Empowering Youth for Future Success by Seamless School-to-Work Transitions and Equitable Education

Dan McFadyen, Managing Director at Edalex speaks with Will Stubley, Co-CEO/Co-Founder of Year13, where they delve into the critical issues surrounding education and employment for young people in Australia and across the globe. The conversation is divided into 7 thought-provoking chapters, each shedding light on different aspects of the educational landscape.

Watch on Channel Edalex (YouTube)


0:00 – Introduction
0:55 – Year13’s Mission – Transforming School-to-Work Transition for Young Australians
5:45 – Exploring Post-School Pathways and Opportunities for Youth
8:48 – Skills and Qualifications to Work Hand-in-Hand to Address Skills Gaps
13:06 – Empowering Learners, Nurturing Skills Recognition and Educational Equity
19:08 – Research Insights – Challenges and Opportunities in Education Decision-Making
24:56 – How US and Australian Systems Can Thrive Through Collaboration and Partnership
30:14 – Year13 Roadmap – Revolutionising Post-School Transitions Through Alignment

Chapter videos

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(This transcript has been lightly edited for readability)

Dan McFadyen (DM): Hi, I’m Dan McFadyen,Managing Director of Edalex and I’m thrilled to be joined by Will Stubley, Will is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Year13. Will, along with his business partner, Saxon Phipps, has dedicated over 15 years of his life to supporting young people striving to close the gap on a 20th century approach to career-related learning and transition to a skills-based economy, Will is an active member of the Tech Council of Australia and is also a member of the newly established Mining and Automotive Jobs and Skills Council. Will, wonderful to see you again, and thanks so much for joining me today.

Will Stubley (WS): OK, Dan. Thanks for having us and nice to see you again.

Chapter 1 – Year13’s Mission – Transforming School-to-Work Transition for Young Australians

DM – Well, let’s dive right into it. So first, tell us a bit about your team. I know you focus on a critical point in learners’ lives. So can you tell us about that – the services and products you offer, and why you’ve chosen that particular area to focus on?

WS – Yeah. Cool. So Year13, as you sort of mentioned, has been around for a little while now. It was first founded because it’s a personal experience. So my business partner and I both had really different journeys out to school, but where we linked up was one of our mutual friends who was having a particularly hard transition out; and unfortunately it got a little bit too much for her, and she ended up taking her own life. And so you know, I was actually in the first year out of school. Saxon is 2 years older than me. So we were sort of going through that school transition journey ourselves. And, you know, we saw first-hand where that experience wasn’t completely unique to us – just the more we were talking to people, whether it was our friends, or people around our circles, what’s meant to be a really exciting period of a young person’s life is often not quite that. And so, when we first launched, it wasn’t really a business because I was at Uni doing engineering, and Saxon was at TAFE and travelling around the world.
All that sort of things. We started essentially a blog talking about all the cool things you can do after school – you know it really us starting with figuring out what our friends were doing and writing about it. And we had three verticals of work – study – travel. That was sort of the three options that apply to you or do nothing. So we sort of based around that and that, and it was back when Facebook was sort of really on the up. And so we had to build an audience, leaning quite quickly for free, which for any marketers out there will tell you it’s quite different these days, it’s very much pay to play, but what was happening was people would drop in and say: ‘Hey, I read the article about getting an apprenticeship’ or, you know, ‘I stuffed up my exams and I saw you can get into Uni from any alternative pathways. Can you actually help me do that?’

And that’s when we realised that’s a big gap in the market, not just in terms of information, but actually facilitating that decision-making process and sort of bridging that gap of actually how to get somewhere. And that was in probably 2015 / 2016 when we sort of turned into more of what we are now. And then obviously a lot has happened between then and now but we really had the same mission the entire time, which is upgrade the school-to-work transition. And that’s really been sort of a North Star focus around helping young people to live happier, more fulfilled lives. And, we know that one of the best lead indicators of that is ‘meaningful work’. That sort of always been based around that. And the thing that we found was … that decision-making process isn’t purely made by the student – the young person. There’s a lot of other stakeholders that are involved in that. And so what we spent the last seven, eight years doing is really looking to bring together that ecosystem. And so we’re now Australia’s largest school-to-work platform where in terms of scale we’ve got 1.5 million students on a platform, we reach between 3 to 4 million students a month through our social channels.

