Dear Education Queensland (and anyone else influencing the Australian education system),
Recently I volunteered my time as a mentor at my fifth Startup Weekend. But this one was special. It was the first Startup Weekend for Youth in Australasia. Ever.
Start Up Weekend’s aim to teach people how to create a business inside a weekend, and these events are a global phenomenon with over 1200 being held to date. This event was targeted at kids on the Sunshine Coast aged 16 and 17 years old, and as I am passionate about supporting youth, I was really happy to give up my time to be a part of it.
I’ve had my reservations about the education system for a long time but this was highlighted to me again on the weekend when in my mentoring role, I observed a young boy coding a website from scratch.
I told him I was impressed with his ability to do this, but questioned whether it was realistic for him to create an entire website for the startup he was working from inside a weekend and suggested that he could perhaps use tools like Wix.com or WordPress.org – two fairly standard packages in the industry.
He looked at me blankly and asked what they were, as he had never heard of them.
I encouraged him to Google them and take a look at them with me, but soon found out that they were blocked because they weren’t approved sites by Education Queensland. The organiser, a secondary school teacher, then happened to pop in, and I asked him if there was anything we could do about this. He lamented that he had been advocating for access to these systems for a long time, as he was well aware they are what the industry is using and what they require kids skilled in, but said that the response was always that these were public sites and were not allowed. I questioned what on earth could be the risk or the offense caused by the use of these sites and he responded that he thought there were public forums on them which the children may access, and which may cause offense. I can’t say I’ve ever once accessed a forum on either of these sites, and I’m not sure what could be in them that could be so offensive.
Security at the expense of industry knowledge
I appreciate that a child’s safety and security is of utmost importance when going through the education system, but if this is at the expense of them learning industry relevant skills, something has to change.I am all for children learning to code from scratch (I have done many media interviews and written many articles on being pro kids learning to code), but I am also all for them being exposed to relevant industry tools, so that they are work-ready and can gain employment.It is not useful to me to hire someone who only knows how to code and who has no exposure what-so-ever to some of the industry platforms.
I am also aware that this is a problem at tertiary institutions such as TAFE Queensland on the Sunshine Coast. I am of the understanding that they are teaching students to do web design through a program called Dreamweaver. I first learned Dreamweaver in the year 2000 in London but have not used it since. That is 15 years ago! And I’m afraid I don’t even know of people who in the industry who still use it!
I get that it can be a useful way to teach people the connection between code and creation, and some systems that we do use like Adobe Business Catalyst are now increasing their integration’s with platforms such as this.
However 60% of the world’s websites are now build with WordPress and our company is generating up to three WordPress websites a day for our clients and we’re crying out for web developers with advanced WordPress skills. But we can’t find them, because there’s a skills shortage, so we increasingly hire from overseas.
Connecting the dots here? High unemployment levels of the Coast, kids being taught programs that we haven’t used in years. Massive disconnect.
Overtaken by Robots
We, like many in the industry are still experiencing extreme growth as a business. 20% year on year last year, and on track for the same growth if not bigger this year, and this is in our 8th year in business.
We seriously struggle to find people who are well skilled and with relevant experience to perform the volume of work we have. We’ve done hire rounds on seek.com.au as recently as a month ago for a social media advertising specialist, and 90% of applicants didn’t even mention ‘social media’ in their cover letter or resume. We even had farm hands apply!
I feel for these people. They’re desperate for work and we’re desperate to hire them, and they would get a much better rate than the traditional retail or hospitality jobs teenagers often find their first jobs in.
But what we’re teaching them simply isn’t relevant enough. New research by The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) has found that 60% of Aussie students are currently studying or training for jobs that either won’t exist, or will look completely different, in the next 10 to 15 years.
The report, called New Work Order: Ensuring Young Australians Have Skills And Experience For The Jobs Of The Future, Not The Past, states those studying vocational education and training (VET) will be the hardest hit by significant developments that are set to change the way we work in the coming decades, making up 71% percent of that number.
Automation i.e. robots are the biggest threat to our job security, with at least two thirds of jobs expected to be taken over by ‘smart machines’ in the near future. So if you don’t want the robot taking your job, get some digital skills, pronto!
An Injustice and Disservice to Students
Please listen to me as someone in the industry who knows what they’re are talking about. Education Minister and anyone else listening, I implore you to give these children access to the tools they need to learn to become more employable and or create and grow their own businesses.
I have a range of programs and content and I would be more than happy to share these, but at this point I am completely frustrated, not just for my own self, but for the industry and the injustice and disservice these poor children who are in the current education system are receiving.
Sure children are using ipads in the classroom now, and there is a digital education curriculum being rolled out, but students are still unable to gain access to core sites that as a person in the industry, I would love them to know and understand.
If you’d like to discuss this with me, I’d be more than happy to speak with someone.