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From classroom to coding: the school program paving the way to tech careers

By Cia Kouparitsas 
Published: September 19, 2023
READ TIME: 6 minutes
In Australia (like other developed countries), most jobs require a level of digital proficiency, and in the current employment landscape – where a shortage of digital capabilities is impacting practically every sector – meaningful careers can be launched from developing high-demand digital skills.

Unfortunately, the narrative that describes these careers is failing to engage young people – who represent our future workforce – to pursue digital roles.

The NSW Schools Digital Careers Trial, conducted by the Future Skills Organisation (FSO) and WithYouWithMe (WYWM), with support from key Department of Education stakeholders, was designed to inspire Australian high school students to consider a tech career and develop digital skills – as a means of ultimately addressing gaps in the nation’s workforce.

The Trial ran from May to August 2023, engaging nearly 1,500 students across five Sydney high schools.

The primary objectives of the program were to:

  • Raise awareness about the importance of digital skills amongst students and educators.
  • Test the supposition that educating students about their prospects will increase their interest in pursuing digital careers.
  • Determine if personalised aptitude insights make students more likely to consider digital careers.
  • Explore how educators, industry and government can collaborate to deliver local programs.
  • Assess the viability of a scalable model for communicating the value of and building digital skills across secondary schools not only in Australia – but around the world.

Based on engagement metrics and feedback from participating schools, the NSW Schools Digital Careers Trial has proven its potential to reshape the narrative around digital careers and provide students with meaningful insight and a viable pathway to developing digital skills.

What is the NSW Schools Digital Careers Trial?

Digital skills gaps in areas such as cyber security, software development and data analysis are costing Australian businesses an estimated $3.1 billion annually. An additional 156,000 digital workers are needed in the next two years to keep pace with the nation’s evolving economy and 87% of all jobs now require digital literacy1.

Australia has a rapidly growing disconnect between the supply and demand of digital skills – and with the Government committed to achieving 1.2 million tech jobs by 2030 – the demand is only expected to grow.

High school students represent the future workforce, and one of the biggest challenges Australia is facing is ensuring they are job-ready in time to meet demand. While universities play a crucial role in skilling the nation’s workforce, many areas have seen curriculums struggle to keep up with evolving technologies. The case for more alternative career pathways and streamlined vocational education and training programs is rapidly expanding – especially in the tech sector.

According to the ABS, there were over 500,000 students in year 11 & 12 alone last year. Couple this with the Tech Council of Australia forecast that shows Australia needs to train an extra 60,000 tech workers annually to keep pace – and the potential for the nation’s young people to be part of the solution is significant. If we’re able to encourage even just 5-10% of Australian high schoolers to test for their suitability for a digital career and train each year we’d be making a huge contribution towards solving our digital skills crisis.

Unfortunately, the narrative in Australia’s school system is still firmly focused on university or TAFE as the first step towards a meaningful career. There is a clear need to re-shape the narrative around digital careers, and to create pathways for students to pursue.

The NSW Schools Digital Careers Trial is a pilot program designed to inspire high school students to consider digital careers by educating them on the types of roles available, the growing demand for digital skills across practically every sector, and their natural propensity to succeed in these areas.

Delivered in partnership with the Future Skills Organisation (FSO) and WYWM, the goals of the pilot program were to ignite interest amongst students about learning digital skills, demonstrate alternative pathways to digital careers and to determine if educating students about their prospects and providing them with personalised aptitude insights would drive greater engagement.

“A lot of our children are digital natives – but most of our students, being a selective school, have very narrow ideas about what they will do for a career – almost all go straight to university, and most do law or medicine. It’s good to broaden their horizons because they can be a bit limited in their imagination of what they can do.”

Alan Maclean
Principal, Caringbah High School

What are we hoping to achieve?

The objectives of the NSW Schools Digital Careers Trial are to:

  • Raise awareness amongst high school students and educators about the importance of learning digital skills – and the gaps currently impacting Australia’s workforce.
  • Educate students about their prospects should they choose to pursue a digital career pathway.
  • Test the supposition that educating students about their prospects in the tech sector will increase their interest in pursuing digital careers.
  • Determine if personalised aptitude insights make students more likely to consider a digital career.
  • Engage educators by demonstrating the broad range of opportunities for students and encourage them to advocate pursuing alternative career pathways.
  • Explore how educators, industry and government can collaborate to deliver local programs that can ultimately scale to address a nationwide need.

The program aligns with a best-practice model that is being pioneered globally, particularly in the United States through WYWM’s partnership with the GED Testing Service, the country’s high school equivalency diploma program.

“Digital skills power our economy. Equipping young people with these skills will help them to optimise their potential while making them more employable. It’s very exciting.”

Patrick Kidd

How it works

The trial saw representatives from WYWM and FSO engage with almost 1,500 students in grades 10, 11 and 12 across five Sydney high schools – Caringbah High School, Liverpool Girls School, Liverpool Boys School, St. Johns Park High School and Prairiewood High School.

At each school, WYWM and FSO would run a launch session featuring:

  • Statistics outlining Australia’s need for digital skills.
  • An introduction to the Future Skills Organisation.
  • An introduction to WYWM including our methodology, testing suite and training programs.
  • A presentation and Q&A from a young person currently undertaking a digital career.

Following the launch session, students were sent an email inviting them to sign up for WYWM’s Potential platform to complete their psychometric and aptitude testing. Students who signed up for the platform were also offered free access to digital training programs spanning 11 in-demand career pathways.

While the training wasn’t a core focus of the trial, it served to offer highly engaged students the opportunity to learn digital skills in their own time through self-paced, online programs.

Schools were also provided with a series of digital assets to educate parents, career advisors and teachers about the program, the organisations involved and the training available to students.

The student journey

  1. Attend the Digital Careers Trial launch session.
  2. Receive email instructions and an invitation to sign up for Potential.
  3. Sign up for the platform and complete a series of psychometric and aptitude assessments which take approximately one hour to complete.
  4. Receive a comprehensive report outlining personality type, learning preference and natural aptitude across key areas relating to digital skills, with recommendations of potential subjects to select, or career paths to consider, based off natural strengths.
  5. Gain access to free digital skills training programs spanning 11 career pathways.

Outcomes: how we measure success

The success of the pilot program is being measured in alignment with the goals:

  • Did we raise awareness about the importance of digital skills?
  • Were students, teachers and parents better informed about the prospects for a digital career?
  • Did we effectively collaborate to deliver a local program that could be scaled to the state or national level?

We are currently working through the review process with FSO, but early signs point to this being a viable model to spark greater engagement in digital careers for our young people.

We’re working on a report that summarises these findings – subscribe to receive the results now.

To learn more about this program, please contact us.

1Ready, Set, Upskill: Prioritising skills for a resilient workforce. RMIT, Deloitte Access Solutions. 2021.

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