If one year of university and completing the NSW Higher School Certificate taught Tom Scambler anything it’s that we need to focus on giving students more practical learning experiences.

Australian school students are encouraged to consider, several years ahead of completing their final exams, what they are planning to do after Year 12.

From the age of 15 university representatives travelled to my Sydney school to list all the reasons I needed to apply for university courses as soon as possible.

Although they thought they were encouraging us, I know that most of the students felt overwhelmed.

Not knowing anything about tertiary education, being told the course you selected could define your future was a daunting concept.

I could not help but think: why am I being put under pressure now to decide what I will be studying in over three-years’ time?

Did I actually need a degree or something more to be successful in life?

As I grew older I jumped between the ideas in front of me. Maybe I wanted to be a financial advisor, a lawyer or an entrepreneur?

Being privileged enough to attend a private school, I quickly discovered the cachet ‘the best’ courses at top Australian universities carried.

My peers often chose elitism over happiness, opting to apply for a bachelor of medicine or commerce/law, just because they thought they had something to prove.

It almost became a competition of who applied to the biggest and most advanced university course.

Life turned into a narrow pathway forcing us to transition from high school to a top university without taking a breath.

We were all led to believe that the theoretical education must continue if you wish to be successful.

One of the most beneficial activities I ever undertook in high school was year 10 work experience at sports cable network ESPN Australia.

It taught me that there was more to a career than tallying up as many tertiary degrees as possible.

In my first year of university, which I completed, I began to understand the value of practical learning experiences compared with recently theoretical ones.

Successful entrepreneurs and academics often discuss the benefits of education versus industry experience and which one an employee should be able to offer employers.

Understandably, some careers require much more of one than the other, but why can’t you have the best of both?

Education is more often than not too theoretical, based off a strict syllabus that does not apply practicality to the mix.

In the higher school certificate some subjects are so syllabus orientated that if students do not memorise them, they are at a disadvantage.

I can still remember sitting in the library a few weeks from my HSC trial exams, forcing myself to write out all four pages of the Business Studies syllabus so when it came to any question I knew exactly what part of the syllabus I needed to expand on to answer it correctly.

Is that really beneficial to learning or is it just going through the motions to pass the exam?

The traditional model of tertiary education encourages students to spend at least four years of their early adult lives, discovering their passion, developing that passion into an area of expertise before preparing themselves for a career in the real world.

But are these students adequately prepared for the workforce?

Without any sort of practical industry experience I would argue that they are not.

In my university course, subjects that implemented practical components were far more beneficial than those that did not.

Even in high school, the subjects that offered ‘hands-on’ experiences sparked interest and motivation.

They gave me a taste of what was to come in a career directly correlated to that subject.

Maybe if all universities strove to add practical elements to their courses, students would not lose interest or become discouraged, causing them to change their course.

In the last year, I have realised that attaining industry experience outside of my university course is essential.

Before starting an internship at Wells Haslem Mayhew I did not know anything about strategic public relations.

Adding a practical element to my theoretically based education allowed me to understand how a public relations business operates.

Working in this professional environment has broadened my perspective of the communications industry and the range of opportunities that I can venture into at the conclusion of my studies.

Students should strive to venture outside their comfort zone, involving themselves in new areas of the workforce that might or might not have a direct relation to their degree.

Practical experience also gives students a connection to the workforce whilst ensuring that they are motivated to be successful.

Being able to offer an employer previous experience in specific skills and expertise while maintaining a positive attitude seems to be just as valuable as a signed sheet of paper.

To ensure that the future generation of Australian workers are effectively ready for any type of workforce, educators must develop a practical element to course syllabuses.

Tom Scambler was an intern at Wells Haslem Mayhew in February 2018

He is in his second year of a Bachelor Communication at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS)