The last few issues of VDC News have highlighted VET workforce numbers and issues.

This time we look at a Landmark report on the issue written by Emeritus Professor Roger Harris.

Looking back

In the 22 April edition of VDC News we highlighted NCVER’s long awaited report on the Australian VET workforce. Last issue we summarised a paper prepared by Professor Erica Smith for an international audience on VET’s teaching workforce. This time, we showcase a paper prepared by Roger Harris, a long standing and distinguished VET researcher, that takes a ‘deep dive’ into developmental issues for VET’s workforce. The paper forms part of the summary papers prepared as part of the VET Knowledge Bank’s series of Landmark Documents. It is entitled “Landmarks in the development of the VET workforce: an overview”. Other landmark document summaries are highlighted at the end of this article.

The landmark reports on the VET workforce

These begin with the Tregillis report of 1969, and through the Kangan, Fleming and Williams reports. The last of these was published in 1979, but there has been plenty of work on VET workforce issues and professional development since then, as Harris’s paper highlights. The paper focuses in two eras: pre-1979 and from 1979 to today.

It looks at the workforce from a number of perspectives too. It looks first at what is known about the VET workforce and then goes on to look at the capabilities those in it need to carry out their work roles effectively, with an additional focus on management and leadership issues and quality. A series of reports around 2010 and 2011 stress that the VET workforce needed to be “increasingly flexible, innovative and responsive in order to meet the needs of both industry and individual learners.”

Looking at how VET’s workforce can be most appropriately prepared and developed

VET’s workforce is diverse, complex and transitory, Harris points out, so it is “problematic to reach agreement on how to prepare and professionally develop its members.” Nevertheless, numbers of providers of VET teacher education exploded and by the early 2010s 20 universities were offering VET or adult education teaching qualifications while over 850 providers had the Certificate IV TAE on scope and 97 offered the Diploma of VET. However, a significant number of universities had pulled out of providing VET and adult teacher education programs by 2016. The number of providers with the Certificate IV on scope has also fallen significantly to just over 100 at present following action by ASQA.

Harris highlights the issues with the Certificate IV, and notes that:

“The very fact that this certificate has been changed so frequently reflects the ongoing lack of clarity and the confusion about how the VET workforce should be equipped for its roles.”

However, as early as 1972, it was observed that initial teacher education was only a starting point, and so:

“… if teachers are to improve their teaching competence [and] maintain an up-to-date knowledge of their … field, they must have the opportunity to take part in readily available, comprehensive and systematic programmes of in-service development.”

We have known what the issues are for some time, therefore. But, as Harris notes, “the importance of such professional development has been largely neglected, and by 2011 the Productivity Commission was still lamenting that “opportunities for PD beyond the Certificate IV in TAA within the sector are not adequate.”

Some conclusions

In concluding, Harris identifies two major challenges: first, “the continuing lack of consistent, regular collections of data on the national workforce” and second “the lack of progress in developing the professionalism of the VET teaching workforce via a strategic and systemic program of professional development.” But, he felt there were grounds for optimism. What has to be overcome is the:

“Attitudes and perspectives [that] are notoriously difficult to alter, [and the] vested interests [that] lurk in relatively unchanging trenches, and resources [that are] are always perceived to be insufficient.”

Other landmark reports

While this paper has focused on VET workforce issues, there are others that look at: the place of VET, governance and policy, skills and knowledge and VET research. Others are in the pipeline! These will cover quality, funding, equity of access and apprenticeships and traineeships.