Episode 17      20 min 17 sec
Post-compulsory Education for a Knowledge Economy

Assoc Prof John Polesel discusses the changing job markets in Australia and overseas brought about by the so-called "knowledge economy", its effect on young people, and the need to change perceptions about Vocation Education and Training.

Guest: Assoc Prof John Polesel the Centre for Post-Compulsory Education and Lifelong Learning (CPELL)

Topic: Post-compulsory Education for a Knowledge Economy

"It is really a question of having to raise the esteem of VET (Vocational Education and Training) so that kids see it as an option which does actually articulate well with the labour force." - Assoc Prof John Polesel




           



Assoc Prof John Polesel
Assoc Prof John Polesel

Associate Professor John Polesel, Deputy Director (Research) at the Centre for Post-Compulsory Education and Lifelong Learning (CPELL). John looks at current prospects and options for secondary school graduates and early-leavers. Up Close host Sian Prior joins Assoc Prof Polesel to discuss the changing job markets in Australia and overseas brought about by the so-called "knowledge economy" and its effect on young people.

John's experience as a teacher and policy officer in the state of Victoria underpins his current research into post-compulsory education and training. He is particularly interested in the implementation of Vocation Education Training (VET) in schools across Australia, and has researched models of post-compulsory education in Australia and internationally. He co-ordinates a Masters program focusing on international education perspectives and is currently managing two major school-leaver tracking initiatives in Queensland and Victoria.

Credits

Host: Sian Prior 
Producers: Kelvin Param, Eric van Bemmel and Sian Prior
Audio Engineer: Dean Collett
Theme Music performed by Sergio Ercole. Mr Ercole is represented by the Musicians' Agency, Faculty of Music
Voiceover: Paul Richiardi

Series Creators: Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param

Melbourne University Up Close is brought to you by the Marketing and Communications Division in association with Asia Institute.

 

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Post-compulsory education for a Knowledge Economy

VOICEOVER
Welcome to Melbourne University Up Close, a fortnightly podcast of research, personalities, and cultural offerings of the University of Melbourne, Australia. Up Close is available on the web at upclose.unimelb.edu.au That!|s upclose.u-n-i-m-e-l-b.edu.au.

SIAN PRIOR
Hello and welcome to Up Close, coming to you from Melbourne University, Australia. I!|m Sian Prior. Now you might have noticed that in recent years the term 'the knowledge economy' has become increasingly popular amongst politicians and policy makers all around the world. It refers to the growing importance of education and training in a globalised economy in which many low skilled jobs are being transferred from developed to developing nations because of the availability of cheaper labour. In Australia, for example, this global trend has led to a massive shrinkage in our manufacturing sector in recent decades, and a consequent need for retraining those workers whose jobs have disappeared offshore. It has also meant that job prospects for early school leavers have diminished. Here at Melbourne University, researchers at the Centre for Post-Compulsory Education and Lifelong Learning have been focusing their attention on education and training strategies that will not only help Australia to develop a knowledge economy, but also, a knowledge economy in which there is equitable access to education. It is a wonderful vision, isn!|t it? But, how can we achieve it? And which other countries can we look to for direction? Assoc Prof John Polesel is the Deputy Director of Melbourne University!|s Centre for Post-Compulsory Education and Lifelong Learning and he is our guest today in Melbourne University Up Close. John, welcome.

JOHN POLESEL
Thanks very much, Sian.

SIAN PRIOR
Well, let!|s start by talking broadly about the impact of this so-called globalised economy on school students and, in particular, school leavers in Australia. In the past, if you left school before the end of secondary school or year 12, there were jobs available for young workers with minimum education in this country. What is the situation these days?

JOHN POLESEL
I think it has certainly changed. The availability of full time work, certainly to teenagers, has declined considerably. Also, the kinds of jobs, that are available, not only to early school leavers, but also to young people who complete school are quite different certainly from what they were in my generation. Thirty years ago, it was quite possible to leave school and enter an insurance company or possibly a bank or even the public service, because that school leaving credential was enough to get you into those sorts of jobs, but that is not the case anymore. Now, if you leave school, it is really expected that you will get further training if you are interested in getting a job that is somewhat better than the kinds of jobs that are available, which tend to be in the service sector at the moment.

