Education minister Dr David Kemp said the nation's 2,500 secondary schools were well-placed to "build a bridge" for students to the workforce. He said schools had been isolated from the labour market for too long and many would welcome playing an active role in helping students find work.
The scheme is part of the Conservative government's plan to scrap Australia's 50-year-old Commonwealth Employment Service and put its $1.9 billion job placement programme out to tender. Schools will be able to bid to become job brokers as well as private employment agencies.
But education groups criticised the idea, saying the central role of schools was being eroded. Ms Sharan Burrow, president of the Australian Education Union which represents 150,000 schoolteachers in government schools, said the union was alarmed at the way the government was trying to shift its responsibility to schools. "We are just appalled. Schools should have more resources for education, not job placement," Ms Burrow said.
The Opposition spokesman on education, Mark Latham, described the plan as "mission impossible". He said schools would become scapegoats for unemployment and were being asked to "hawk" students to employers. "It's a bit rich to expect schools to do what the government and the private sector can't do themselves," Mr Latham said.
The New South Wales government labelled the Kemp scheme as "vague" and said it was not the core business of schools to become employment agencies.
Dr Kemp is believed to have been impressed with a pilot programme at a Brisbane secondary which has found jobs for 150 students since the start of the year.
Schools currently provide a secure pathway for the 40 per cent of students who go on to full-time study at university or technical college. But the remaining 60 per cent, many of whom are looking for work or training, are not provided with an equivalent service.