31 March 2022 | Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre

School to Work Summit

Event Overview

Education, vocation and innovation were at the heart of discussions held during the School to Work Summit.

On 31 March 2022, VicLLENs and VALA hosted the inaugural School to Work Summit, which saw 570 leaders, educators, innovators and changemakers come together and discuss how we can collectively improve the school to work journey for young people.


1. The Importance of access and equity in education (and why we’re not there yet)

Equity in education was a prevalent theme throughout the day. Emeritus Professor John Polesel spoke about the extra “heavy lifting” that many schools do, especially where vocational programs are more expensive to deliver than standard subjects.

The Hon Fiona Nash, Regional Education Commissioner for Australia, highlighted the need for equal opportunities in regional areas so that “people, regardless of where they live, can access the educational opportunities they need to reach their full potential.”

Fiona highlighted significant discrepancies in regional educational attainment, citing that young people (25-34) in regional areas are less than 50% as likely as a ‘city person’ to have a degree.


Gender equity in education was repeatedly explored throughout the day.

How Work Works Interns Brea Dorsett and Brizayah Clifford spoke about how less than 2% of people in high paying trades are women, due to an “editing out” process which begins as early as primary school.

This was also a key theme throughout Dave Burton and Lena Mitchell’s presentation, in showcasing their Passions and Pathways program. While stripping away several layers of costumes, Lena illustrated the way that students inherit preconceived notions of what kind of career options are available to them.


“When kids come to school, they have a wealth of opportunities.. all these things that they could do in their futures. But we don’t understand that they’re actually going through a process of peeling these things away [throughout] their primary school [years].”

This process of elimination is particularly gendered: “the first message [primary aged students] get is about gender. Men do these kinds of jobs, women do these kinds of jobs.”

“What this means is that they are ruling out a vast swathe of opportunities for who they could be in their lives. This means that women in particular have a far smaller pool of jobs to go for.”

Helene Rooks, CEO of the Victorian Applied Learning Association, highlighted the importance of VCAL in catering to young people with different needs across different settings. She argued the importance of ensuring that the Senior Secondary Reforms build on the successes of VCAL to ensure that “every young person [can] have access to a meaningful and successful pathway… regardless of their circumstances”.

Professor Kitty te Riele also urged us to consider vulnerable young people, not just in regard to their needs, but also their strengths: “They often have all sorts of 21st-century skills, those general capabilities that we so value.”

“They often have those already, because they’ve had to develop them.”

“A young Mum or a [young] parent… has to be well organized, to have good communication skills, to be able to collaborate with other people.”

2. What should schooling really look like?

Throughout the day, there was a collective consideration of the way our schooling system is currently modelled – what is, and what should be, the real role of education in setting up students for their futures?

Two teams of young people, industry representatives and education experts went head to head in the Great School to Work Debate, arguing whether “the role of a school is to create the workers of the future”.

Throughout the day, we heard case studies of new ways of preparing students for the world of work, such as Project Ready, the Youth Enterprise Hub and MIC’s Student Enterprise Program.


We were inspired by new ways of engaging students in education, learning and exploration through co-design and virtual reality.

Jen Buchanan, Convenor of Future Schools, challenged us to stop and consider the purpose of schooling. If school is simply just a “place of knowledge acquisition” Jen argued, how do we ensure that just “teaching our young people about the past” will not “woefully under-prepare them for the future?”

David Caughey, principal at Cranbourne Secondary College, called into question the way we measure the success of a school. A school’s performance assessment, according to David, needs to go beyond standardised testing to measure student retention and year 12 completion.

“There’s data that is available for that, and yet it doesn’t feature in a school performance report.”


Another key element to this discussion was the impact of our rapidly evolving world on both what students learn, and how they learn it.

According to Jen Buchanan: “we could spend our lifetimes, many times over, just accessing free online courses, or watching YouTube videos or listening to TED Talks.”

“So in a world where we are saturated with knowledge, what’s the purpose of schooling?”

In reinforcement of this idea, Dianne Semmens, Vice Chancellor at Victoria University, argued that “the biggest benefits you get out of formal schooling are those soft skill components… the rest of it, the knowledge acquisition, is freely available to anybody.”

Similarly, Dylan Broomfield, General Manager Policy & Advocacy at VECCI, challenged the position schools often assume around enforcing rules and promoting conformity: “Elon Musk did not follow rules. Bezos did not follow rules.”

