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Education for a 2030 workforce

Volume 8 Number 8 August 13 - September 9 2012

Children born in 2012 will enter tertiary education in 2030 and graduate around 2035. What will their career options look like? What might their employers be seeking in young recruits? Gabrielle Murphy explores some possibilities.

When today’s babies graduate from university and become job-seekers in around 23 years’ time (assuming they enter university at age 18 and are students for five years) the jobs they apply for may not even exist today.

Predicting jobs or careers that don’t yet exist, but will in the future, is inherently difficult: the jobs of tomorrow will be created by the vicissitudes of life in the future, with new inventions and new developments emerging, and new solutions to problems required. 

No doubt the kinds of degree offered will be similar, just as 23 years ago in 1998 people were studying medicine, law, commerce, languages and engineering, as they are today. But what will be taught in those disciplines, and how – as well as the sorts of career open to graduates of those fields – is something that academics and career and employment specialists are, understandably, not prepared or able to predict with any certainty. 

What is more certain – and on which academics and specialists largely agree – is that today’s students need to be equipped with flexible, responsive and adaptable skills if they are to successfully enter a future workforce which currently defies clear delineation.

“In the course of my work I am often engaged in conversations that stem from the idea that in 10 years’ time people will be doing jobs that haven’t been invented yet,” says Professor Pip Pattison, the University of Melbourne’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic). 

Professor Pattison, a quantitative psychologist recognised for her work in the development of mathematical models for social and behavioural phenomena, oversaw approval of the Melbourne Curriculum introduced at undergraduate and graduate level in 2008. Considered the most significant reforms of its kind to be introduced in Australia, the Melbourne Curriculum aligns University of Melbourne programs with prominent European and North American models. 

“I’m always pleased to be able to express my confidence that the Melbourne Curriculum, predicated on a deep and broad undergraduate study and leading to a diversity of targeted professional graduate programs, provides the intellectual foundations to enable students to adapt to whatever the future holds,” she says.

“This has very much informed the planning of our programs which are designed to arm students with good critical and creative thinking skills, to understand concepts in a rich and situated way within discipline perspectives, and to develop positive team work practices enabling them to work effectively with and understand other people.

“Getting those foundations right is a crucial part of our role as educators, and one to which we are fully committed.”

Professor Pattison’s aim is supported by the architect of the Melbourne Curriculum, the University of Melbourne’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis. “In a world in which technological change moves apace, a curriculum such as that adopted at the University of Melbourne is vital,” says Professor Davis.

“Melbourne degrees are characterised by breadth and depth, which matches them with the future needs of students, particularly in terms of jobs and careers.”

While acknowledging the difficulty of predicting what work, careers and jobs will look like in the next 20 years, there is acceptance in the wider community and among experts that current technological and social trends are likely to continue to develop.

“Technology is fundamental to the way in which contemporary universities teach and learn,” says Associate Professor Gregor Kennedy, the University’s Director of eLearning based at the Centre for the Study of Higher Education, and author of its e-learning strategy. “It is an increasingly important aspect of our teaching and learning practice.”

Associate Professor Kennedy predicts a growing prevalence of virtual classrooms, an increase in the importance and use of social media, and more extensive uptake of 3D-immersive environments for teaching and learning purposes in university education programs.

“It’s inevitable, and something we’re planning for, that students and teachers will increasingly embrace the use of rich media collaboration,” he says. “We envisage more widespread incidence of students interacting with each other in visual classrooms enabled by technological advances of such tools as high definition video, with new generations of these technologies showing inevitable improvements.

“So current geographical barriers to student interaction will largely be minimised, allowing them to interact in the same space – whether they are located on campus or in outlying suburbs or even rural areas.”

Kate Abraham, Senior Careers Consultant in the University’s Student Services Careers and Employment division, agrees.

“The geographical landscape of the workforce will undoubtedly continue to change,” she says. “For students, technological developments will allow them increasingly to work in virtual teams. 

“For employees, the stable work locations we experience today are likely to evolve with people increasingly working from multiple locations, including from home, and for not one, but multiple employers.”

Technological advances are also likely to have a positive impact on exchange programs, which, at the University of Melbourne, have experienced constant growth in popularity and take up over recent years.

“The number of partnerships we have forged to enable students to contemplate different kinds of options for exchange is growing all the time,” says Professor Pattison. “We’re now seeing numbers of students engaging in international exchange from home base. So, for example, our global issues program allows our students to study with students from other universities around the world on issues of worldwide importance.

