Here’s a wild thought: Let’s recognise and teach skills the future generation will actually need

High-school

Source: Unsplash/Javier Trueba.

When you sit with someone being told they are going die, how the diagnosis is delivered is as important as what it actually is.

And yet, the bedside manner of our medical specialists is largely seen as irrelevant next to their ability to diagnose and treat.

As Christmas approaches, a whole cohort of school leavers is anxiously awaiting a single score, a mark that will dictate whether they gain entry into their dream university and course.

But judging our future doctors — and teachers and psychologists and lawyers — on a single score ignores the importance of all those other skills that are so desperately needed as they graduate university and climb the career ladder.

The National Skills Commission yesterday flagged the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on the national jobs market, where employment remains 223,100 below the level recorded nine months ago.

That means jobs will be harder to find.

But the commission has also released a list of the ‘top 20 resilient occupations’, with 12 of those in the health sector. They range from GPs to occupational therapists, registered nurses to midwives and speech pathologists.

Educators also fall into the category of those professions considered resilient to the times, as do aged care workers, agriculture workers and delivery drivers.

This is an opportunity for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to change the narrative about the skills we need post-COVID-19.

He should shine a spotlight on skills such as resilience and leadership, teamwork and empathy, inclusion and inquiry, communication and adaptability, worth ethic and problem-solving. These are skills that don’t appear on any ATAR score, or in the entrance exam into most university courses.

The National Skills Commission provides advice to the Morrison government on “current, emerging and future workforce skills needs”, as well as several other areas.

But those current, emerging, future and much-needed skills have yet to include an evaluation of what is routinely, and ill-advisedly, referred to as ‘soft skills’.

We can’t test for them, so we routinely ignore them.

Just take communication as an example. Whether someone trains as a doctor or a journalist, a teacher or an air-conditioning mechanic, the ability to convey complex information is essential.

Teamwork is equally important. Consider the vital role of a good team player in any business or hospital or school — and the hindrance of someone who isn’t.

Adaptability is not taught in the school curriculum, nor measured on any university entrance score, but it’s crucial to be successful at work. This year’s pandemic has shown that again. The businesses that are able to reinvent themselves and find new markets, survive, where those that cannot, do not.

This is as much an issue for schools as it is for policymakers plotting a workforce-led recovery.

What’s the use of teaching the digital skills our students need but not the skills needed to exploit and lead the digital revolution?

What’s the use of being able to ace a chemistry paper without the ability to explain the answer?

Former teacher Jack Ma founded Alibaba in his one-bedroom Hangzhou apartment. In July this year, he was listed as having a net worth in the tens of billions of dollars.

Speaking at Davos a couple of years ago, Ma pleaded with the world’s policymakers to change the way we teach children.

“If we do not change the way we teach, in 30 years we’ll be in trouble … we cannot teach our kids to compete with machines who’ll be smarter,” he said.

“We have to teach our kids something unique, so that a machine can never catch up with us — values, believing, independent thinking, teamwork, care for others, the soft skills, sports, music, painting, arts, to make sure humans are different from machines.”

National skills commissioner Adam Boyton yesterday said Australia’s recovery would depend on many factors, including accessing a COVID-19 vaccine and “avoiding additional waves of infection, as well as how the rest of the world responds to the pandemic’’.

He’s right. But what a wonderful opportunity it affords us to look at what we are teaching and how that might add value to those resilient jobs that will lead Australia’s recovery.

It would also mean the nation’s universities do more than fill their spots with the highest academic achievers. There’d be spots, too, for tomorrow’s leaders.

This article was first published by Crikey.

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6 months ago

Great idea, though Scott Morrison would first need to learn what ‘leadership’, ‘teamwork’ and ’empathy’ are…