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  • Dr John H Howard

The 2019 VET Review must address implementation issues


On 28 November 2018, the Australian Government announced another review – this time into the Australian vocational education and training (VET) system. This is 10 years from the completion of the Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education[1].


From the perspective of innovation and industrial strategy, it is absolutely vital that this latest review make the connection between the high levels of skills and talent required to underpin the development of industries and businesses considered to be vital to Australia’s economic growth and sustainability. These connections are of course well understood in research on contemporary economic development - as lucidly pointed out in Michel Best’s recent work How growth really happens[2].


The connections between skills and industry development have been well orchestrated in numerous policy papers and reviews in relation to the performance and future of Australia’s Innovation System over the last five years. It follows that the new VET System review must also address a more challenging task: how its findings and recommendations relating to improving the connection between skills, industry development, and business growth are to be implemented.


Although it is difficult to be precise about how future jobs will be profiled, it is possible to think about a broad range of technical skills that will be in demand[3] as well as the “soft”, or employability, skills so often overlooked. It follows that skills and talent requirements must not only be embedded in industry strategies and roadmaps they must also address the way in which they will be delivered through education and training.


In the evolving industry climate, and as the Bradley Report observed, the development of skills requires combinations of academic and occupational learning. This means developing new approaches to apprenticeships, including higher apprenticeships, continuous work-based learning, close engagement between tertiary providers and industry, and strong connections between VET and universities through pathway programs, “blended” approaches to pedagogy, innovation in the design of courses and qualifications, and more effective delivery of training packages.


It is also important to address skills from both the demand as well as the supply side. While there has been a great deal of recent attention given to the supply of STEM skills, there is also a demand for a broader skills mix that reflects not only specific professional, para-professional, and occupational skills, but also creative, cognitive and social skills, capacity to learn, digital literacy, and customer focused skills such as relationships, trust, and service quality.


It has been reported that students are also becoming less interested in full course completions (qualifications) and more focussed on short, just in time, units of competency that deliver needed skills to undertake a job or get to the next step in a career.


There is also growing employer interest in the concept of an updateable “certificate of learning outcomes”, that is recognised nationally and internationally, as a valid and authentic statement of continuous achievement covering academic and vocational courses, competencies, service learning, prizes, awards and scholarships – sometimes referred to as a ‘Lifelong Testamur'.

Global trends point to high levels of demand by industry for design skills – skills well suited for development in a VET environment – and for designers to work seamlessly with product managers, marketers, engineers and software developers. With the rapid growth of the startup sector there is a growing demand for practical business skills.


Policy makers, industry leaders, employers and new entrepreneurs, as well as current and future employees, require relevant, accurate, and timely information on potential skills in demand and skills shortages to assist in short term talent attraction strategies and medium to longer term education and training investments. Better information about skills also assists school leavers (and their parents) as well as mature workers make more informed decisions about career choices, career change, and associated training requirements.


From this perspective obligations and responsibilities for the delivery of skills services requires both an educational and industry perspective for the funding, promotion and delivery of VET services – within the framework of relevant legislation, National Agreements, administrative arrangements, and the changing landscape for VET and State Training Authorities. It also requires a very strong commitment to creating awareness and understanding among key stakeholders of the current and emerging opportunities in vocational learning for building careers – and starting new businesses.


The availability of talent and skills is a major source of regional competitive advantage - particularly in the area of investment attraction – and retention. With the dynamics of technological change, global value chains, international markets, national security, and geopolitical positioning, skills requirements in industry and government will also evolve and change.

The changing skills landscape calls for flexibility and responsiveness to changing and emerging VET skill requirements as new job categories and talent needs emerge.


To ensure appropriate policy, program, and resourcing responses there should be a close interface and interaction between Government VET Regulatory and Compliance agencies and sector-based innovation and industry development strategies being developed within Commonwealth, State/Territory and regional economic development agencies.


How this is to be done within Australia’s complex institutional, organisational, and resource allocation framework is a major issue for the of the VET System.


References:

[1] Bradley, D., Noonan, P., Nugent, H., & Scales, B. (2008). Review of Australian Higher Education. Retrieved from http://apo.org.au/system/files/15776/apo-nid15776-54471.pdf, http://www.voced.edu.au/content/ngv%3A32134, http://apo.org.au/files/Resource/higher_education_review_one_document_02.pdf


[2] Best, M. H. (2018). How growth really happens: the making of economic miracles through production, governance, and skills. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.


[3] Various reports and papers point to demand being strong in areas such as web development, biomedical engineering, cybersecurity, data analysis and analytics, mobile App development (requiring fluency in multiple programming languages), coding and engineering to create new and more intuitive products and services, SaaS, multimedia (including animation, visualisation, augmented and virtual reality, advanced manufacturing (including automation, simulation, 3D printing, machine learning, AI).

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