Howqua: from the mountain path to a career path

“If you are offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat, just get on.” - Sheryl Sandberg

The Howqua program will be different for each student who attends. While some can describe its immediate transformational impact, many focus on the opportunities and challenges it afforded, and others will be able to look back as adults and speak about how the program enriched their lives and offered the foundation for many skills and attributes further developed in the senior years of school, tertiary studies and careers.  During our 2023 Future Pathways week of activities, we were fortunate to have co-founder of The Demographics Group, Simon Kuestenmacher speak with our School community about the Big Picture future of Australia and careers. He told us that the building blocks for a future proof career and some of these included: 
  • Basic STEM skills 
  • Self-organisation 
  • Speaking clearly 
  • ‘Know thyself’ 
  • Embracing change 
  • Cultural competency 
  • Empathy 
  • Collaborative working 
I believe that the Howqua program helps our girls to prepare for their future careers through the development of these and other building blocks. 

Setting the foundations at Howqua  

The Howqua campus provides the backdrop for the learning of STEM skills both within the classroom and also through hands-on learning. Our students have the opportunity to monitor the water quality of the creek that runs through the Howqua property and to undertake tree-planting in areas of the High Country which require re-forestation. The students hike through the national parks and gain knowledge about plant and animal life. The students learn how to hike through the natural bushland without leaving traces of their campsite use. Our Howqua campus has Five Star Ceres accreditation and the students play a vital role in maintaining this certification through their campus responsibilities.  

Of importance is the building of adaptability and resilience through participation in the Howqua program. Adaptability is the skill to handle ambiguity and to both learn in a changing environment, while resilience is the capacity to rise above difficult circumstances or the ability to bounce back from adversity.

The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report 2023 notes that among the core skills identified, self-efficacy skills rank highly. Businesses consider curiosity and lifelong learning; resilience; flexibility and agility; motivation and self-awareness to be growing in importance which emphasises that businesses are looking out for resilient and reflective workers. Our Howqua program enables the development of such skills for students who are often, in the education system, in something of a hiatus between the early secondary school years and the senior years of school where courses of study will give prominence to the achievement of ATAR scores which open pathways for tertiary education.  

Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable 

When our students attend the Howqua program, they must adapt to a new campus and live in a residential community away from their family. They live with other girls in a House and have campus responsibilities which impact upon their own and the comfort and wellbeing of others. The girls participate in a program which encompasses academic studies and participation in outdoor activities and fitness. While our students may be familiar with academic lessons each day, many are unfamiliar with the variety of outdoor activities which include canoeing, mountain bike riding, hiking and overnight camps.  

Throughout the year, the students strive to overcome a variety of circumstances which include the challenges of outdoor activities, living away from family and managing the dynamics of sharing a House with nine other girls. When outdoor program activities prove to be particularly difficult, or when there seems to be not enough time to complete the assessment for English, or when there is a conflict within the House, the aim is to provide adult support and personal strategies to support the students as they bounce back from these adversities and become more resilient and able to manage these life challenges. 

These young people participate in outdoor activities that are, by their very nature, both physically and mentally challenging. When you are hiking with a group of peers and adults for two, three or seven days, you must learn how to regulate your own emotions when you find things difficult or when managing your relationships with others. You will be called upon to take the lead as navigator at different points of the hike and you will be asked to work together to support another peer who may be struggling with the pace of the journey. You will have to take responsibility for different tasks when you reach the campsite at the end of each day and you will need to offer your insights into a problem which may need to be resolved about the route for the next day or how a change in weather will be managed. In situations such as this, individuals learns about themselves, their capabilities and their ability to show empathy and understanding towards others. 

Bringing these skills back to Armadale and then beyond the school gates 

Knowing yourself and what you are capable of achieving is a significant attribute for a young person and these insights can be further enhanced through the senior years of school and tertiary studies. This type of self-knowledge is also helpful as one navigates the different career paths available and provides some insights into the type of career and workplace that will enable the individual to showcase their skills and attributes, and enable them to have satisfaction in their work. 

The future career choices and workplaces of our students will also require them to demonstrate adaptability and resilience. It is likely that our students may have 18 different jobs in approximately 8 different career areas over their lifetime and thus will need to adapt and stay ahead of the needs of the workplace. The capacity to learn and update qualifications will be important if our young people are going to be ready for changes within their workplace or be able to accept new career opportunities when these come along. Being able to collaborate with members of a team is vital and as such resilience is needed in being able to work with diverse people and sift through the variety of ideas and opinions that will arise when looking for a solution to a problem or the next step in a project. 

Innovation is more than digital, it’s a mindset 

In their book, The Adaptation Advantage, Futurists Heather McGowan and Chris Shipley write that having an innovation mindset is a valuable attribute in the workplace of the future. This innovation mindset they describe includes having empathy, open-mindedness and self-reflection or the ability to learn about oneself. During their time at the Howqua campus, the students certainly learn more about themselves because they live in a residential campus away from their families and participate in a program which moves beyond their academic studies. 

While there is an understanding that technology will continue to change the nature of work in the future years, it is more likely that automation will enable individuals to use their human interpersonal skills, problem solving skill, intercultural skills and ethical understandings more in the workplace. The removal of digital devices at our Howqua campus enables our students to attend to the development of their interpersonal skills. When living in a House, participating in outdoor activities or undertaking campus responsibilities, each individual must develop and use their communication skills and problem- solving skills. How might a girl tackle the problem of one or more other girls not doing their household chores properly? How might a group of students find a solution when a member of their hike group has an injury which slows the pace of her walking with a pack? How might girls in a House come to understand that different cultural backgrounds can become opportunities to learn not only about the culture and language, but also about different world views? These are all likely issues to arise when living at the Howqua campus, and with the support of adults, they become learning opportunities.

The Howqua graduate has a head start 

In an environment which promotes independence and acceptance of challenging activities, the Howqua program provides opportunities for our girls to reflect on their own personal identities and how they can set goals for their senior years of school and positively enhance their skills and attributes. As such, these students have the chance to gain a head start in preparing for their future careers. 

Susan Just, Principal