Broader view on tertiary education needed to push society forward

Alternative pathways – whether you call them apprenticeships, learning on the job or learning at work – should not just be about mastering a traditional trade. As a nation, we need to think much more imaginatively about creating new opportunities for our school leavers in areas including financial and professional services.

If employers continue to narrow their view about the talent pool for their organisations – just focusing on university qualifications – they’re doing a real disservice to their workplace and the population and stand to miss out on a huge number of young Australians who are talented, motivated and capable of being very skilled.

A broader approach is also good for business. At my firm, where we’ve been trialling recruiting school leavers not just in Australia but around the world, it has helped us diversify our workforce.
We have successfully identified many talented people who would not have considered working in a tall tower of a global consulting firm as an option that was open to them.

If employers continue to narrow their view about the talent pool for their organisations, they’re doing a real disservice to their workplace.

As the first person in my family to go to university – both my parents grew up in council houses in the UK – I am passionate about extending opportunities to young people who don’t have the benefit of family connections or background to ease the path forward.

So, what are the skills that are going to be important for their future?


As a society and economy, we certainly can’t get past the value of human skills: the ability to work together with other people in teams, to communicate, not just face to face, but through new forms of communication and technology. The ability to think creatively and solve problems and innovate is also vital, as it is to be flexible and resilient so you can pivot to new opportunities. These enabling skills are going to be incredibly important – more so than in the past.

Beyond that, just about everything we do in the workplace will also be digitally enabled, so everyone is going to need a good set of digital skills: to understand the power of technology as well as having the knowledge to be cyber-safe.

We’re always going to need some people at university and doing master’s degrees and PhDs because we’re always going to need people pushing the boundaries of new knowledge and creating the next new innovations. But more people don’t go to university than do, still.

I believe that in the future of work, a university degree won’t be seen as a prerequisite to be ‘successful’, as is the scenario now to the exclusion of other pathways.

Work is changing dramatically in the 21st century. We need people from every walk of life in the workforce and we need to urgently broaden the talent pool we draw from.

Sara Caplan leads PwC’s Skills for Australia. This column will appear in the Youth Unemployment Monitor, published by the Brotherhood of St Laurence on Monday.

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