VDC was once again a proud sponsor of the NCVER No Frills conference, that was held virtually for the first time from 7 to 10 July. For the last few years, NCVER has celebrated the conference by publishing a paper related to that year’s conference theme.

This year, the paper looks at workforce readiness.

Workforce ready: challenges and opportunities for VET is the title of this 16-page paper written by NCVER’s Tabitha Griffin. As the paper points out, workforce readiness is about balancing between:

“…ensuring that people have the skills they need to work now and equipping them with the knowledge and/or skills that will enable them to adapt to the changes they will inevitably see in their working lives.”

So, it’s about immediacy of application – sure, but probably more importantly, future proofing people to enable them to be ready, willing and able to adapt to changes in work and their working lives. With COVID-19, that’s been top of mind for many, and, at the bottom of this, is a set of set of skills and personal attributes that are beyond the ‘technical’ and immediate nature of their work. These are often referred to as 21st Century Skills. We’ve looked at this issue before, too and you can access that article here.

While NCVER’s employer survey finds industry overall is relatively happy with what the sector does, the level of satisfaction does vary by industry, and there is some dissatisfaction centring around perceptions of poor-quality training, lack of relevant skills and the need for a greater focus on practical skills.

What’s VET’s role in the skills development process?

Generally, VET providers have the technical stuff well covered, because these are ‘front and centre’ in Training Packages. Embedded, though, are the ‘softer’ employability skills and personal attributes, which are often not actively assessed. In addition, the approaches taken to the design of learner experiences will also dictate how well these key foundation and employability, or core, skills and personal attributes are developed or fostered. It’s about the pedagogy, stupid – and how best to teach, assess and report their attainment!

The workplace has a place in this process

At their best, workplaces are significant places of learning. In both the higher education and VET sectors, work placements can be important ways  to learn. They have their issues, not the least of which are the lack of time or resources for workplaces to host students (and this has been and will be a key issue during and after COVID), as well as the quality of dialogue between workplaces and training providers so that they are on the same page and can support and benefit from each other’s activities. This is not easy, though as a paper from Victoria University on competency progression and completion showed.

The classic type of workplace learning is, of course, the apprenticeship. Employers, the report says, also find “some level of job-readiness on the commencement of an apprenticeship may be useful.” In addition, there is no doubt that undertaking an apprenticeship is a good way to develop employability skills – if the teaching and learning experiences are right.

Preparing student to be workforce ready now

As the paper points out, it’s not just about the now, but also the future and Training Packages and the way they are designed and maintained are a critical part of this. And,

“The challenge for the VET sector in preparing individuals for the jobs of the future is the uncertainty around what those jobs will be, and the associated skills required. New ways to predict future skill needs may be necessary.”

This is where the federal government sees the National Skills Commission playing a key role, and another article in this issue of VDC News looks at the inaugural report they have recently released.

Preparing students to be lifelong learners is pretty important too and “is the key to successfully entering, navigating and changing jobs and careers.” This is about pedagogy too. VET has a significant role to play in this, but can’t do it alone, the paper points out. Lifelong learning needs a diverse range of both training approaches and products.

The No frills conference site has the program of events and presentations. We hope to be able to showcase other papers and presentations from this important conference in coming issues.