In the next day, around 69,000 high school graduates in NSW, including my own daughter, will get their HSC results. I don’t need to call out the extremely stressful conditions these students faced to achieve those results. There’s the HSC, then there’s the HSC in the middle of a pandemic.
I’ve never put much stock in ‘the big number’ with my daughter. My work experience has taught me that, while it’s a good start and gives you a springboard for opportunity, there are other ways to dive into the pool and the HSC made very little difference to where I am today.
I don’t mean to diminish what these extraordinary young people have accomplished. We will read the stories of young people got perfect, if not close to perfect, scores. It seems fitting to describe their efforts as Herculean given that we’re all about references to Greek iconography these days.
What I really want all high school graduates to know is that their HSC is just the beginning of their lives as valued talent in the workforce – and that they are all needed.
Australia is currently feeling the pain of a chronic lack of foresight and investment in talent for many sectors. The pandemic has been a harsh catalyst, but it’s more systemic than that. We’ve neglected – for quite a few generations now – to tell young people that it’s ok to go and get a job, and that this can lead to a profession (if they want it to).
We haven’t invested enough in traineeships, apprenticeships and vocational training. Not nearly enough organisations structure for learning and development, coaching and mentorship, or provide young people with a pathway to work their way up. Meanwhile, our care sector – especially health and aged care – is in critical condition due to lack of skilled staff.
Australia needs workers hungry for opportunities. The good news for young people is this: you should be excited as you step into the workforce. You have places to go.
With my daughter due to get her ‘big number’ this week, these are three pieces of advice I’ll be giving her. I hope it helps other parents and students who might think ‘the big number’ will define them. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.
1. University isn’t the only place to learn. You can get a job and be successful
I didn’t go to university straight after school. Let’s just say my HSC didn’t define what I did next nor the role I am in now as the Y NSW CEO. My HSC results didn’t put me on this path, and I only started further education later in my career.
I started in hospitality and then customer service in the aviation industry, people saw my potential and I saw the potential. I was trained on the job, I learned, I sucked up every bit of knowledge, and I allowed myself to be coached and mentored. I turned up with a proactive and positive attitude, I worked hard. That’s what got me promoted in Australia and internationally.
There’s nothing wrong with ‘just going to get a job’, provided you choose an organisation that has a culture of learning and development. The trick is asking the right questions in job interviews. I recommend something along the lines of: ‘I’m keen to learn and grow. What opportunities do you provide for development and is there potential for jobs to become careers?’ Ask what you’re likely learn one, two and three years into your role, and if they mentor young people.
At the Y, we have so many people who started in summer jobs as lifeguards, swimming instructors, and vacation carers. They have been mentored, trained and developed and many of them have built careers as managers and members of our leadership team.
2. Focus on your strengths, be honest about your weaknesses
Nobody is perfect and good at everything. Nobody. But everybody has strengths.
You might be able to connect with people instantly, or you’re all about the details and data. You might have limitless levels of empathy and compassion, with a deep desire to be of service to people.
Back yourself. Go into any work and learning experience knowing what you’re great at, and what you’re not so great at. Be honest about both because this is both the value you bring and the potential you can work on with the right guidance – as long as you take your grace and a growth mindset to work every day.
Have a vision and plan for your learning so you can build to something bigger as you go. Microlearning and modular learning is growing because the know-how you need to get the job done changes so quickly.
3. Consider what the future holds
If you know history, you know there have been game changers that mean some industries thrive and others disappear. Big changes are not always positive (think World Wars), but they bring opportunity and innovation. Right now, due to the global Coronavirus pandemic, the healthcare, education and aged care sectors are screaming for skilled people. Do you see an opportunity? I do.
The Government will have no choice but to invest in these sectors, and Y Australia has had a proposal on the table for over a year now to build a pipeline of ready-for-work care professionals. We’re looking to invest in 30,000 young people to get training on-the-job-training while they work with us. We will partner with education providers to structure pathways to careers in childcare, aged care, disability care and in-home health care. The idea is gaining momentum and the need is clear.
There’s work to be done here – rewarding work that should be valued and nurtured – and we need bright and caring young talent to do it. So, my darling girl (and your 69,000 fellow graduates), welcome to the workforce. We need all of you.