“I didn’t talk much to counsellors at my school,” Valentino says.
“I did not realise what was actually my passion until my second year at uni.”
“What I learned … it’s good if you have a chance to get a broad exposure to a couple of things so you can see, ‘Oh, this is actually what I’m really good at, and this is what I want to taste in my life’. So that’s what I didn’t get.”
“The more exposure to the real world that I can get, I think it’s better for me to pick what are my interests early on.”
This is a point echoed by Scott Arbeitman, analytics capability lead at Culture Amp.
“You need to try it before you know what you want to do and I think it’s harder to go to university and you have to specialise early for something that you don’t know anything about,” Arbeitman says.
“So the more informed decisions you can make, the better.”
This might be achieved by increasing work experience between schools and employers.
However, the Victorian parliamentary committee report mentioned above finds that there are administrative, legal and compliance requirements that burden schools and employers in organising these one- or two-week placements for students — in spite of the fact that students and recent school leavers who responded to the parliamentary committee’s online survey said work experience was the most useful career development service at their school.
Source: Economic, Education, Jobs and Skills Committee, Inquiry into career advice activities in Victorian schools, online survey (2017)
The parliamentary committee therefore recommends “that the Victorian Government investigate how to encourage more employers to take on work experience students” and “that the Department of Education and Training develop an online portal for work experience to help students find placements and ease the administrative burden for schools and employers.”
This is something that Gooroo already does for university students, through the TAB program and for other job-seekers. (We do this using our Predictive People Analytics platform, which you can learn more about here.)
FROM SECONDARY TO TERTIARY BUT NO PROGRESSION
There seems to be a consensus that school career practitioners aren’t meeting the needs of students who are seeking their services.
The parliamentary committee’s report finds that these practitioners or their schools do not have enough time or resources to do their jobs properly, leading to poorer outcomes for students. The adverse impact of this is doubly felt in regional schools.
Former TAFE teacher Russell Sharp, who is based in the Geelong region, has seen first-hand how poor careers advice affects the tertiary education sector.
While teaching a graphic design course of about 20 students each time, Sharp would always find one or two students who were there because they “(could) do a bit of drawing”. He says these students would always drop out.
The proportion of students who did not return to the second year of a bachelor degree has increased since 2011, according to a report published by the Grattan Institute earlier this year.
Not all of this has to do with bad careers advice, and, indeed, not all bad careers advice results in students dropping out of their university courses — both Valentino and Wang testify to students who completed courses that weren’t ideally chosen, perhaps because of a sunken cost factor, and who ended up working in jobs in other fields.
As Sharp says, “There’s people out there who say, ‘I became a doctor after five years. I hated it, so I went off and I did such-and-such.’”
“Why did they do doctoring when they feel they didn’t want to do it?” he asks.
“They wasted a whole education when they could do something else. That’s the same with anything.”
“They’re being told, ‘Well, you need to get your ATAR up to 99 so you can get into medicine or get into architecture.’”
“If you don’t get that score, you’re only going to get to here, when that’s possibly not what your aptitude and your subconscious want to do.”
COUNSELLING THE COUNSELLORS AND TEACHING THE TEACHERS
There’s something to say about “telling” a student they’d be good at career x, y, or z. Where is the personal choice? Where is the empowerment of the individual?
“Just sitting around and doing some art is not what graphic design and multimedia is about,” Russell Sharp says.
“That was the assumption — you don’t have to be very clever to do that. I just think that the career counselling teachers were just very naïve of what things were.”
“The historic thing of ‘You’re not going to do humanities, you’re not going to do engineering, you’ll go and do some art, won’t you? That’s all you can do.’ Which is very misleading, very misguided.”
Sharp tells the story of a student who presented a folio of their works as part of the admission process, which was “pretty good.”
“The next student came along, the same school, they had the identical folio. Wasn’t the same folio, but they had identical work!”
“Obviously, their art teacher was feeding them this is what to do, this is what to do. And they were entering a course that required an enormous amount of creativity.”
“If everyone had the same essay in English, they’d be in trouble.”
What would Sharp say if he had the opportunity to talk with school career practitioners?
“I’d be saying, ‘Well, just because the student hasn’t passed through physics and chemistry and maths and English and all that, you can’t just say, “Oh, go and do something that involves drawing as being an alternative course.”
“You’ve got to find out what they really want.”
Letian Wang from Culture Amp thinks that the career counselling process has room for improvement.
“I was exposed to counsellors both in China and here,” he says. “I think I got some very generic recommendations — ‘follow your passion’ — which I think is not very helpful, because at that age, you don’t really know what your passion is.”
This is despite Kaniva College telling the Victorian parliamentary committee in its submission that:
“Without finding a passion for what a student wants to do, it is hard to guide them.”
“Students are disillusioned, parents don’t know how to help them, options seem financially challenging and it all gets too hard.”
According to this view, the whole issue seems to be insoluble and intractable — but is there another way?
MAKING MORE AND BETTER DECISIONS
What if we made the case that to succeed in the future of work, workers and hirers must re-orient themselves from focusing on experience to focusing on skills and mindsets (the underlying thinking and preferences, known as Mindspaces) that are transferable across industries and sectors? An explanation of Gooroo’s unique ability to map job roles to Mindspaces can be found here.
