DURING a recent visit to the US, prime minister Tony Abbott applauded the idea of schools working more closely with business to create guaranteed employment pathways for students.

Under the proposal, businesses contribute to shaping young peoples’ skills so they leave school with the capacity to fill available jobs in their industry.

In an Australian context there’s much to be gained from taking such an approach.

Many employers tell me – even in regions of significant youth unemployment – that there are jobs available, it’s just that young people aren’t leaving school with the skills needed to take advantage of them.

One of the reasons is because businesses and schools, on the whole, find it hard to work together. Not because of any disinterest or lack of desire, but because they’re such different beasts.

It’s a clear indication that while the notion of schools and businesses working more closely has merit, it can be difficult without another organisation playing the role of broker and creating an environment where collaboration can take place.

The Smith Family delivers two programs that do just that.

Over the last five years we’ve been a major provider of the Partnership Brokers Program which is funded by the Federal Department of Education.

Partnership Brokers is a practical, common-sense response to a complex problem.

Put simply it involves putting ‘brokers’ on the ground to bring students, schools, local businesses and community agencies together with the aim of improving Year 12 retention and smoothing young peoples’ transition into work.

Such an arrangement makes perfect sense for business.

An organisation like The Smith Family – which has enormous experience in facilitating successful partnerships – identifies the opportunities, brings the parties around the table and helps produce a mutually beneficial outcome.

Partnership Brokers has enabled more than 500 partnerships across Queensland, 117 which are self-sustaining and existing independently. 

Early results show Australian businesses have benefited from the program in a number of ways, but particularly in providing them with a cost effective way to develop their future workforce.

Anecdotally the returns for individuals, families, schools and communities, are also clear.

We’ve seen increased student engagement and school participation, improved educational outcomes and a boost to self-confidence and well-being.

Another Smith Family initiative which helps lay a foundation for successful school-business partnerships is Work Inspiration.

For thousands of young Australians, work experience is a highly unsatisfying exercise characterised by stuffing envelopes or going on repeated coffee runs.

It can be similarly frustrating for employers as senior managers and team members juggle their workload while trying to keep the unskilled teenager in their care busy.

Is it any surprise that many businesses recoil from participating in work experience as it’s been practiced in the past?

Provided in partnership with the National Australia Bank and the Foundation for Young Australians, Work Inspiration is a structured work experience program – based on a very successful similar initiative in the UK – that aims to meet the needs of both employer and student.

We provide employers with a ‘work experience framework’ – under which a young person participates in work across a range of areas over 3-5 days – to help provide an inspiring and fruitful experience.

For employers, Work Inspiration is an opportunity to give young people a taste of the necessary skills and demands of a role – and of the modern workplace – and put them on a pathway to an eventual job.

For young people, Work Inspiration offers the chance of a smooth transition from school to work and of avoiding unemployment.

Research that tells us that young adults with four or five more employer contacts prior to leaving school are five times more likely to be engaged in employment or training than those with none.

Some of Australia’s biggest employers are now involved in Work Inspiration: Microsoft, McDonald’s, Stockland, SAP, EDI Mining, ARUP and YAMAHA.

A survey of employers involved in Work Inspiration found that 89% felt that engaging with secondary school students in this way added value to their organisation.

In order to bring about successful employer engagement in education we need to have people on the ground to make things happen; to not only bring principals, business owners, community agencies, students and other local representatives to the table, but to get them talking and working together.

We can’t claim to be serious about this ambition if we don’t invest in and foster these relationships.

The Smith Family has co-sponsored the visit to Australia of Dr Anthony Mann, Director of Policy and Research at the Education and Employers Taskforce (UK), in September 2014.

Dr Mann is one of Britain’s foremost experts in the engagement of employers in education.

Dr Mann’s research demonstrates the positive connection between employer engagement with students at school, and the employability and earning power of a young adult who could recall that same interaction. 

Dr Mann will speak to leading Brisbane businesses at Brisbane City Hall on Thursday 11 September. The event, “Bridging the Gap to Employment” will examine the critical roles of business and education in shaping the future of Australia’s workforce.

For more information about the Bridging the Gap to Employment contact Event Manager Tessa Dredge on 07 3115 6207 or [email protected]


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