SIAN PRIOR
So, what kinds of jobs in the service sector?

JOHN POLESEL
Well, typically the sorts of jobs that a university student, for example, might do part time, would be !V working in a fast food shop or in retail or hospitality sector are pretty much the same kinds of jobs that you!|ll get if you actually enter the labour market as a full time worker.

SIAN PRIOR
And they are basically fairly low-paid jobs.

JOHN POLESEL
They tend to be low-paid. They are almost entirely casualised and many of them are actually part time jobs as well, so, young people find themselves only able to get short hours. And it is actually worse for young women than it is for young men. I think that is one of the reasons why girls are so much more likely to complete school because it is the labour market is not particularly friendly towards them.

SIAN PRIOR
And what about unemployment rates in Australia for early school leavers?

JOHN POLESEL
Well, it is rather paradoxical that although the situation is quite grim in terms of the kinds of jobs that are available and in terms of the pay there is quite a bit of work out there and certainly compared with many European systems where youth unemployment is very high our youth unemployment is comparatively low. And I think one of the reasons for that is the low pay, the very flexible nature of the work actually makes employers take on people. That doesn!|t mean of course that the situation for the young people themselves is fantastic.

SIAN PRIOR
And John, one of the reasons that you know all this is because you have been tracking school leavers in at least three Australian states: Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales. Is that right?

JOHN POLESEL
That!|s right. We!|ve been doing this for the last six years in Victoria, and for the last two years in Queensland and New South Wales. And, it is interesting that the trends are very similar in all three states. The kinds of jobs that young people get who enter the labour market directly are of the kind that I mentioned earlier: quite limited and quite low-paid.

SIAN PRIOR
You mentioned that it is harder for girls than it is for boys, in this situation, are there other groups that this situation particularly affects? Socio-economic groups, groups from different ethnic-backgrounds, for example?

JOHN POLESEL
Yeah, particularly low socio-economic status students are much more likely not to go into educational training, so they are the groups that will find themselves in the labour market without any further education or training to back them up. So, they!|re one of the most severely affected groups finding themselves in that casualised, part time labour market.

SIAN PRIOR
And John, why are these students leaving school early? Are they not getting what they need in Australian schools? Is the system failing them?

JOHN POLESEL
I think there is a group of students, particularly low achievers, and students who are disaffected by school as well, who are more likely to leave school early. We know that particularly low socio-economic status boys are a particularly at risk group. The reasons for being at risk are various. There are both push and pull factors involved in early leaving. The pull factors, you might say are the economy, or the labour market, which is offering them opportunities. In the case of boys, who leave school early, one of the most common destinations is apprenticeships and traineeships. And that is actually quite a good outcome I think for that group. So, we can!|t assume that all early leaving is bad. For the remainder though, the transition is often quite difficult. And because girls don!|t have those same opportunities in terms of apprenticeships and traineeships the areas tend to be far more limited for girls. The girls are much less likely to drop out because they don!|t have those chances. If girls do drop out, the most likely destination for them is unemployment or part time work !V so it is not a good outcome for that group.

SIAN PRIOR
And why are boys more advantaged when it comes to getting traineeships or apprenticeships?

JOHN POLESEL
I think they are more advantaged in the sense that there are more opportunities in the labour market for them. There is more full time work and more apprenticeships. So, some of the traditional trade areas in the apprenticeships are available to boys, but are less attractive to girls. I think that is one of the main reasons. Having said that, there are also, push factors - pushing boys out of school. Making them more likely to be early school leavers. And, I think they tend to relate to the curriculum, which in some schools can be quite limited. I think there are still quite a few schools which don!|t offer boys, the kinds of opportunities they need. I think there is also the issue of the schooling environment itself. In Australia we tend to go for this 7 to 12 model, that is year 7 to year 12, putting all kids into this comprehensive type school, whereas in fact, many overseas systems separate out junior and senior secondary schooling. We know from our research that boys prefer an environment where they are treated more as young adults !V particularly the sorts of boys that might be disaffected or disenchanted by schooling.

