Saxon Phipps on Da Vinci, VET, and the Future of Work

Year 13’s Saxon Phipps is a passionate advocate for vocational education and training (VET) in Australia. On the WorkED podcast from ReadyTech and VETtrak, he explains the reasons why.

When Saxon Phipps finished high school he had no idea what he was going to do with his life.

Now a successful co-owner of national digital career and life advice platform Year 13, it was the difficult transition he and the people around him had after school that set his future direction.

“I came from a family where my parents worked hard to put me through school and I thought that when you go through that you are set up for a good entry into society – but that just wasn’t the case.

“When I came out of school I really didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t think I was going to go to university. I found myself hitting stumbling blocks from the get go,” Phipps said.

It was a combination of odd jobs, 18 months of travel – and even suicide touching the life of one of Saxon’s Year 13 co-founders – that eventually coalesed into the vision that would become Year 13.

“We had this idea for a website to help young people through that transitional period.”

The VET factor

The value of VET was central to that idea. Saxon had some background in vocational education and training: as he tells ReadyTech CEO Marc Washbourne on the WorkED podcast, it was his 80 hours in a commercial kitchen in Year 12 that would in some ways pepeare him for entreprenuership.

“At the time I thought, what am I doing here? I was dicing onions, browning mince, boiling water, working with a team under incredible pressure to a deadline with a head chef demanding work, and delivering it and making it aesthetically pleasing and putting it out to the public,” he says.

“But I was also learning skills like managing people, coming up with creative solutions, understanding the emotions of staff members, and working to a deadline to put it out to the public. It’s similar to what I do now.”

It was this experience – and ongoing Year 13 research – that has made him a strong VET advoate.

“VET is such a phenomenal way of learning. It combines practice with theory and you can do it in short bursts. The skills you get from it are unbelievable and you can use them from industry to industry.”

Saxon argues VET pathways should be more comprehensively offered to students in school.

“I think university has its place and has meaning for specific students. But we are doing research now into young people’s perceptions of the post-school journey and it is remarkable to see the amount of young people that think that it is the be all and end all,” he says.

“While unis have a place you have to be able to look at it objectively, and ask ‘Am I capable of learning in this environment?’ ‘What value does VET have to offer?’ It really is a missed opportunity for many, there’s incredible misconception around what VET really is,” he says.

Tomorrow’s Leonardo da Vincis

Year 13 currently has a program called The Truth Project which aims to empower youth to create their own future. The program uses Leonardo da Vinci as an exemplar of VET’s ultimate value.

“He was one of the first apprentices; he was able to take skills from areas like carpentry, leather making, moulding and drawing and apply them to each job he was going to do. There’s a reason why his works were so profound and why he was such a prolific influencer at the time.”

Saxon says more young Australians should be encouraged into VET, and that our globally renowned VET system can set them up for a life of fulfillment as much as any university degree.

“I have a friend of mine who is a carpenter working around the world and because they are an Australian carpenter they are the pick of the litter every single time,” he says. “It’s not just carpentry – it is the skills they learn throughout that in business, personality, management, being able to deal with people of different backgrounds and age groups to break down a problem,” he says.

What do millennials really think about education and work and are we supporting their success? Listen to WorkED Episode 002 – The Millennial Mind with Saxon Phipps for more of Saxon’s thoughts on the school-to-tertiary education transition and the way our culture and career advice systems could better frame career choices at this formative time.

About ReadyTech’s WorkED podcast

The future of work and education is here! WorkED is a new podcast from VETtrak’s parent company ReadyTech, investigating what the future of education and work will really look like and asking whether we’re ready for it. In conversation with ReadyTech CEO Marc Washbourne, leading thinkers come together to share their personal work stories and challenge the outmoded thinking, business models, community assumptions and policies being reshaped or upended by technology.

Listen now on the ReadyTech website, Spotify or iTunes

Read more about WorkED Episode 001.