DM – Wow.

WS – We’ve got over 1200 schools that use our software called Career tools with like statewide roll outs in ACT and South Australia. We work with a little bit over 100 industry partners ranging from a Council of Associations – Engineers Australia but also organisations like Microsoft, and we’ve got about 100 to 150,000 parents going on the platform a month. So we’ve sort of hit an interesting period where there’s quite a lot of people that are really interested in helping solve this, and it’s been one of the unique aspects of our growth is almost everyone has a story about the challenges. And so we’ve been very fortunate with having amazing people around us that just want to help solve the problem. Yeah, it’s a summary of where we are.

DM – That’s fantastic Will, and from such a horrible personal tragedy to see that inspiration ultimately effect in a positive way. So – one and a half million learners! That’s amazing Will, so congratulations and thank you on behalf of today’s youth and it’s interesting for me personally having nieces and nephews around this age and seeing them go through the struggles, I think back that when I was going through Uni and acknowledging my own privileged upbringing but it seems like the world was a much simpler place back then, and even thinking back to your time.

Chapter 2 – Exploring Post-School Pathways and Opportunities for Youth

DM – So I think for the youth today, I see that there’s a much wider range of pathways that they can explore and pursue. So what sort of insights around pathways and opportunities are you seeing from the experience of those more than a million users in the schools, all those schools and the parents?

WS – Yeah. Look, I think it’s one of the things that’s probably always been fairly complex and multifaceted in terms of pathways, but I think traditionally the pathways to get there was a little bit more structured in terms of, you know, you had trades and uni and you probably had more of an economy that was based on one or two occupation sort of careers. And I think it’s actually a Foundation for Young Australians research found that they estimate Gen Z on average will have over 17 different occupations in four or five different industries. So you’re talking about a very transient career path. And that’s starting to then permeate into the broader structure of things, whether that’s education, and government, and employment. So there are structures where almost every country, definitely in Australia, was saying skills shortages. We’re seeing a really tight employment market where people are very happy to recruit from cross sector. And so that creates a whole different dynamic for not only the systems of education and things like that, but actually for the student or for the individual themselves, it means that their pathways and opportunities are so much broader.

So if you take it back down to what we do, at the school level trying to figure out what you want to do, there’s still a bit of angst and stress and anxiety around… especially the ATAR; and you know, what you do straight after is going to dictate the rest of your life. And the reality of that is obviously very different, but starting to permeate down that people are realising how transient careers can be, but, you know, and still there’s a big bias towards university and which is cool, like that’s fine. But you see that when you to actually start to educate and inform around vocational pathways, alternative pathways, the interest is really there. So, you know, one of the things that we advocate for across the board is just really education around pathways, and careers, and employment opportunities makes a huge difference at that age group because… really what you don’t know, you don’t know. And they way they’re exposed to pathways, it’s really their parents and friend’s parents. So yeah, I think things are changing, the bit that we’ve seen over the last 4 to 5 years has been probably a bit more of a swing towards the vocational system, which I think it still probably needs to swing a little bit further to get that equilibrium, but starting to get there.