SIAN PRIOR
Can we talk a little bit more about the curricula and what might be done about that to encourage students to stay on at school a little bit? Is there enough focus in the secondary school curricula on vocational learning? I mean, are the students being taught material that will help them choose a career path, find a decent job?

JOHN POLESEL
Yeah, I think we are starting to move in the right direction. Certainly, VET in schools, or Vocation Education Training in schools, as it is called here in Australia, has become a very important part of the senior school school curriculum. Having said that, research which we have done in our centre, would indicate that we are perhaps not spending as much money on that particular part of the curriculum as most European systems do. I think there is still a culture in secondary schools in Australia which places the academic curriculum or the general curriculum as it is called in some places, above all other types of learning, so that university preparatory function of school is seen as more important than anything else that secondary schools might do. And in that sort of environment it is often very difficult for vocational teachers to push their agenda, to get their subjects treated with esteem.

SIAN PRIOR
So, what kinds of subjects are we talking about?

JOHN POLESEL
There is a whole range of subjects. VET or Vocation Education and Training is quite broad and varied these days. In the past we probably saw it very much as something relating to trade !V for example, building and plumbing. I think these days, VET is much more broadly conceptualised. It also involves things like multimedia, information technology, hospitality and tourism for example. And, they!|re typically the sorts of subjects that schools might offer, so, if a school has good trade resources it can offer things like building and plumbing and electrical. If it doesn!|t, then it has to, typically, buy in those subjects or courses from an external provider, like a TAFE, a Technical and Further Education Institute.

SIAN PRIOR
I!|m Sian Prior and my guest today in Melbourne University Up Close is Assoc Prof John Polesel, Deputy Director of the Centre for Post-Compulsory Education and Lifelong Learning here at the University of Melbourne, Australia.
It is interesting, because we started off our discussion, John, talking about 'the knowledge economy' and the need for emphasising education in order to help out the national economy, at the same time, in Australia there seems to be a critical need for skilled jobs. There is a lot of talk about 'the skills shortage'. So, we are pumping out lots and lots of people with bachelors, masters, PhDs, but people in the hospitality industry can!|t find a chef for example. What!|s gone wrong?

JOHN POLESEL
I think it is not really an 'either-or' situation. I think we need both. And, I think the reason we have seen such a big increase in the proportion of kids going to university for example, is that we do need people in the new knowledge economy and that is really important. At the same time, as you rightly say, we do have a skills shortage, we still need to train people in the trades, and not all technical technician type jobs need a university degree. I think part of the problem relates to this culture issue which we see in secondary schools too, where, vocation education training isn!|t highly esteemed in this country, certainly in most overseas systems that I have visited, especially in Europe, VET is seen as much more important and a much more effective pathway. I think it is really a question of having to raise the esteem of VET so that kids see it as an option which does actually articulate well with the labour force. Particularly for those kids who are not interested in an academic pathway and don!|t want to go to university, if we can convince them that VET is actually a very effective way of getting a good job and a much more effective way of entering the labour market directly without training, then I think we can do that. I think part of the problem is that in schools themselves, there is still quite an old fashioned view of VET. We still see VET very much in terms of the trades, factory floor type skills, for parents who perhaps themselves are trying to escape from that kind of background, they see university as the only way for their own children to move up in society. So, I think it is a question of educating, society more broadly about VET being a much more effective pathway into a whole range of jobs, not just those traditional trades. If we look at the achievement profile of students going into technical and further education you can see the answer to that. If you look at the highest achieving students, say the top 20%, over 80% of that group would go into university. Here in our state of Victoria, the proportion who go into a Technical and Further Education institute from that high achieving group is probably only four or five percent. So, I think that gives you some idea of possibly, the low-esteem that Vocation Education Training is held in. That if you are a high achiever, you!|ve really got to go to university, there aren!|t any other options really worth considering. So, I think what we need to do is to be able to persuade young people that even if you are a high achiever, it may well be that you are better suited to a career outside of one that you would typically get at university.