“Rules are not what will disrupt. Rules are not the future. Yes, they’re necessary. But it’s the ability to go against the rules that leads to the next evolution of industry.”

Dr Yasmin Chalmers, Head of Centre for Science & Technology at The Gordon, celebrated the changing nature of our schooling system.

“A day in the life of a school student isn’t just about getting up and going into the same school grounds every day. Now they have opportunities – they can start off their day by walking into a TAFE or an industry-based setting and then end up back at school.”

“We’ve come a long way from the standard nine to three school hours inside the school to give students a chance to step out and learn in different environments.”

3. Challenging the stigma against vocational pathways

Throughout the day, we were prompted to consider how we perceive vocational pathways. Our speakers told us that academic or university pathways are often viewed as superior pathways. Several speakers prompted us to reconsider the way we talk about applied learning and the way we think about students who wish to pursue pathways in VET, VCAL and eventually the Vocational Major.

Audrey, a young person who graduated a couple of years ago, reflected on the typecasting which occurred when teachers assumed she was not academically-inclined enough to excel in VCE.

“I was told very bluntly, you are not going to get the ATAR that you need to do what you want.”



“I was asked, what’s the back-up plan? Do you want to go to TAFE or ‘drop down’ to VCAL?”

“I did year 12 alternatively and I got into a career without a certificate, without uni, straight away.”

The Summit was wrapped up with five powerhouse talks from VET champions Ashley Beeby, Lewis Brown, Benjamin Gregory, Christine Basco and Jack Trewick, who detailed their VET journeys and advice to educators in the room.

For Lewis, the pressure to undergo VCE was ultimately detrimental to his journey and circumstances. When Lewis wanted to do VCAL, his close family encouraged him to do VCE instead: “I felt like I just got over the line… after that, my experience from VCE tarnished my sense of self and I didn’t think I was capable of study.”

Having eventually completed two certificates and two diplomas, Lewis encouraged us to “challenge any negative perspectives of vocational education.”

“Take my story, for example, I feel like I thrived in vocational education. And now [I’m] sitting in a position where my counterparts are holding masters level qualifications.”

"Bigger, not backwards"- Challenges and opportunities as part of the Senior Secondary Reforms

The event was a large-scale forum to explore the upcoming Senior Secondary Reforms in more detail. John Firth, director of the Firth Review, explained that the systemic restructure of VCE to include a vocational major is about “broadening our understanding of what successful senior secondary education looks like”.

Damian Blake, Head of School (Education) at Deakin University, challenged us to “go big, not backwards”.

“If we do not get it right, if we VCE-ize some of the things that we would have been doing in the name of workplace learning, then there’s a very real risk that we will go backwards.”


In response, Scott Widmer, Assistant Deputy Secretary at Department of Education and Training, told attendees that “the aim here is not to VCE-ize applied learning but to give applied learning equal recognition and standing within the VCE”.

The School to Work Summit was made possible thanks to the generosity of our sponsors Deakin University, The Gordon, Department of Education and Training, Victoria University, Veg Education, Spiire, Agnico Eagle, Project Ready and Melbourne Innovation Centre.


Professor Damian Blake

Head of School (Education), Deakin University

Former CEO, Victorian Curriculum & Assessment Authority

The Hon Fiona Nash

Australia’s first Regional Education Commissioner

Candy Bowers

Award-winning Writer, Actor, Comedian, Producer & Radical Mischief-Maker

Professor of Education, University of Melbourne

Former Telstra Business Woman of the Year | CEO, Food & Fibre Great South Coast

Professor Kitty te Riele

Deputy Director Research, University of Tasmania

Former Director, Kirby Review | Director TAFE & Industry Partnerships, Parkville College

+ over 30 more.


Welcome to Country – Aunty Joy Murphy AO
Tim Richardson MP – Parliamentary Secretary for School
10:30 AM – 12:40 PM SESSION 1 – THE EXPERTS
Our first session will feature powerful insights from experts, initiators and agitators on the school to work journey. Hear about the latest research into what connects students and employer

How do we connect our education system with future workforce opportunities? What can we learn from the past 20 years of education reform?

