As Australia gets ready for (another) new series of ‘Dancing with the Stars’, we caught a glimpse last week of some partnerships of a different kind at the Australian Technology Network of Universities (ATN) National Symposium on Curriculum Innovation. The online symposium included a keynote from Professor Barney Glover AO, an expert panel discussion with representatives from industry, tertiary education and government, and an ideation session inviting everyone to the virtual stage as a crowd-pleasing finale.

Slip on your dancing shoes and embrace the analogy for a quick waltz through some of the key themes covered during the 2.5 hour event. Cue music!

Systems are shifting, but don’t panic (at the disco)

Opening the show was Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) Commissioner Barney Glover AO, who began by reflecting on the Universities Accord and subsequent system shifts likely to impact policy directions and our educational infrastructure. These shifts require tertiary education to be connected and cohesive, with a skills system that’s flexible and responsive to expand opportunity for all.

JSA’s Skills Priority List highlights some key issues in the current skills system, impacted by a combination of factors including VET and higher education, employers and unions, and migration. Current skills shortages encompass both technical and professional roles, and are exacerbated by gender imbalances in certain industries such as trades (construction, engineering) and care.

The gender imbalance in occupations […] is accentuating and amplifying the skill shortage […]. Not surprisingly, if you’re accessing the full potential of the workforce, you’re less likely to have a shortage – shortages are not just about volume alone.

Professor Barney Glover AO

Skills projections indicate that over the next 10 years, more than 90% of new jobs will need postsecondary qualifications. If we don’t want to trip over our own feet, we’ll need to learn to dance in time with different partners whose rhythms may not feel so familiar to us.

Take your partner(s) by the hand

We’ve seen some spectacular partnerships across the education sector already, including the NSW Institutes of Applied Technology, TAFE Centres of Excellence and Regional University Study Hubs. In the second section of the symposium, we heard more about these from an all-star panel, chaired by UTS Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education and Students) Professor Kylie Readman.

Responding to questions about cross-sector collaboration and the role of partnerships were:

Their lively discussion tackled what’s needed for effective collaboration across different sectors, including shared outcomes, commitment and role-modelling from leadership, as well as a common language and practical applications of an emerging skills taxonomy. Speakers challenged education institutions to consider whether ‘dual sector’ is a relevant term in this shifting context, and encouraged leaders to acknowledge the unhelpful ‘cultural divide’ between different educational provisions.

Strictly ballroom, or a more contemporary vibe?

As the floor opened for everyone to join in the final dance, facilitators Dr Dee Halil, Professor Liz Johnson and Dr Suneeti Rekhari invited the audience to reflect on these themes via a shared Padlet board, asking what’s working well, what are the blockers and more importantly, what will we do on Monday morning? Not everyone was keen to step onto the stage, but those who did started conversations on skills passports, work-integrated learning, and opportunities for collaboration in new and interesting ways.

For those of you who missed it, it’s not too late to join the dance. You can watch the full recording of the ATN Symposium or step on over to the Curriculum Innovation Case Studies sharing current examples of industry-engaged curricula across the ATN Universities group. If you’re more of a listener than a dancer, you can hear more from the ATN and commentary on the Universities Accord in the ATN Perspectives podcast.

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