Victoria's first tech school opens its doors to a new generation

For as long as he can remember, Seb Abbott has had robots on his mind.

The year 8 Lilydale Heights College student wants to pursue a career in robotics and spent the school holidays assembling humanoid robots at his local tech school.

He was joined by a handful of classmates who tinkered with tools and computers and followed the detailed instructions. 

"It was a lot of fun," he said. "It was interesting to see how they moved."

Year 8 students Seb Abbott from Lilydale Heights College and the robot he constructed.  Photo: Eddie Jim

Year 8 students Seb Abbott from Lilydale Heights College and the robot he constructed. Photo: Eddie Jim

His hard work paid off on Tuesday as the robot whirred and tried to perform a mechanical handstand to mark the opening of Victoria's first tech school.

The Yarra Ranges Tech School, which is based at the former Swinburne Lilydale TAFE campus, will be used by 1200 students from 20 local state, Catholic and independent secondary schools.

It's the first of 10 tech school to open its doors. The others are set to open across the state by the end of next year as part of a $128 million Labor election promise, in Ballarat, Banyule, Bendigo, Casey, Geelong, Gippsland, Monash, Whittlesea and Wyndham.

But they are unlike the tech schools of yesteryear which focused on trades.

Premier Daniel Andrews and Education Minister James Merlino at the Yarra Ranges tech school launch.  Photo: Eddie Jim

Premier Daniel Andrews and Education Minister James Merlino at the Yarra Ranges tech school launch. Photo: Eddie Jim

These are high-tech centres linked to industry with 3D printing labs, virtual reality technology, robots and simulation rooms with huge, curved screens where students practise pitching ideas to companies.

Many schools would be unable to afford these sleek facilities.

They are not standalone schools, but centres located in TAFEs and universities, where students might visit once or twice a term or on a more regular basis.

Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday that the tech schools would give students the skills they needed for the "jobs of the future".

"We want to make sure they have a comprehensive education,all the skills they need, a love of learning, the competency and the confidence they need to get the job they want."

The tech schools have been spruiked as a solution to youth unemployment and student disengagement.

A staggering 10,000 Victorian students in years 9 to 11 drop out of school every year, according to the most recent statistics.

Education Minister James Merlino said the schools would each respond to local industry demands and boost student performances in science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM.

"They will really develop the critical, creative thinking and problem solving skills in our young people that employers want," he said.

But the Opposition's  training, skills and apprenticeships spokeswoman Steph Ryan is sceptical.

She said the new schools were not geared towards skills shortages, and failed to address a "critical" shortage of apprenticeship numbers in Victoria.

"When they first announced these schools it was sold as a return to the trades-based schools that we have had in the past, instead they have been focused on STEM subjects," she said. "Why isn't the government doing more in that apprenticeship space to meet skills shortages in spaces like roof tiling?"

Yarra Ranges Tech School director Danny Tay said the tech school would teach students things that weren't taught at mainstream schools. 

"I want them to see that the world is their oyster," he said. "The pools of knowledge extend beyond Lilydale, Melbourne and Australia."

But vocational education expert Bruce Mackenzie is concerned about the lack of pathways for students who filter through the tech schools. 

"Taster programs don't have a great track record of engaging students in further education," he said.