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  • 3rd Sep 2020

How can we prepare young people for the future of work?

COVID-19 has had profound impacts on the way societies function, including the nature of work. Young people are particularly affected, with youth unemployment in Australia at the highest it’s been in 22 years. To address this crisis, young people need to be adaptable and demonstrate a broader range of skills than ever before. However, a recent review of the education system conducted by the Council of Australian Governments Education Council found that our education system doesn’t meet this need.

Across Australia, the education system focuses heavily on a single grade based on academic performance in the final year of school – the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (‘ATAR’). The ATAR functions primarily as an entry to universities, and the emphasis placed on it effectively positions university as the default pathway for many young people leaving school. 

However, for some young people, university does not offer the best employment outcomes, and other pathways would be more suitable. Our research, which fed into the Education Council’s report found that university acts as a strong default. It also found that many young people who would benefit from pursuing other pathways such as apprenticeships, don’t know about or consider these options. 

The focus on the ATAR also means that other skills learnt during secondary schooling (such as teamwork, communication skills, adaptability and emotional skills) are not formally recorded, despite being recognised as crucial for the future of work. This makes it hard for young people to pursue careers and record achievements based around these broader skills. We need to develop a new system for recognising young peoples’ holistic skills and achievements. This will help change the perception of university as the default post-school pathway, and help young people pursue the pathways that are right for them. 

As one way to address this, the Education Council recommends the development of student ‘Learner profiles’, which capture the range of skills, capabilities and interests of young people – both academically and more broadly. These would allow students to track the range of skills they acquire during their schooling, and help them communicate these to tertiary institutions, training organisations and employers.

Behavioural science has an important role to play in helping the transition to a more holistic and representative education system, and ensure young people are prepared for the changing world of work. 

This important role is acknowledged by the Education Council which notes in its report that:  

Behavioural psychology will help governments to understand how, why and when young people make decisions… Big data integration and analysis – across schooling, tertiary education and training, and the labour market – will provide insights into the exercise of individual choice over time. It will help policymakers to understand why students begin education and training courses and why, too often, they decide to drop out. It will help ensure that spending on education gets the biggest bang for its buck. It will help us to prepare senior secondary students for their futures by getting the public policy settings right…. Governments will increasingly understand the decisions that young people make and know better how to nudge them in the right direction.

We are excited to have undertaken work in this critical space. If you’d like to hear more about this work, reach out to Emma Hunt at


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