P-TECH Courses Prepare Students for Occupations of the Future’ - The Australian

30 Aug 2018


This innovative model deserves to be widely adopted

As a nation, we need to deliver on the promise that our children, regardless of wealth or background, are entitled to every educational opportunity possible to help them reach their full potential. Advancing an innovative workforce in an age of rapid technological change and global competition is a key pillar of Australia’s economic growth and prosperity.

But how can we prepare today’s students not just for a job, but for the skills needed to succeed in tomorrow’s high-growth careers? Additionally, how can we future-proof our educational models to develop curriculums that address jobs that haven’t yet been invented?

The educational models that served us well in the past – however well-meaning – often fail to engage our students who need the knowledge and skills for today and tomorrow. The widening gap between the skills we’re teaching and those industry values threatens to affect the permanent economic and social disengagement of Australia’s youth.

We know we must act quickly – the question is: how?

International research shows 75 percent of the fastest growing occupations require STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills and knowledge.

We need to investigate and provide support for new education and training models that promote STEM skills and training for young Australians.

On a Churchill Fellowship in 2012, I looked at models in Britain and the US that could be adapted to Australian conditions. While in the US, I came across the Pathways in Technology (P-TECH) model. Begun in 2011 in Brooklyn, New York, P-TECH offers students an industry-supported pathway to a STEM-related diploma, advanced diploma or degree.

On top of teaching STEM skills and knowledge, P-TECH has a strong focus on developing students’ soft skills.

Examples of these skills include problem-solving, communication, digital literacy, creativity and teamwork.

Developing soft skills enables young people to tackle the changing work environment and thereby sets them up for long-term career success.

P-TECH stood out to me as an ideal model to respond to a critical need among parents, educators and employers to provide students with relevant and meaningful pathways to employment. I had to bring it to Australia.

In 2016, with support from the federal government, Australia’s first P-TECH pilot sites launched in Ballarat and Geelong, Victoria.

Each pilot represents a multisector partnership among educators, local industry, government and community stakeholders to engage and energise young people.

There are 10 P-TECH sites across Australia now, with four more opening next year. More than 2500 students have taken part in the pilot.

The Southern Perth P-TECH Partnership is based at Cecil Andrews College. The school has a strong STEM focus with its own state-of-the-art STEM centre.

This learning facility gives students access to the latest technology, such as virtual reality, laser cutters, and 3D printers. Staff are trained to work with this technology so they can deliver an innovative curriculum that develops students’ STEM knowledge and soft skills in line with P-TECH’s objectives.

Principal Stella Jinman says: “The STEM disciplines connected to all subjects give students a sense of purpose and relevance that influences their lives on many levels so that even people with marginalised backgrounds flourish.”

But P-TECH schools do not work in isolation to develop and implement the program. By forging partnerships with industry and educational institutions, P-TECH sees cross-disciplinary experiential learning, incorporating industry mentors, workplace learning and paid internships.

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Churchill Fellow Nicholas Wyman is chief executive and founder of Skilling Australia Foundation and chief executive of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation.

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