The Hon Steve Bracks AC – Former Premier of Victoria (Video Address)

Ro Allen – Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commissioner

Howard Kelly – Director, TAFE & Industry Partnerships, Parkville College | Former Director, Kirby Review

John Firth – Former CEO, Victorian Curriculum & Assessment Authority

Helene Rooks – CEO, Victorian Applied Learning Association

Trent McCarthy – Chair, VicLLENs | CEO, Central Ranges LLEN (Panel Facilitator)

What does the latest research tell us about employers, students and the journey from school to work?
Jeanette Pope – Freelance Strategy, Policy, Research

How do we ensure that every student has a great pathway from school to work?
Emeritus Professor John Polesel – Professor of Education, University of Melbourne

Professor Damian Blake – Head of School (Education), Deakin University
Professor Kitty te Riele – Deputy Director Research, University of Tasmania

Two talented teams will debate whether the role of a school is to create the workers of the future.

Simon Pampena – Comedian, Presenter, National Numeracy Ambassador
Mariam Koslay – Communications Manager, Parkville College

Audrey Flannery – Host, ‘Come To Work With Me’
Natalie Collard – CEO, Food & Fibre Great South Coast, Former Telstra Business Woman of the Year
Candy Bowers – Award-winning Writer, Actor, Comedian, Producer & Radical Mischief-Maker
David Gallagher – Casual Academic, Deakin University

Dylan Broomfield – General Manager (Policy & Advocacy), Victorian Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Evonne Lu – Student Executive Committee Member, Victorian Student Representative Council

12:40 PM – 1:30 PM  LUNCH
How do you do that? Our second session includes 6 mini-masterclasses by innovators and educators, exploring gender equality in trades, early engagement, ed-tech, neurodiversity, entrepreneurship and school industry partnerships.

David Williamson – CEO, Melbourne Innovation Centre

Alex Tsenalidis – VCAL Learning Specialist, Northern College of the Arts & Technology

Louise Speirs-Bridge  – Applied Learning Leader, Fitzroy High School

Julie Aldous – Founder, Mansfield Model, Former Victorian Rural Woman of the Year
Dave Burton – CEO, Goldfields LLEN
Lena Mitchell – Manager, Passions & Pathways

Brizayah Clifford – Youth Intern, Women in Trades Report
Brea Dorsett – Youth Intern, Women in Trades Report
Katie Yates – Program Manager, Tradeswomen Australia

Lena Way – Director Engagement, Central Ranges LLEN
Emily Lee-Ack – CEO, South West LLEN
Ella Hughes – Director, Youth Take Over Loddon Campaspe
Graeme Wiggins – CEO, Bendigo Tech School

Dr Alice Ames – Project Design & Implementation Officer (Human Centred Design), Future Connect

Bec Costa-Lowe – GMVICE, Goulburn Murray LLEN
Michael Lyons – Visual Media Studio Manager, Spiire


How do we lead change in schools and beyond?
The Hon Fiona Nash – Regional Education Commissioner for Australia
Jen Buchanan – Convenor, Future Schools Alliance

Dianne Semmens – Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Victoria University  

Dr Yasmin Chalmers – Head of Centre for Science & Technology, The Gordon

David Caughey – Principal, Cranbourne Secondary College

Meet Victoria’s VET Champions and find out how we can support all students to engage with vocational pathways on their journey from school to work.
Scott Widmer – Assistant Deputy Secretary, Department of Education & Training

Ashley Beeby – Diesel Mechanic, BHP

Lewis Brown –  Reconciliation Advisor, RMIT University 

Benjamin Gregory – Director, BG Group

Jack Trewick – Farmer, Cramlington Park

Christine Basco – Registered Nurse

What do we want to do next? What can we do together? Discover new networks and opportunities to stay connected.
*Program may be subject to minor adjustments


Full School to Work Summit (‘Summit’) registration fee (all registration categories except virtual registration) includes access to all Summit sessions, official Summit documents, morning/afternoon tea, lunch and coffee breaks. Virtual registration fee includes access to all Summit sessions, official summit documents and access to recording post-event. Early bird ticket sales close on 25 February 2022. Please note that from the 10 March, all tickets must be paid using a credit or debit card and invoices will no longer be able to be issued.