Chapter 3 – Skills and Qualifications to Work Hand-in-Hand to Address Skills Gaps

DM – Interesting – really interesting. I’d like to build on some of those comments that you made, Will, so recognising that attending university is no longer the primary goal for a number of students that it once was and it’s no longer, the degree is no longer the signal to hire to employers that it once was. And so we have an interesting situation where there’s this widening chasm between employers who are having an incredible difficult time finding employees with the proper skills. So the ManpowerGroup released their latest survey yesterday that revealed that the percentage of companies that are struggling to find prospective employees with the right skills is at an all time high – 77% of companies. And it’s even higher here in Australia. And yet here we have these graduates who are struggling to get their first job
or the first meaningful job in whatever industry they may be interested in pursuing. And so it’s a bit of a catch-22: employers want people with the skills, and the graduates are saying: ‘Well, give me a job so I can get these skills or so I can prove that I have these skills.’ so I’ll throw a very broad question. How do you think the institutions, employers and the students should be tackling this challenge?

WS – Hmm, so I think it’s…

DM – You can answer that in seven parts too by the way(laughing) –

WS – I think the reality is getting driven out of necessity via industry. So like I said before, because the employment market is so tight and skills shortages are so chronic, industry is sort of forcing the hand of the rest of the market because it’s going “This is what we need”. And so what that’s creating is probably quite a big macro shift from a traditionally very qualification-based system to more of a skills-based system where to that point, if you think about a qual – it’s sort of the stack of skills or competencies. And so it’s sort of breaking a qual into units and from an employer’s point of view, even when it’s not hiring, but like you said, more broadly, if they’ve got the capability to perform a function, that sort of trumping the overall qualification that someone has. And so they do work hand-in-hand because you think of that qual as a stack of competencies, but it’s getting more to a unit level. And so while I don’t think that sort of trend is going to go away.

To that point before, if someones going to have up to 17 different occupations, you need something that’s transferable and, I don’t think qualifications are going to go anywhere. But I think it’s sort of this system in tandem that’s going:  ‘Well, you can break it down modular unit level’ where it’s going, you know, ‘this occupation needs these combination of skills where you don’t need a whole qualification.’ So, in terms of efficiencies and even investment and stuff, time, money, all that sort of stuff, not only from industry driving it and I think the students are going to drive that as well. ‘Well why do I need the rest of it if that’s not going to be valued?’ So yeah, education is in a really interesting space which I think shouldn’t be scary. But I think for institutions, it should be really embraced because it leans more towards something I truly believe in, that lifelong learner concept. I think models might be changed a little bit, but the need for education is not going to go away. It’s just the sort of structure around it.

DM – That’s right. And yes, I totally agree with the lifelong learning. The importance of that and even the Federal Government here, just over the last few days, announced a series of micro-credentials from a range of different institutions to really plug those gaps and help build skills in individuals, so we’re certainly seeing this recognition from the Government as well. So they are certainly another key stakeholder.

Chapter 4 – Empowering Learners, Nurturing Skills Recognition and Educational Equity

DM – So let’s drill down a bit more on the learners and obviously you’re, ultimate, ultimately the people you’re trying to help with your solutions. Last year we commissioned some market research that – of college or university graduates that identified that only 33% of them feel comfortable voicing their skills during their first jobs search. And I’m sure that number is even lower, understandably lower at high school or secondary education level. But do you believe that students at those ages are gaining skills? And how can they prove it? And then also, how do they internalise that to be able to gain that voice for their own skills?

WS – Yeah, I think it’s even more challenging and important at a younger age. I’m not sure how much you deal with those 15-16 year olds, but we actually used to have an in-schools program called the Skills Project, and within that we would actually ask the students: ‘what are your skills?’ And even more simply, ‘what are you good at?’ And it’s very difficult for a young person to articulate that. And so out of necessity, we actually had to sort of flip on the head to basically get the same outcome, but asked in a different way which was just: ‘what do you enjoy doing?’

DM – Yes.

