But Australia underinvests in developing leadership skills.

Formal leadership qualifications, professional development workshops, coaching and mentoring are commonly assumed to be appropriate ways to nurture leadership attributes. But data from Melbourne University’s Centre for Workplace Leadership might cause us to ask whether Australian industry is cutting corners when it comes to developing leadership skills through these avenues.

VET graduates are prominent in leadership roles

Some 33.8% of Australia’s frontline leaders – those with supervisory roles – have vocational education and training qualifications, according to the Centre’s report, Leadership at Work: Do Australian leaders have what it takes? (130 pages). That’s significant because, as the report observes:

‘Frontline leadership matters most for employees, shaping the experience of work and creating a positive climate for innovation and performance.’

In some industries, the proportion of frontline leaders with VET qualifications is much higher: for example, it’s 50.9% in manufacturing, 50.5% in construction, and 42.8% in public administration and safety. For senior leaders in the construction industry the proportion stands at 56.7%, and at 45.1% in the real estate industry.

The leadership training gap

VET providers are active in leadership development through accredited and non-accredited training, and there’s room to do more if Australia is to remain competitive and efficient.

While the data is patchy, the Centre’s research suggests when it comes to investing in leadership development, ‘Australian firms spend significantly less than their counterparts in Asia, Europe and the United States.’ Two key research findings underline the problem:

  • Around one in seven workplaces… do not provide any leadership development arrangements.
  • Underperforming workplaces offer fewer leadership development arrangements.

The report demonstrates there is plenty of room to grow delivery of leadership training across Australian industry, and good economic reasons to do so:

‘A significant proportion of Australian workplaces – more than 40% – are not meeting their performance targets for return on investment and profitability. Around one-third of workplaces underperform against their sales targets.’

Building leadership capability in the education and training sector

The research finds positive relationships between high performance workplaces and well-structured leadership training, including formal leadership qualifications, seminars and workshops, mentoring and coaching. That’s true of the education and training sector too.

Yet of 18 industry sectors investigated by the Centre’s, the education and training sector lags in providing these opportunities to its own leaders:

  • With only 66% of education and training sector workplaces offering leadership workshops, it ranks 10th
  • With only 42% offering leadership qualification programs, the education and training sector ranks 9th.

There is plenty of scope for the education and training sector to invest in its own leadership development.