Early Bird


General Admission

 $ 445.00

 $ 495.00

Education & Training Sector

 $ 395.00

 $ 445.00 

LLEN Staff & Board Members – VALA Members

 $ 315.00

 $ 365.00


 $ 315.00

 $ 365.00


 $ 275.00

Students (In person or virtually)

 $ 155.00

Group In Person Registration x 10


Includes summit talks, program and materials, arrival morning tea, lunch and coffee breaks.
The Education & Training Sector rate applies to staff from any Australian school, TAFE, university or RTO. Staff must use their work email address upon registration.
This rate applies to LLEN Staff & Board Members and VALA Financial Members.
If you are a sponsor of the Summit and would like to purchase registrations in addition to any complimentary registrations included in your sponsorship package, you can do so at this discounted rate.
Unable to join us in person at the event? Participate in the event virtually from wherever you are. Includes summit talks, presented live in an interactive and robust platform, with access to recordings post-event.
The student rate applies to full-time domestic or international students. Students may be asked to provide proof of student status via email. Must use education provider email address upon registering at proof of student status.
We are offering organisations/schools the opportunity to register a group of 10 delegates at a reduced price. The package is designed for a group of 10 new registrations. We can’t apply the package rate retrospectively. If you have already purchased an individual registration or multiple registrations, we cannot refund or discount the registration/s to form a group package. This is a great opportunity for learning and professional development for your staff.
Registration cancellations received up to Thursday, 10th March 2022 will receive a full refund, less a $150.00 administration fee. No refunds will be given for cancellations received after Thursday, 17th March 2022. As an alternative to cancellation, registrations may be transferred to another person (for the same registration category) before Thursday, 24th March 2022 at no cost. Credit card surcharges associated with registration will not be refunded in the case of cancellation.
Please note there is no entry to the venue without registration for the conference. CHANGES TO REGISTRATION In the event that the Summit is unable to proceed as an in person event, all in person registrations will be transferred to virtual registrations in the same category. No administration fee will apply to any such changes, and delegates will be refunded the difference in registration fees. Where a registered delegate is unable to attend for reasons related to COVID19, including border closures or the compulsory requirement to isolate or quarantine, their registration may be transferred to a virtual registration at no cost. Where an in person registration is converted to a virtual registration, delegates will be allocated the equivalent virtual registration based cost on the date registered. For example, delegates registered to attend in-person at the early bird rate, will be allocated an early bird virtual registration. EVENT CANCELLATION In the event of the Summit being cancelled for any reason beyond the reasonable control of the organiser, Central Ranges LLEN, VicLLENS, or The Production House Events, no refunds will be issued. All registrations will be credited towards a future Summit held by VicLLENs to be held within a reasonable time. VicLLENs, Central Ranges LLEN, its member organisations and The Production House Events do not accept any liability for any losses incurred pre, post or during the Summit due to unforeseen cancellation or postponement of the Summit. COVID19 VACCINATION POLICY It is a strict condition of entry into the in person Summit that delegates be fully vaccinated, or hold a valid exemption. In accordance with the Open Premises Direction (No 7) issued in accordance with the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Vic), all visitors, customers and contractors attending any MCEC event space must provide evidence of their vaccination status or exemption prior to entry to the premises. All people aged over 12 years and 2 months must be fully vaccinated to attend any on-site events at MCEC. No refunds will be provided to any in person registered delegate refused entry to the Summit for any reason related to their vaccination status, or ability to provide evidence of their vaccination status.



On sale now

This is the leading event in Victoria for government, education, industry and community working to better connect education with future workforce opportunities. Limited tickets on sale now. Discounted rate for registering 10 tickets for $3,150

John Firth

Former CEO, Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority
John Firth led the review into vocational and applied learning pathways in senior secondary schooling

Professor John Polesel

Professor of Education, University of Melbourne
Melbourne Graduate School of EducationMelbourne Graduate School of Education Teaching and research. Focus on comparative education, school-based vocational education and high stakes testing

Natalie Collard

Former Telstra Business Woman of the Year | CEO, Food & Fibre Great South Coast
Natalie Collard is the Executive Officer for FFGSC, a leadership coach, for which she was awarded one of the 10 most successful CEOs of 2021 by Industry Era magazine, and a Non-Executive Director. She is a highly-regarded advocate for regional Australia, agriculture, renewable energy, innovation and women’s leadership.

Howard Kelly

Former Director, Kirby Review | Director TAFE & Industry Partnerships,Parkville College
Howard Kelly has a distinguished career in education and training. He was a Principal for 12 years in two inner suburban schools and has been the Curriculum Director in state and national projects for four years, Chair of two statutory authorities for 8 years, overseeing the introduction of the VCE and the P-10 curriculum reform. Howard was the Director of the Kirby Ministerial review into post compulsory education, leading to the development of the LLEN and the introduction of VCAL.