Independent research by the Foundation for Young Australians in 2017 says that in Australia, there are seven groups, or “clusters” of jobs that skills can be transferred across.
Given this is the situation, the report says, “rather than asking a young person, what is your ‘dream job’, it may be more useful to ask what is your ‘dream job cluster’?”
We are able to break this idea down further.
Scott Arbeitman from Culture Amp says a hypothetical secondary school student who selects their university course on the basis of trying to maximise their earning potential would be hard for a school career practitioner to give advice to.
“I think it’s too hard for a counsellor to advise properly on it, except to give really broad advice, which is like: have lots of experiences; learn skills that are really generalisable, which might be social skills, it might be basic technical skills,” he says.
“We say reading, writing and arithmetic are foundational, but I think there’s many more foundational skills, or skills that should be foundational, around critical thinking, around being open to experiences and trying things and be willing to accept feedback and learn from their mistakes, that I think actually are in some ways more important than having a particular job experience.”
Arbeitman concludes, “Let’s just say living with a mindset of being able to cope with (the) modern workplace, and I think that that’s a skill that you can acquire in high school and before with the right teachers, the right parents, the right community. It’s somehow simple but not easy.”
Gooroo’s Mindspace, an Advanced Relational Meaning System (ARMS), models the way that brain, mind, and consciousness are integrated to map an individual’s likely decision-making patterns in specific settings and environments. It can be used to understand the capabilities we need to develop in secondary school students to prepare them for the roles of the future, where those roles cannot even be imagined yet.
By helping secondary school students understand themselves and what guides their thinking and purpose better, we can illuminate more aligned options and give them back control over their decisions and futures.
This can be done using Gooroo ColourGrid®, authored by Gooroo scientific advisor Dr Colin Benjamin OAM FAICD MAASW. Dr Benjamin developed ColourGrid™ over four decades in collaboration with academics in Australia and the US. He has applied it to inform the strategic direction of many major Australian and international enterprises.
As Russell Sharp says, “The ColourGrid is a tool that tells people about their minds.”
“It takes you, and says ‘This is where you are and this is what your preferences are’ and comes out at the end giving you a series of alternatives that you might be interested in based on your profile and from there, you can work on saying, ‘Do I need to study this and study that?’”
Sharp worked with Dr Benjamin to produce the artwork in Gooroo’s self-published book, How We Make Up Our Minds: Making More & Better Choices, which “provides the foundation to the Gooroo ColourGrid® … in order to get more and better job opportunities and working life choices.”
ColourGrid “gives you your mindset at the time,” Sharp continues.
“It works out what your preferences are to where you might want to go, not what society tells you you should be doing or your parents tell you you should be doing.”
One way to measure the success of meaningful and relevant career choices is to look at how people engage in the workforce.
Gooroo’s science may be able to help other groups of people look for work — namely, job service providers and their clients.
A trial of Gooroo’s science in the Northern Futures program, which connects and includes people, enhances their opportunities for personal growth and, ultimately, changes lives, resulted in 80% candidate retention after 12 months.
This demonstrates that the key to prolonged and sustained engagement in further training and work is the active engagement of people in selecting and exploring options for their future.
Each person interviewed for this story had their own angle on how the education-to-work pathway might be improved.
Martin Valentino from Culture Amp says the answer comes back to more work experience at secondary schools.
“I think (the education-to-work pathway) needs to get students more exposed to real work in industries,” he says.
“So not just put the concepts and theories into their minds, but also put some practice into the subjects at uni — I think that’s more beneficial.”
“At the end of the day … that exposure (to companies) is really helpful to decide what I’m going to do in the future.”
For Scott Arbeitman, Culture Amp’s analytics capability lead, the solution might involve a revamp of the school system itself.
“It feels like in some ways the school systems that we have are set up for (the) industrialised age, and we’re post-industrial,” he says, “and yet our means of education haven’t meaningfully changed, I think, in recent times.”
“And universities are largely unchanged from what I see — you know, it’s been a few years since I studied but it seems like the subjects are slightly different but the protocol is the same.”
“You’re still taking tests, you’re still kind of guessing what’s the right password to get the answer right on this rather than applying some critical thought.”
“So, I think the formula is off and probably does a disservice to a lot of people and to us as an employer — we cannot hire people that we want to hire.”
“If only they would have had different exposure in their formative years.”
According to Russell Sharp, it’s a matter of school career practitioners and candidates not knowing what they don’t know.
“Not everybody knows all the jobs that exist, that’s the trouble,” he says.
“It’s a very narrow set of jobs that people think about when they’re looking for a job.”
“They don’t know all the ins and outs of a job, and all the skill sets that required.”
Valentino’s and Arbeitman’s colleague, Letian Wang, thinks students need to take on more initiative once they go to university. He recommends the resource 80,000 Hours, which provides free careers advice for graduates and young professionals.
(L-R): Culture Amp team members Martin Valentino, Letian Wang and Scott Arbeitman
“For a lot of US students, they would start doing internships in their first year, their freshman year, and I think especially for high-achieving types, I think that is a good model,” he says.
“But the initiative was mostly on the individual to find these opportunities and if I had the opportunity to start working in that field in my first-year of uni, I would have identified the incompatibility between my personality type and the naturally-occurring work probably a lot easier.”
“If I had the opportunity to get exposed to different industries, then I would probably make a wiser choice, because you can’t be passionate about what you don’t know.”