WS – And so and that can often lead to whether it’s a skill or whatever you want to call it but… That was a way to cut through because… not to generalise but a lot of young people can’t clearly articulate what skills they have, because they haven’t been in that context. Because there’s no context of how learning or experiences turn into skills at that age. But when you do flip it and sort of give some examples – So if you ask them – a very standard one came up:  ‘I like playing PlayStation’, and ‘I like playing sports’ and things like that. And so we would ask that: ‘why do you like playing sport? – You know, is it because you like to be in a team environment collaborating with other people? Is it that you like to win and that’s the thrill that you get? Or is that you just like to be part of something bigger than yourself?’ And so there’s so different ways of breaking down that and even playing PlayStation, which, for the parents who’re listening, there’s actually a lot of explication you can get when it comes to skills. So yeah, look it’s a long story short, it is a challenge with the work we do is trying to help young people and I think there’s ways to get around that stuff we do.

But there’s this amazing research that’s come out of ways to extract intrinsic values and how that can be used for career discussions and things like that. So I guess the thing I probably recommend – which, to that point, I think it’s coming from the Government and things like that, starting that conversation of skills much earlier I think is very important because my view is, skills are the universal language. So the problem that schools have often, from our experience when dealing with industry, is you’re talking different languages; that industry is talking skills: ‘Are you capable of being an employee?’ really. Schools are very qualification-based. You know, they are talking syllabus, academic outcomes, transcripts and stuff, which is cool. I don’t think we necessarily want to change that but the bridging of the two, which I think is very important, I believe this is skills. So if you can start to not change, but augment and link together the academic side of schools, a good example is the ATAR, to skills, win-win, so…

DM – Yeah, absolutely – and I love those examples that you gave. And when the deputy principal of one of the schools that we work with shared how some of her students might work at McDonald’s and said: ‘but I don’t have any skills’ Like ‘Really?’ – How can you not see that teamwork, collaboration, working under pressure, communication skills, dealing with stress and some resilience… all of these skills. But again, they don’t have that familiarity or ability to express it; and certainly from a curricular perspective as well: ‘Oh, yeah, I did this. I did well. I got a good grade, strong marks in this subject. But what is that reflecting? What are the skills that enable you to perform well in there?’

So again, I think it’s been great to see the ground swell of interest in skills; and building on your earlier comments around vocational versus universities. You know ‘skills’ or ‘competency’ used to be a bad word. You would never say that in the university context, but now you know the leading universities, they’ve cottoned onto it, like: ‘Well, of course, they’re building skills as well as being – becoming career ready.’ But they absolutely are developing skills and high schools are doing that as well. And so it’s really been fascinating seeing that transition, and for us, each playing our own part however small in helping to support that. And I think it’s incredibly important from an equity perspective as well. So if you think of those coming from a lower socio-economic background or other disadvantaged upbringing where they may not have heard these skills or profession, so they may not realise the skills they have. They may not realise the pathways that are there, that are open to them.

Chapter 5 – Research Insights – Challenges and Opportunities in Education Decision-Making

DM – Coming back to research and you’ve referenced some external research. I know you’ve also conducted a lot of research yourselves and partnered with different organisations. Can you share some of the more recent or more insightful or what are you seeing from your research?

WS – Yeah. So we’ve… I think it’s up to 55,000 students we’ve researched, well, have had, answered our surveys over the last six years and they were really pointed at that school-to-work transition, probably even more specifically from a student point of view, understanding the decision-making process. And yeah, to be able to work with multiple-federal government departments, state, some large organisations, but largely we do it for ourselves. So, um, we wanted to understand the problem – and we actually make it all publicly available. So, yeah, well, the ones that we can… yes, but to that point where, I gotta say, same as you, we’re one part of the solution, but it’s a big problem that required multiple awesome companies, awesome people coming together to help solve. One of our more famous ones is called After the ATAR, that’s probably been published a fair bit. And again, you can download it for free, but the name trend out of that is pretty consistent beyond years. So we try and, there are some questions we’ve been tracking for multitudinal studies. But for example, still every year over 72% of young people plan on going to Uni. And again, that’s fine. But if you start to dig a little bit deeper underneath that, a lot of that say it’s a very unconsidered decision. It’s going like: ‘this is what is expected’, or, you know, ‘my friends are doing’, or, you know, ‘I just can’t think about that now I want to focus on my ATAR. I’ll worry about it when I get to Uni.’

