Newly-appointed NSW Skills and Tertiary Education minister Dr Geoff Lee has told an IBM conference in Sydney on Wednesday that the state will expand the lauded Pathways in Technology (P-TECH) initiatives at three further NSW schools.
There are currently 14 schools across Australia running P-TECH pilot programs, according to Skilling Australia Foundation, with two in Victoria now running for three years. NSW has had three participating schools to date, with the additional three schools to be announced at a later date.
The scheme provides industry and tertiary education partnerships to bring high tech vocational training to senior high school students.
“P-TECH is a great demonstration of how industry can work with students and the education department at looking at how to give students the opportunity to gain experience with mentors, to get real life work experience so that they can choose the career that is best suited to them,” Dr Lee told InnovationAus.com.
“As an educator, as a government, as an industry, we need to give students a meaningful pathway and credible options of actually saying ‘I don’t want to go to university, I want to go and work in the real world, but upgrade my skills.’
“If you look at somewhere like Germany, they have a dual pathway system where 50 per cent of the graduates choose a different pathway into technical skills.
“This doesn’t just mean construction or hands-on trades, it extends into technical, computer, ICT and a range of other industries.”
Dr Lee pointed to the fact that only half of school leavers enter university. Providing more pathways for these other students is an important part of his remit as Skills and Tertiary Education Minister.
He said the new ministry arrangements, which brought all of different parts of education into a single government group, would pay dividends.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity in education here in NSW now with education, skills, tertiary and higher education joined together in one cluster,” Dr Lee said.
“We look after early childhood right through year 12 through to my area of skills in higher education which is a fantastic opportunity to provide a continuum of education for students no matter what level they are. Whether they’re young kids to older people, upskilling or reskilling.”
IBM shared statistics showing that just 18 per cent of Australian university graduates are studying STEM courses, compared with 50 per cent in places like Singapore and China. IBM itself has hired 30 graduates of P-TECH schools globally, while in Ballarat six students have recently completed a six-week paid internship at IBM Ballarat.
According to Dr Lee, there are also benefits beyond the direct training P-TECH schools offer.
“Holistically, if you look at the top level, it provides training for skills and development of people for the workforce of the future and for valuable skills where we have shortages,” he said.
“But at the individual level it is very appealing to those individuals that can actually sample and experience real world industry and the opportunities that are available.
“There are many people that never during their school career that never have those opportunities to see how business works. To see how good companies work.
“One of the people on the panel earlier mentioned that even if they experience it and then choose not to enter into that career that is a good option before you’ve embarked on a three or four year degree and then decide it’s not my career of choice.”