“Career success in the 21st century will be shaped by the extent to which you invest in your human and social capital,” says Leisa Sargent, Associate Professor of Management in the Faculty of Business and Economics at the University of Melbourne, and an expert adviser to the Industrial Relations Commission focusing on the detrimental effects of job changes in the Australian health sector.

“Students’ education, both virtually and face-to-face, will create different types of career opportunities.”

The University of Melbourne graduate attributes are categorised by academic excellence, knowledge across disciplines, community leadership, attunement to cultural diversity and active global citizenship. Within each category the central importance of communication skills, both written and interpersonal, is strongly emphasised.

According to Laurie Ransom, Associate Director of Student Programs, the University’s commitment to achieving exemplary graduate outcomes is underlined by the ambitious targets it has set – against other Australian universities including those in the GO8 – to achieve top ranking from official independent student surveys such as the CEQ Student Support Skills scale and the GDS positive graduate outcomes ratings by 2015. 

“Giving students extensive and varied career and employment development skills and opportunities is central to achieving good graduate outcomes,” says Ms Ransom.

“No matter what the future holds for our students in terms of employment or career, we believe that strong communication skills are key. This, combined with effective teamwork and the flexibility and ability to adapt to changing environments and develop resilience and a willingness to think outside the square will, we believe, equip our students for what is an uncertain future in terms of work practices and environments.”

While academics and employment experts agree on the importance of preparing students for what Associate Professor Kennedy refers to as a ‘technologically mediated world’, the idea that face-to-face teacher-student interaction or an on-campus cohort experience will eventually become obsolete has not received much traction.

Last week, University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis explored this theme in the 2012 Renate Kamener Oration when he discussed the question ‘Do universities have a future: when everything is digital who needs a campus?’

“Given the extraordinary impact of information technology in media, banking and retail, the university sector will not be immune,” says Professor Davis. “One interesting effect of the internet challenge has been a renewed focus on place. 

“It’s early in the digital revolution, but it seems dual mode education resonates for many – on-line information and the social interaction of time on campus… and invites universities to rethink campus design.

Since the introduction of the Melbourne Curriculum, the University has embarked on a series of extensive refurbishments to its teaching and student facilities. Last year alone, major redevelopments were completed at the Baillieu and Giblin-Eunson libraries and new student centres opened at its Law, Land and Environment, and Graduate Education schools.

“We believe that the university campus should be an environment that prepares our students to enter the world as citizens and professionals on their own terms, as creative and positive individuals with the capacity to adapt to uncertain and challenging circumstances,” says Associate Professor Peter Jamieson, Strategic Adviser on Learning Environments to the Provost. 

“The campus should be a place that enables individuals to discover themselves, to encounter new experiences and ideas, and to develop the skills to express themselves by a wide variety of means.”

In line with its strategic plan to create a wide mix of formal classroom types and informal learning spaces where students can engage in a rich array of learning experiences, there has also been a greater cross-campus emphasis on small-group, interactive learning where students can develop initiative and problem-solving skills. 

Ormond College’s Academic Centre, completed just over 12 months ago, is a case in point. Announced the winner of three Victorian Architecture Awards only last month, the architectural redesign was executed in conjunction with Associate Professor Jamieson and the Master of Ormond, Associate Professor Rufus Black, and represents an adaptation of the heritage-listed MacFarland building completed in 1968 originally designed by iconic Australian architects Frederick Romberg and Robin Boyd. Like other recently redeveloped student centres across the Parkville campus, the space has been reconfigured to provide study spaces, tutorial rooms, integrated technology access, relaxation and function spaces and an extensive library with 24-hour access.

“The design of the campus environments has been informed by the key principles that are driving the creation of new professional workplaces in Australia and internationally,” says Associate Professor Jamieson, “where the focus is on providing places that offer diverse working settings promoting user choice, enhanced by an appropriate selection of technology.”

For Professor Pattison, the fact that in 10 year’s time people may be doing jobs that haven’t been invented yet only emphasises the value of a broad and deep degree structure exemplified in the Melbourne Curriculum.

“We very much see our role as providing the intellectual foundations – good teamwork skills, the ability to work with other people, to understand each other – for being able to adapt to whatever the future holds.” 

Listen to Pip Pattison, Laurie Ransom and Professor Geoff McColl, who led a review of the medical school curriculum, discuss how you can find out all you need to know about education for the future on Open Day, 19 August at: