Education: exploring the value of secondary education

Written by Tito Ambyo

The value of secondary education.
By Aeden Ratcliffe, Caterina Hrysomallis, Dominic Powell, Ellen Seah, Jane Gould, and Jessica Lee Walley.


The value of secondary education.

By Aeden Ratcliffe, Caterina Hrysomallis, Dominic Powell, Ellen Seah, Jane Gould, and Jessica Lee Walley.


This is a kicker.

Al, feeling unmotivated, dropped out of university to focus on his business.

Now, he’s an international speaker, entrepreneur, and facilitator.

“All of high school I was going to seminars weekend after weekend. Personal development seminars, business seminars. I remember after my first seminar which was actually here at Melbourne University, in some building somewhere, with two business coaches. Just seeing the way they engaged their participants and audience.Going back to high school, I felt very demotivated at high school. All I wanted to do was go back to a seminar where theyd be engaging, high energy and inspired.But then to go to a classroom and not have that engagement felt very low. I always compared it to that.”

“So after that point, I was 14, and school just didnt have any jazz to it, and I got more and more involved in business. So I started taking calls outside of the classroom, my lunch times would be in the library taking calls, or selling as I used to. My teachers knew I was in business, and so they let me take my calls outside the classroom and come back in.”

“My grades started to decline. My parents noticed and my teachers noticed but it was all fine. I still did quite well, but there was a very defining moment where my grades started to go down and my business started to go up.”

“Having deadlines, and targets and homework and needing to get things done. One of my biggest fears in leaving university was actually wow, Im going to be by myself now and so I could just fall into a habit of doing nothing. Because no one is going to chase me up and no one is going to make me accountable.”

“So having to follow though, having to deliver and create and produce is definitely something that I value and I kind of miss it sometimes, having people on my back. Thats why I always have a coach or a mentor to push me, and a vision to pull me. But Id say thats probably the biggest thing that I learnt. And people skills obviously.”

“If youre aware enough during high school to know the dynamics of your friendship group or the teacher dynamics, you can learn a lot about people.”

“I was also running a business during Uni, and after about three weeks, just before census was when they started needing assessments and things handed in. I had no motivation to do that, I went to Uni just to show my parents that Id tried and also just to please my own curiosity. I kind of felt that Id be thirty and Id be wondering what if I had of gone to Uni. So I wanted to at least try it out.”

“I just didn’t feel the need to prove myself to teachers or to prove Id learnt something by filling out a piece of paper. But instead, I wanted to go out and create. So I still kept my textbooks, I can learn when I want to learn, I can do online courses, I can learn in the world which is for me. I always felt my path wasn’t accounting or something, it was very left brain, I didnt need to learn a textbook. Its something where I can just learn people. I can do that by just walking down the street and interacting with a stranger. So I just decided to do that.”

“I took my parents out for lunch, I remember, and I sat them down and I said what do you want for me. And of course, they said they wanted happiness. And I told them Im not happy at uni. So what if I could prove to you in a year that I don’t need university, would that be ok? And they said yes, and I did it and it was all good!”

“Theres a lot of hard skills and a lot of soft skills. A lot of soft skills like rapport building, leadership skills, speaking. Some of them just by myself, like studying at home, and a lot of them just taking the initiative to go to a seminar or going to a workshop or going to a masterclass. Signing up to Uni lectures that maybe you shouldnt be allowed to go to but just doing it anyway.”

“So there is stuff that I learnt just purely by myself, that I took the initiative to go and learn. So yeah a lot of soft skills around leadership, but also a lot of hard skills like marketing, website building, that kind of stuff as well. And it’s all online.”

“One of my biggest fears in leaving university was actually ‘wow, Im going to be by myself now’ so I could just fall into a habit of doing nothing. No one is going to chase me up and no one is going to make me accountable.”

“I feel there needs to be a lot about emotional intelligence. How to connect with people.Because you can learn sales, you can learn marketing, you can learn business, you can learn all the stuff in your left brain. But if you dont know how to have a conversation with someone, or take a conversation a little deeper than what did you do on the weekend?, then its very hard to be creative.”

“To build a good team culture and the marketplace of jobs out there is a collaborative economy. Theres Uber, theres AirBnB, Shareable. All of these sharing economy companies, theyre recruiting people who know how to share, how to connect, how to be in a community. So if people want to prep themselves to get a job, you need to know how to connect, which is emotional intelligence.”

“Schools need to be teaching you how to look someone in the eye, instead of avoiding it and going down to their phone. They should be teaching people how to read body language, how to read language itself. I think thats the most important, but then also a sense of purpose. They should be fostering an environment where students can do their inner journey and figure out what really excites them. Not what job out of the list at the back of a careers manual they want to pursue. Because a lot of them won’t exist in five years. But what actually pulls them, ask them that question.”

“I would just say from working with and consulting companies, I do some of the culture and human relations kind of stuff, which helps them figure out who they need to recruit. A lot of them are looking for people who have a sense of purpose. Theyre looking for people who know how to connect, looking for people who are malleable and can change quickly.”

“If there are three things I would say people need to be aware of entering the job marketplace it’s:
“Can you change quickly? As in can you teach yourself and can you be ok with change, because they are going to shift, companies are innovating.”

“Secondly, can you connect, can you look at people in the eye?”

“Thirdly, what is a sense of purpose for you? What drives you, what is bigger than yourself that will get you up in the morning? Because companies are looking for people who are self\-motivated. So I guess thats three little nuggets that I would leave people if you really want to position yourself in the job marketplace.”

Robbie graduated secondary school but dropped out of university.
He then founded e\-commerce company, Uncle Jack Watches, before reenrolling in university.

**”We design really simple watches. It started when I was looking for a 21st present for a friend. I was at Myers looking for a watch and they were really complex sort of watches.”**

**”Im into fashion and that sort of thing. But Im not into that really complex, overpriced type of style. So I really wanted to create something simple. We created it and people really took to it.”**

What skills learnt in secondary school help you now?

**”I wouldnt say there are specific skills I learnt. Indirectly, the relationships you have with not just your peers but teachers. As a young entrepreneur, you are often put in situations where you need to negotiate with people who are much older than you and probably a lot wiser than you are. So you deal with a lot of different people in school and that definitely helps.**

**”Content wise, you learn some basic things. But in terms of practicality, youre not learning really specific things you use in your day\-to\-day business.”**

**”From my experience, schools do not really foster entrepreneurship at all. From my experience, the education system is very much designed to guide you into a normal job, so to speak. So you have to pick up a lot of the required skills elsewhere.”**

**”From my experience, schools don’t really foster entrepreneurship at all. The education system is very much designed to guide you into a normal job, so to speak.”**

Why did you re\-enrol in university?

“I want to be the best I can be, so that does not just include business. its also academic, sport and just being the best I can be in general. On the academic front, Im now doing my Masters of Entrepreneurship part time. The course is heavily theory based but pretty much everyone in the course is in a similar position. So I get to interact with like\-minded entrepreneurs and build connections which is really important for m**e.”**

**What field would your ultimate job be in?**

“Business, sport and IT. At one stage, to weave all three together would be perfect.”

After resisting pressure to go to university, Brea now works at Alchemy Studios, one of Melbournes most respected tattoo parlours.

Were you supported by your friends and family in this decision?

Yeah absolutely, my parents were 100% behind me, the school, however, was not. They pushed me and they tried to force me to go to uni. I was filling out applications every month. They would not listen.”

Why do you think your school didn’t support you?

I feel being female it made a difference. They encouraged the male students more with the apprenticeships like plumbing, electrician, and also tattooing being low\-brow and obscure I guess they felt like I didnt have much of a chance.’

Did the skills you learnt in high school help prepare you for life?

Practical skills, not so much except for basic math and that kind of thing, which I wasnt good at anyway. I feel like I learned more life skills from working from a young age.

“Since I was almost fifteen I worked at a service station diner, deep frying food and dealing with customers and all that kind of thing.

Without the help of high school, how did you gain the skills you use at work today?

I learnt the basics of art and design at high school, but other than that I really taught myself through watching YouTube videos, and looking on the internet and forums and what not.

Also learning how to use social media constructively, advertising and marketing myself has been very important. I owe most of my success to Instagram. And of course, Ive taught myself how to draw and develop my own artistic style.

Do you think people are looking outside traditional education to build skills?

Yeah absolutely, theres so much help available online and you can learn anything high school couldnt teach me much about tattooing.

Do you think you could have furthered your career by going to uni?

Yeah I work with a lot of artists who have completed a uni degree and a lot that havent. For me personally, I feel like going to uni would have been a waste of time because I could have achieved what I wanted to without it and I dont have to waste years and have student debt to repay either.

Do you think high school is important, socially?

I learned more people skills by working and dealing with them in real life, but I feel for most people the social side of high school is very important.

**What would you say to students thinking about dropping out of high school?**

I think its important nowadays to complete year 12, I couldve left high school in year 10 to pursue tattooing,but I decided to graduate just as a backup.

Do you ever regret not going to uni?

Not at all.

At 18, John started up his own phone repair business, despite being told it would fail.

University helped John, but he found high school lacking.

Generally people go onto our website and get a quote straight away. You just go, Ive got an iPhone6 Plus, broken screen, itll prompt you with a couple of questions and give you a price. You submit an inquiry and then our sales team gives you a call and says Hey, how are you going? Do you want to book in?’

No. I got shot down in flames multiple times by one of my ex\-girlfriends, who said, This will never work, people dont want this, no ones currently doing it.

My second cousin said to me Hey my friends broken their iPhone, do you reckon youd have a shot at fixing it? So I said all right, yeah sure, well give it a crack no guarantees. We got a pAart on eBay and got a tutorial from YouTube which is primarily how everyone learns this.”

“There are no industry courses, theres no formal education. But, Dad and I gave it a crack and it went from there. That phone went well, which was lucky because they don’t always the part wasnt faulty. So we went from there and the next one came, and the next one came.

If anyone had a broken phone Id fix it. I remember fixing, teachers phones, teachers’ iPads, pretty much everything.

We picked up investment,which was also really supportive; challenging to get right but that did give a vote of confidence to think that basically your business and idea is validated.

The whole business is done on site. So theres a fleet of vans and motorbikes that runs around Melbourne, Tasmania, Adelaide and Perth, so pretty large now.

“At the end of the day, it takes a lot out of you. Its very high stress. Youre responsible for peoples families and livelihoods, which is a pretty big deal.”

High school didn’t teach me a lot about actual business at all, which is why I decided to study it at uni.

\[University taught me\] really basic business skills and a lot of it is marketing. You know, things like understanding how to structure a competitive advantage, and not just understanding what that means but how to actually make it last.

People say, oh Im going to be rich. If youre successful great. But at the end of the day, it takes a lot out of you. Its very high stress. Youre responsible for peoples families and livelihoods, which is a pretty big deal, and you need to take seriously.

“Firing someone is not easy, hiring someone is harder. It took a very big toll on me personally so I was very unhappy and overweight and I left and became a lot happier.

Yeah, it makes you think a little bit about what the actual cost of being rich is because you sacrifice a lot to get there.

Dylan dropped out of high school at 16.
He now owns an extremely successful caf on Melbourne’s east side.

Is your main focus on Mr. Wednesday right now?

Yeah now Im focused on Mr. Wednesday. Occasionally Ill go back on the tools helping my old man out if he gets way, way too busy. Its a lot more relaxed now that were sort of up and running, but when we first opened it was a lot of long days, sometimes \[we were\] here until 1 in the morning just trying to prepare food and things like that. So yeah, its been a hard slog but its getting a bit more comfortable now.

I left school when I was about 16 years old and started my carpentry apprenticeship. I did that for about four or five years, working hospitality at night and teaching scuba diving on weekends. I was able to fund all the money into an apartment where I was able to get equity from that to start this place up.

How did you learn how to invest and manage a property?

I had a lot of guidance from my parents, theyre very entrepreneurial themselves. When I went to them, telling them I wanted to leave school they said only if you put your money somewhere smart. So that was the plan.

My dad is also a builder and my Mum’s a qualified builder as well. I sort of told them I was going to follow the family trade. Then I actually went traveling for a little bit as well, and when I came back I had ideas for this place. They got a bit of a shock from that but they were super supportive.

**I had a lot of guidance from my parents, theyre very entrepreneurial themselves.**

**When I went to them, telling them I wanted to leave school, they said only if you put your money somewhere smart.**

**So that was the plan.**

Do you still use the knowledge you learnt in high school?

I think you still learn a lot of common knowledge stuff. Even when I touched on commerce and economics and stuff that was hugely helpful for supply and demand. Ive definitely taken something away from that. I think some sort of education to a certain degree is essential. But, yeah, I suppose everyone has their own story.
I think one thing you dont learn is people management. Thats probably the hardest thing in hospitality but I dont think theyre exactly going to start up a class for that.

Do you ever regret not completing high school?

I dont know really what Im missing really, its all I really know, but no I dont regret it for a second. I think Im capable of doing whatever I can. I dont think that should be an excuse, not being educated, for going somewhere. I think being committed to your own dreams is a huge factor, and having the drive to see it through.

What would you say to high school students that are thinking about leaving school?

I think if youre not sure, I think you should definitely stick to school because it will give you a lot more openings to do what you want. If youre going to leave school fully commit to it, dont half\-arse it. Just be confident with your decisions and look at every angle before you execute it.”

About the author

Tito Ambyo