Which is sort of conflicting, ‘cause if you look at some headline stats there’s multiple things – including so many young people are confused about what they want to do after school. You know, we’ve had 43% of young people having no idea, sort of thing. So like really big stats that when you drill a little bit underneath, for example if almost half of them say they don’t know what they want to do, then we should start to dig into that. They sort of do but they sort of go:  ‘Oh yeah. I’m going to Uni xyz’, and so it’s been an interesting exploration for us to actually get to what’s happening. And what was found is really it’s an education… challenge, and also opportunity. So that why I’m a really big advocate for getting careers into the classroom, into the curriculum, because what you’re talking about before is that even when you’re learning maths, you’re learning skills, and skills are very, very tightly related to careers. And so the more that we take it as a whole school approach, and a really economic and social responsibility, to actually have this because everyone finishes school. It’s like the one constant of everyone at school. Everyone finishes it. Like, what starts off as a small problem becomes a significantly bigger problem for everyone. And when you talk about money and social impact and things like that.

In terms of research, when we look at what are one of the biggest opportunities, it is the education piece and we had a separate stat which was really widely published a couple of years ago – which is, an Australian apprentice can be $150,000 ahead of a university graduate. When you take into consideration wages earnt and money spent. And for context, that was a carpentry apprentice in Queensland and a Arts degree at Sydney University. So, we just chose some random ones. And we put that in front of the audience and just that one stat increased consideration of an apprenticeship by over 60%. So we’ve got multiple data points that go into… it’s not rocket science in terms of actually having major impacts. It’s just getting to them at the right time, in the right place, probably through a choice of vehicle. It’s one of those obvious things that need to be done that I can think of, so yeah, that’s probably one of the more interesting parts of the research.

DM – That is fascinating – and just thinking from personal experience when I first moved to Australia 20 years ago, I was shocked just at the differences. As much as we think that the models are fairly similar between the two countries, that the students were expected to know not only which institution they wanted to go to, but what program that they want to go to at the age of 17. And certainly 20 years ago they didn’t have a Year13 to be able to explore, to get that research. And so these are massive decisions that they are making, or they previously were making without enough information. And certainly when we think about the cost of university in America versus here, it’s on a whole different scale. So in the US, although we’re seeing it definitely and dramatically increase here as well, but there’s been double digit decline in percentage of 17 year olds who are planning to go to college or university in America. And partially because of the costs, partially because of an unclear return on investment. They don’t know what skills they’re going to get out of it. And so there is a very critical education process about education and about the pathways.

Chapter 6 – How US and Australian Systems Can Thrive Through Collaboration and Partnership

DM – And coming back to America – the topic of America. Now you and I have had the opportunity to collaborate on several major initiatives such as a learner passport… a robust learner passport solution. But I know you spent some time in the US recently and you were sporting a cowboy hat. So yeah, we’d love to get your take as an Australian in America for a number of weeks talking to various educators, and what similarities and as well as differences do you see between the two different models and markets.

DM – Yeah, we’re really fortunate. We went to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest EDU and the main objective was to understand the problem. Yeah, I think we’ve been around it quite heavily in Australia and I guess understand the structural dynamics is – how applicable is that to the rest of the world. And I guess long story short is that almost every economy location that we look at everyone is struggling with the same problem. So I do think it’s a universal challenge that countries, and governments, and schools, and educators are going to go through is, how to deal with the future of work and this changing dynamic of a career, what being an employee is, what, you know, whether it’s in a gig economy or what new technologies are introducing, things like that. There are so many different inputs that are happening that I think everyone’s trying to figure out a bit, and it’s so material on the economy is trying to get ahead of this stuff. So that was really awesome to see what people are talking about and challenges, I think…

