VDC News had the privilege of attending the Community Colleges Australia conference in Sydney a little while ago. One of the keynote speakers was the CEO of the Victorian Skills Authority (VSA), Craig Robertson. This is what Craig had to say.

First, Craig has been in the VET space for some time: the Commonwealth, Victoria’s Department of Education and Training, TAFE Directors Australia and now at the VSA. So, we could say he has the history: been there, done that and got the tee shirt – or maybe even a few of them over the years!

He used his speech to reflect on the ‘Zeitgeist’ of VET and skills training (that is: its defining spirit in a period of history), and to do that he reflected on VET’s history and influencing features to look at where we have been, are now, and where things might be taking us – with a particular focus on Victoria and the work of the VSA.

He believes we are “at an inflection point for post-school education and training.” This author agrees, and this could go well or not so well. (A lot of that will depend on how the current wave of VET reform lands; hopefully a ‘green and pleasant land’ and not a hostile desert!)

Three phases

He talked about three phases that have strongly influenced VET in the past: human capital theory, competency and marketisation. Human capital theory is concerned with the role of education and training in improving productive capacity. In the late 1980s and early 90s we entered the era of CBT and have not really left it, although there are presently discussions about how it might be reconceptualised. (Watch out for a paper from NCVER on that one!)

Finally, we had marketisation, and Victoria took a ‘deep dive’ into this pool and nearly drowned. It’s about students exercising choice, but good choices require really good information to advise that choice (and that’s the problem). As Craig points out:

“Human capital theory and markets were a dangerous mix which to some extent has blown up on us in VET.

    • The more you train the better the pay
    • But we are not seeing wages growth
    • And the jobs are there without the training

The converse view – the worse the pay then clearly there is a deficit of education in the individual or in the education itself – is equally under pressure.”

And then along came Macklin

This was a point of inflection. In Craig’s summary, Macklin concluded that:

  • “[The market] experiment had failed because it was each provider for themselves
  • The market failed to drive to future skills for the economy
  • Providers were being forced to make course decisions on financial grounds and the need of the state or region was lost
  • Narrow qualifications failed to provide opportunity for a rewarding career.”

Craig’s four themes

These are (1) Inclusion, (2) Localism, (3) Horizontals and (4) Meaning in work and life.

Inclusion, he suggests, is more than equity and about addressing deficits, it’s “about walking in someone’s shoes – to see the full picture and put supports in place to encourage success on their terms.”

Localism is about addressing local skilling challenges through local community and employer engagement, but all too often he hears that “funding or qualification rules prevent that local response.”

Horizontals is about rethinking the way pathways work. As Craig notes:

“We’ve known for a long time that we have tight vertical delivery lines, reinforced through accreditation and regulation – and funding. We need to work toward more horizontal solutions [where] foundation is the first horizontal – they are the ultimate in transferable skills yet we residualise them within a competency [and second] digital skills is the next as they are applied across many occupations and industries.”

Finally, getting meaning in work and life needs to be a focus for VET as “many people want to contribute to a job that gives them agency and the ability to express themselves and derive satisfaction.” Thus, “we need a new approach to vocational education which prepares people for work, citizenship and life [and so] “we need skills for fulfilment in work and life.”

From a VSA perspective Craig believes that:

  • “If we are driven by inclusion then we need to govern VET in a new way
  • If we work locally we need to have more flexibility in VET
  • If we are to be successful in delivering future skills we need to think more about horizontal VET solutions
  • If we aim for successful lives for Victorians we need to think about how VET prepare them for life, as well as work.”

Three ways forward?

Craig suggests that, “firstly, we as VET stakeholders need to operate as a community not a market. Based on collaboration not competition.” “Secondly, we need to broaden our concept of vocational education as preparation for life [and] “thirdly, we need the flexibility to respond and build local solutions that together will power the nation.”

You can find a written copy of Craig’s speech here.