SIAN PRIOR
You said earlier John, that you spend a lot of time overseas, looking at models, particularly in Europe, you take your students to countries like Italy and Norway to look at how they are organising their education and training systems over there. Let!|s talk about some international comparisons. Where might Australia and other countries look to, to borrow some policies?

JOHN POLESEL
I think if you look at a country like Norway for example, about 60% of the students in senior secondary education would be in a vocational program of some kind. And that is considerably more than what we have here in Australia. But the programs that kids would do in Norway, in that 60% would be vocational programs designed to get them a job. And I think that is one of the main differences, that in European systems, young people are actually trained in the schooling system to actually enter a job as a trained worker with quite high-level qualifications. Certainly much higher level qualifications than we get here. So, I suppose if we had to look towards Europe for a policy tool or a learning that might be useful in this country, I would say that we need to upgrade the qualifications that young people can get while they are still at school.

SIAN PRIOR
In some ways it is about training for flexibility isn!|t it? I mean there is another term that has been thrown around in recent times is, the so-called !¢FDslash-generation!|. Referring to people who will do a number of different jobs either consequently or simultaneously. I myself, journalist slash broadcaster slash teacher, and this is going to be the way of the future, is it not? So, people need to be able to do different things and be trained for that.

JOHN POLESEL
Absolutely and I think that is why the basic literacy and numeracy is so important. We know that a lot of young people disengage in the early years of secondary school. And that disengagement is often related to their own sense of failure, their own sense of being unable to cope with the curriculum. I think this is why it is important to engage through a lively and modern curriculum which builds up those generic skills. Those basic skills that they need, but at the same time engages young people through learning of practical and applied skills as well.

SIAN PRIOR
We!|ve been using the term 'the knowledge economy' and another one of the popular buzz words in this field is 'lifelong learning', which of course is part of the title of your academic institution, what does it mean and why is it important?

JOHN POLESEL
I think it is important because in the past we thought about education very much as a linear set of pathways !V you would complete primary school, then you would complete secondary school, then you would go to university. The pathways are not so linear now. We know that many young people, when they!|ve completed school actually take a year out, often to build up economic resources. So, the idea of education being a very limited set of choices which you follow in a lock step way no longer applies. We know that many young people will go to TAFE before going to university. We know that many young people will spend a period of time in the labour market before possibly going on to further education and training. So, I think this idea that young people really need to think about education, as something that is going to be relevant to their whole career rather than just something you do for a few years and then stop, is very important. And again, I think this takes us back to the issue of good basic skills because I think if you have young people who are scared of learning because they have had bad experiences at schools and are disengaged, then that group is much less likely to go back to education and training. And this is where the adult community education sector, which is another important part of our learning network in Australia, is actually playing an important role. We know that adult community education courses are a good way for young people to re-engage with learning for young adults to get back into a framework for being good learners and then possibly moving on to higher level courses.

SIAN PRIOR
Well, John Polesel, thank you very much for sharing your knowledge with us here today in Melbourne University Up Close.

JOHN POLESEL
Thank you very much.

SIAN PRIOR
I!|m Sian Prior and my guest today has been Assoc Prof John Polesel, Deputy Director of the Centre for Post-Compulsory Education and Lifelong Learning here at The University of Melbourne, Australia. Melbourne University Up Close is brought to you by the Marketing and Communications Division in association with Asia Institute of the University of Melbourne, Australia. Relevant links, a full transcript and more information on this episode can be found on our website, at upclose.unimelb.edu.au
We also invite you to leave your comments or feedback on this or any episode of Up Close. Simply click in the add new comment link at the bottom of the episode page. This program was produced by Kelvin Param, Eric van Bemmel and myself Sian Prior. Audio recording is by Dean Collett and the theme music is performed by Sergio Ercole. Melbourne University Up Close is created by Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param. Until next time thanks for joining us. Goodbye.

VOICEOVER
You!|ve been listening to Melbourne University Up Close, a fortnightly podcast of research, personalities and cultural offerings of the University of Melbourne, Australia. Up Close is available on the web at upclose.unimelb.edu.au, that!|s upclose.u-n-i-m-e-l-b.edu.au. Copyright 2007 University of Melbourne.


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