Understanding the voice of young adults in Tamworth
Linking the interests of students with local employment outcomes
By Jess Pollard, Education Partnerships Manager at CareerHQ
How many students are going to leave Tamworth after school and are they open to returning someday? What are the most popular jobs and industries for local young adults and how much do they even know about local industry? The results are in from the first localised skills and careers interests project of its kind in Australia and there is one result in particular that may surprise you.
Over a 6 month period in 2018-19 1,464 Tamworth high school students in years 9 to 12 participated in a project we helped to facilitate as the technology partner to map the future employees of Tamworth. The project involved career exploration workshops at 8 local high schools in which students used online tools to explore and determine their career interests and skills, how they wish to be supported in making career and study decisions and also how they feel about the opportunities available to them in the local area.
This project was born out of two key questions that we identified when working with NSW regional schools in 2017. How helpful could it be to map the career interests and skills of an entire community of young people? And how could this help not just students and schools, but also local employers and policy-makers to engage with and enhance the transition of young adults into the local workforce?
It was these questions that we have had the chance to explore in Tamworth over the last 8 months. Thanks to the key efforts of the major sponsors the Tamworth Regional Council, the CareerHQ Team and the highly engaged TADCAN group of Careers Advisors in Tamworth we’ve been able to articulate the voice of young adults in the area.
The challenge for regional areas
A key challenge for regional areas and in particular employers around Australia, is how to inspire young people to stay and work, or how to encourage them to return to regional areas to work earlier. This is a well known fact, but something that until now has been difficult to quantify. It has also been difficult to quantify if young adults in regional areas are interested in the careers available in their local area or if the pull of the city is impacting on their career aspirations.
There’s been plenty of data around on the jobs available in different regions, but little more than anecdotal or somewhat noticeable trends in the hopes, skills and desires of young adults in these regions. This project has given the Tamworth region a way to proactively listen to the collective voice of their young people.
In addition to assisting students to determine their career and study choices, the driving purpose behind this project was to assess these trends with our data platforms to share key insights with educational leaders, local employers and policy-makers. This data has also filled a gap that is missing in how we currently approach regional development. Young adults are the future of the workforce and their voices are key in regional issues around employment, emerging skills gaps and how communities can proactively plan for the future.
The key findings
After running over 20 workshops the data that emerged presents an in-depth look at how these young adults see their futures. The following points present an overview of the key findings.
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skill areas are the skills that students have the least confidence in. In conjunction with this, there is a disparity in the skills that students would like to improve. Maths is overwhelmingly popular as one of the most desired skills of students, yet in contrast to this science was the least selected skill that students nominated that they would like to improve.
This above skills analysis links interestingly doesn’t align directly to the preferred career options and industries of Tamworth students. Agriculture, healthcare, trades and sports and fitness are the most popular industries students are looking to enter after school. Many of the occupations require strong groundings in STEM skills. This data highlights some misunderstanding of the skills needed for working in these industries. While a high proportion of students wish to pursue STEM career pathways, only a small number are interested in developing their science skills, an important knowledge base for many healthcare roles.
Another very significant finding from this project is that 89% of Tamworth students tell us that they know nothing or little about local industry. This could well be a factor in 52% of students saying they will leave the Tamworth region after school. Interestingly, while a strong proportion are choosing to leave, 84% of the students did select that they would be interested or could be convinced to return to Tamworth after study to work locally. These numbers highlight that the scope exists for a significant share of locally educated talent to resource local employment opportunities if they are effectively promoted. The challenge and opportunity that arises then becomes how can community leaders come together to promote local opportunities and to inspire young adults that a successful future is available in their regional community?
One answer to this was found in our third pool of data which explored how students wish to be supported. In short, experiences, visits and conversations matter! They are eager to have more work experience opportunities and more face-to-face interaction. 64% of students nominated that they would like to spend more time at school exploring future pathways and 48% of students even nominated that they would like to visit a local space that provides free career and study information on weekends or after school hours. This project highlights that technology while essential, is still seen as an ancillary tool to face-to-face conversations or a place where students can visit and have a conversation with someone around their career options. Three of the key ideas to emerge from the data included promoting that all schools schedule careers classes, that work experience should be compulsory for students and that there is the opportunity for a local industry engagement program to support the connection between schools and industry.
To conclude this project, a workshop was held at the Tamworth Regional Council with Councillors, local educational leaders, careers advisors, a major local industry representative and a youth representative coming together to learn about and discuss the data and findings. While next steps are being considered, collective engagement and local discussion around how to more effectively support and engage with young people was voiced as a priority by all of these groups.
How do these findings impact our work as career practitioners?
As career development practitioners we all work in a variety of different contexts. Whether you work in a school, university or you run your own private practice, one of the challenges we all face is how to personalise our career development offerings. This project highlights how data can be used to inform where and how we invest our time and energy. It’s easy to make assumptions about the communities that we work with. For example, it’s easy to assume that young adults are just looking for technological solutions or that a strong majority of regional students aren’t interested in staying in regional Australia. The truth is more nuanced and having data comparable to what we created for Tamworth can give you as an individual or team a much greater ability to create client-centered practices that answer the unique needs of your group.
Alongside highlighting the need to create more data in our communities, this project also provides some interesting insights for working with young Australians. While this project was localised to Tamworth, we are also witnessing similar trends around the State and when it comes to providing career education for young adults, it is worth considering the following key findings:
- Local industry education: If over 89% of students said they know little to nothing about local industry, how can we integrate local industry and employment education into our approach as career practitioners? Can you start to provide localised careers and employment information if you haven’t already integrated this into your practice?
- Encourage young adults to seek independent work experience: If work experience is by far the most popular piece of career support students are looking for, how can we support young adults with the skills and confidence to seek out their own work experience opportunities outside of the school context (especially considering that fewer schools appear to be offering work experience)? This could be encouraging micro-work experience, volunteering or internships opportunities.
- Match skills to jobs and career pathways: As a lack of understanding appears to be emerging in the awareness of young adults around the skills needed for certain career pathways, how can we as practitioners support young adults to identify what skills are needed for certain career pathways? This could be providing a range of learning solutions around skills education matched to different careers or industries.
- Technology can’t match a great conversation: Our data highlights that young adults are interested in having meaningful face-to-face career conversations and that while technology will continue to be a powerful tool for our industry (and I am guessing there will an increase in text notification and email coaching in particular), conversations are here to stay.
- Creating your own data practices: Using whatever method is available to you, can you start to compile more information on the groups that you work with to inform your approach as a practitioner and what your client group is hoping to achieve from their work with you?
The most important takeaway
While a range of interesting data emerged from this exercise to inform local opportunities, there is one takeaway worth noting. This exercise is a great example of why we need to be more inclusive in considering the voices of young adults in all forms of local, state and federal decision making. When delivering workshops, we are constantly impressed by the clear minds, career aspirations and hopes of the young adults that we meet. It is not just when you finish school that you start to have a voice. Young adults have clear views and we are proud to advocate for their aspirations and how they wish to be supported in making career and study choices.