I think Australia is actually quite advanced in this topic from a product and organisational standpoint. But also I think from a government level, I honestly feel like, from the Commonwealth Government down to states, if you think about, from the Joyce review, how that’s mobilising to the skills org, or to the jobs and skills councils, to some of the programs that is going across different state departments. I think really, probably, one of the leaders that I’ve come across. And so it was interesting talking to other people actually recognising that a little bit and a lot of people are quite curious about what’s happening in Australia. Look we’ve got a really strong and highly respected education system, both in the higher education and the vocational systems. So yeah, I think we’re in a very fortunate position to take the lead on a global scale to say, ‘This is what the opportunity is.’  I think that’s the thing, is to solve this, it’s really based on partnerships. Then, you know, it’s bringing together both private and public, and scale up, start up a whole bunch of different organisations together to help solve it. But I think the appetite is there. I think for most people in the market… being in this space, people want it to succeed. So I think, it was good to just get some validation that what we’re doing is important and it’s felt.

DM – Yeah, I wholeheartedly agree and, and it is interesting. Well I was over in Atlanta for the Digital Credential Summit and they were talking of the advantages that Australia has and what we’ve been able to do as a country in a centralised approach. But then interestingly, having discussions here where we’ve co-sponsored and co-hosted Skills Meet-Ups – a gathering of government and academic and industry and learners, and here people say: ‘oh, the U.S. is so advanced… or, you know, they have the scale, they have all these other advantages’, but clearly the message is we can learn from each other. And while, the language, the terminology, the concept of a learner passport here, might correlate to ‘portrait of a graduate’, was the phrase that we were talking about previously is something that we’re certainly seeing come up a lot more in the U.S. but ultimately it is about creating that very rich profile for the learner to support whichever pathway or pathways through their life that they’re going to pursue. So yeah, I agree. I think I’m very excited about, about the opportunities in America. But also for the cross-fertilisation and picking the best ideas from both countries or from all around the world and putting them to use, which is something that Year13 has definitely been very successful at. So now I know I’ve taken up a lot of your time.

Chapter 7 – Year13 Roadmap – Revolutionising Post-School Transitions Through Alignment

DM – Final question for you: So with the history that you laid out for us with Year13, and 1.5 million students/learners on your platform, and the platform itself is free for the students to use. Right? So if they want to come on, they can sign up and come onto the platform. Is that right?

WS – Yeah, so we’ve got a free public-facing, but we also have a paid, school version, but it’s very accessible.

DM – Yeah, which is great. So Year13.com.au and, so, yeah, that combination is great for the student and great for the schools as well, and obviously very helpful for parents as well. So looking ahead, what are you excited about in the future, for the roadmap for Year13.

WS – Yeah. So really I guess it’s helping solve that school-to-work transition journey and I think, you know, getting to a little bit more scale does help to a certain extent to start bringing together the ecosystem. I think that’s the thing, the opportunity is – all the stakeholders are distributed. If we can sort of bring everyone together and mobilise everyone on, like, sort of the same direction – that’s where really meaningful change I think will happen at a state and federal level, you know, where we really see the business is actually taking, and making a decent dent into productivity growth. And also some core social metrics that we, that we want to track. So, we firmly believe that if you help solve that school transition process, that really leads to tangible economic and social uplift for any state. So as we moved it from individual customer groups of schools, and students, and industry and things, it’s how one plus one equals three sort of thing. And that’s where we’re looking at going. Can we really show evidence that this is needed, and doesn’t need to be at the time but if we can be a beacon of every school and government should be thinking about. A high quality career education, school transition strategy then that’s sort of doing our jobs.

DM – I know, and an incredibly important job. And so, yeah, thank you for your time today Will, and thank you for all the amazing work that Year13 is doing, and for millions of learners. So, it’s very exciting, and can’t wait to, to hear more of your ongoing success.

WS – Appreciate it Dan, and like – I love Edalex, and wish you guys every success as well.

DM – Great, thanks so much Will.

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