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Work, young people and futures

Deborah Palmer
Manager, Curriculum, ACARA

The Australian Government is introducing a new course within the Australian Curriculum: Work Studies, Years 9–10, written in response to key work-related issues facing young people today and in the future. The draft curriculum is now open for consultation. Distinct from VET in Schools, Work Studies does not aim to equip students for specific jobs or professions. Rather, it is an applied learning course intended to help students make use of their discipline-based and cross-curricular learning in the context of a workplace. The article describes the rationale for the course, and how it will operate.


One of the hallmarks of today’s world is the rapid and relentless rate of change. It is ubiquitous and affects all areas of our lives. While this can be exciting and opens many new opportunities, it can also be unsettling, as it provides challenges for which we may not be adequately prepared.

There are few places where change is making bigger inroads than in our understanding of what constitutes work and workplaces. No longer is work fixed and bounded by clear definitions, expectations and outcomes. Rather, it is fluid, evolving and uncertain. Work is becoming increasingly automated and digitised. Together with rises in productivity, this leads to the loss of many low-skilled and routine white-collar jobs. Jan Owen, CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), recently noted that the current top 10 jobs in the marketplace did not exist in 2004 (ABC News report 17 September 2013). Globalisation, another outcome of these advances, adds to this job loss by enabling work to be outsourced and often moved offshore.

In developed economies like Australia, workers need new skills to be able to capitalise on the knowledge-intensive nature of the new world of work. Workers need high level and sophisticated skills that enable them to respond to uncertainty, adapt to change and allow them to be collaborative, analytical and creative in finding solutions to complex problems.

This poses some significant questions not only about how ready young people are for existing workplaces, but about how they can be best equipped for work that cannot yet be identified or defined. There is already a discord between what employers regard as work-ready young people and the way educators and schools regard them. How Young People are Faring 2013, produced by the FYA, cites research revealing:

  • a misalignment between the skills many young people have and the jobs that are available to them
  • that those without qualifications are finding it much harder to get a good job
  • 26 per cent of Australian higher education graduates are underutilised immediately after course completion
  • one-third of VET graduates are employed in the same occupation as their field of training. (FYA media release 17 September 2013).

In the same statement, the FYA cites figures indicating that over a quarter of Australian employers ‘would have recruited more graduates had there been candidates with appropriate skill sets’. Supporting this are findings from the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (2013: Table 9, pp. 153–154). While the agency anticipates several directions the economy may take in the future, the number of jobs for those without post-school qualifications will decline regardless of the scenario.

The Gazelle Group, a group of UK colleges dedicated to providing enterprise education for young people, identifies four scenarios for working futures: the industrial, the networked, the artisanal and the entrepreneurial worlds (2012, pp10–12). Regardless of the scenario in which people work, the Group identifies some common themes. The importance of individualisation of work, the criteria required for individual success and the need for mastering technological change are shared across all scenarios. Further, Mahon, Patten and Tatham (2003) write of the number of occupations young people are likely to have across their lives and the number of industry areas within which they are likely to work. Clearly, young people will need to be adaptable and resilient in the face of such uncertainty.

Several researchers refer to the use of 21st century skills as a way of encompassing the requirements of workers in the future. Regardless of the skills, or the ways of organising them, they can be categorised as ways of thinking, ways of working, tools for working, and living in the world. (Binkley et al. 2012) While many of these skills have always been desirable, they are now essential for workers in the knowledge-based economy. In the Australian Curriculum these are captured in the seven general capabilities.

  General classification

  General capability

  Ways of thinking



  Critical and creative thinking

  Ways of working



  Personal and social capability

  Intercultural understanding

  Ethical understanding

  Tools for working


  Living in the world

  Personal and social capability

  Intercultural understanding

  Ethical understanding

These skills very much fit under those described by Yong Zhao (2012) as entrepreneurial, when it is considered in its biggest sense, and in corporate business, social and policy entrepreneurism, as well as intrapreneurism, or the ability to make a creative difference within an existing workplace.

The Australian Curriculum: Work Studies Years 9–10

Education has a key role to play in equipping young people with the knowledge, understanding and skills they will require to deal effectively with the challenges ahead, to achieve personal satisfaction and to contribute to the development of the flexible, innovative workforce needed in the 21st century. The Australian Curriculum: Work Studies Years 9–10 has been designed in response to identified needs and with a view to empowering young people to plan and manage themselves and their future working life. The Work Studies curriculum has been prepared by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

Work Studies Years 9–10 is based on the premise that young people are most likely to develop the skills required for future work and workplaces when they understand both themselves and how and why work is changing. It seeks to make obvious the links between learning at school and requirements of workplaces. It takes an applied learning approach, includes a work exposure element and is designed to appeal to young people who enjoy active engagement in their learning. Work Studies also acknowledges the importance of developing the disposition in young people towards lifelong learning, as they will need to learn, unlearn and relearn both knowledge and skills over the course of their working lives.

Accordingly, Work Studies targets areas that help build knowledge and understanding of contemporary and likely future workplaces, as well as a breadth of cognitive, personal and interpersonal capacities that equip young people to handle transition, change and uncertainty.

The two strands, Skills for learning and work, and Career and life design, are best taught through an integrated approach, as there are synergies between the two. For example, students examine the nature of skills and dispositions required for particular workplaces in the first, and in the second they explore the relationship between personal and academic strengths, and interests and career planning. The role of entrepreneurship in contemporary and future workplaces links with career exploration, the risks inherent in planning and the impact of chance events on career pathways. Collaboration and communication are fundamental skills in workplaces and can be developed through exploration of career opportunities. Collaboration and communication are also vital in developing understanding of the significance of workplace cultures, the rights and responsibilities of both employers and employees, and the impact of globalisation and cultural diversity on workplaces.

Work exposure runs throughout the curriculum, and student learning will be consolidated by having constant opportunities to makes links between their classroom experiences, not only in Work Studies, but in other learning areas, and the demands of workplaces. Exposure to a range of work will also build understanding of the study requirements of a variety of occupations and should help students make considered, targeted and appropriate choices for study in Years 11 and 12.

Work Studies offers four options that have been designed to cater for a range of student interest and school and student circumstances. They also pick up on and strengthen aspects of the core curriculum. The first option picks up on the notion of school and industry/community partnerships though a work-related or community-based project. The second concentrates on developing one or more innovative solutions in response to an identified problem for a particular business or industry. Students have the option of collaborating with another school, ideally a remote school or one from the Asia region, to develop a joint project on sustainability in the third option. The final option explores the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to work and investigates achievements and challenges overcome. Schools and students may negotiate the options they choose to study.

ACARA has also been tasked with developing the National Trade Cadetship Years 11–12 curriculum, which consists of three subjects. While Work Studies Years 9–10 provides a solid basis from which to enter the senior subjects, it is not a prerequisite. Compared to the breadth that students experience in the Years 9–10 curriculum, the Years 11–12 subjects will be much more targeted. They will expose students to a family of occupations within one of three industry areas – agrifood, community services and health and manufacturing – and learning will concentrate on learning about, for and in industry.

Consultation on the draft Australian Curriculum: Work Studies, Years 9–10

ACARA is currently inviting members of the education sector, industry, and the general community to participate in online consultation for the draft Work Studies, Years 9–10 Curriculum. Contributions will be accepted up to Sunday 8 December 2013.

To view the draft curriculum and to provide feedback, visit: http://consultation.australiancurriculum.edu.au


ABC News report 17 September 2013

Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency 2013 (pdf), Future focus: 2013 National Workforce Development Strategy Canberra http://www.awpa.gov.au/our-work/national-workforce-development-strategy/2013-workforce-development-strategy/Documents/FutureFocus2013NWDS.pdf (accessed 10 July 2013)

Binkley, M, Erstad, O, Herman, J, Raizen, S, Ripley, M, Miller-Ricci, M and Rumble, M 2012 ‘Defining Twenty-First Century Skills’ in Griffin, P, McGaw, B and Care, E (eds) Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills Dordrecht Springer pp17–66

Foundation for Young Australians media release 17 September 2013

Hannon Valerie 2012 (website) “New skills and capabilities are needed to thrive in this new world of work" http://www.wise-qatar.org/content/valerie-hannon-new-skills-and-capabilities-are-needed-thrive-new-world-work (accessed 20 November 2012)

McMahon, M, Patton, W and Tatham, P 2003 (pdf) Managing life, learning and work in the 21st Century: Issues informing the design of an Australian blueprint for career development Subiaco Miles Morgan http://www.blueprint.edu.au/Portals/0/resources/DL_life_learning_and_work.pdf (accessed 22 August 2013)

Pryor, R and Bright, J 2011 The Chaos Theory of Careers: a new perspective on working in the twenty-first century London, New York Routledge

Savickas, M. L. 2012 (pdf) ‘Life Design: A paradigm for career Intervention in the 21st Century’, Journal of Counseling & Development, Vol 90 pp13–19 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1556-6676.2012.00002.x/abstract

Stanwick,  J, Lu, T,  Karmel, T and Wilbrow, B 2013 (pdf) How Young People are Faring: The national report on the learning and earning of young Australians Melbourne Foundation for Young Australians http://www.fya.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/FYA_HYPAF-2013_Digital.pdf (accessed 4 October 2013)

The Gazelle Group 2012 (pdf) Enterprising Futures: the changing landscape and new possibilities for further education http://www.thegazellegroup.com/downloads/Gazelle-Enterprising-Futures.pdf (accessed 12 October 2012)

Zhao, Yong 2012 World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students California Corwin Press


Subject Headings

Secondary education
Education policy
Curriculum planning
Career education