The latest issue of AVETRA’s ‘Research Today’ publication looks at this topical issue.

What are employers looking for?

An article in this edition by Ian White from NCVER has highlighted the importance of employability skills. The article points to how the world of work is changing, so having strong employability, soft, transferable or 21st Century skills is very important. Whatever they are called, these ‘skills’ are the backbone of an individual’s capability. They are also an important part of Australia’s Training Packages. But, do they actually get the proper weighting in the standards themselves and in the way VET programs are delivered? That is the question!

To have a look at what employers really wanted by using the skills requested in internet job postings by employers with those in Training Packages. So, what are employers really looking for? Based on information from 2014 to 2017, the most commonly specified skills were communication (47.5%) and organisational skills (20.2%). Writing, planning and detail-oriented skills were equal at around 12%, followed by teamwork/collaboration and problem-solving skills at around 10% and 9% respectively. Interestingly, computer skills came in at 6.6%. While communication skills were in strong demand across a wide range of occupations, they were strongest in clerical and administrative workers and those working in community and personal service roles. These skills were in far less demand in machinery operators and drivers, and labourers.

How effective is VET in providing these skills?

The article suggests that employability skills, for example, communication, are definitively present in Training Packages and the level of skill required seems to increase with increasing qualification level – as we would expect. It is one thing to list them. It is quite another to make sure they are effectively taught and learned, however. This gets us back to one of the points that Robin Shreeve makes in the current issue of AVETRA’s Research Today newsletter. In preparing the paper that he and Jo Palser wrote for the LH Martin series of papers, which is also highlighted in the current issue of Research Today, he reflected on:

“how much time and effort was put in over that period [1990 2017] on governance and structural issues in contrast to the more limited effort expended on matters to do with the delivery of excellent teaching and learning.” He accepts that “over that period there was an awful lot of discussion over the merits or otherwise of competency-based training and assessment, but that discussion often did not include teaching techniques and strategies.”

So, maybe, while employability skills are components of Training Packages, their embeddedness may mean that their real importance is not properly reflected by the standards. As a result, they are not adequately taught, learned, and certainly not assessed.

Some of the more interesting sessions at the recent World Congress focused on notions of developing social and emotional skills, and – as Professor David Finegold suggested in his key note address – the VET sector has an important role in preparing informed citizens with a strong core of generic and foundational skills. This really has the potential to return VET to Myer Kangan’s original vision for the sector.

Creativity and entrepreneurialism also featured as potential generic skills at the Congress. So too did the T-shaped person. Developing this ‘T shape’ requires a system that develops both breadth and depth of knowledge and skills. The vertical bar represents the depth of related skills and expertise in a single field, while the horizontal bar is the ability to collaborate across disciplines with experts in other areas and to apply knowledge in areas of expertise other than one’s own. That seems to be where we are heading, and why employability skills are more important than ever before.

Research Today is a valuable resource to access. Not only are there useful articles, but news of conferences and it also features short items about stories in the news. Do yourself a favour and have a look at AVETRA’s website every now and then. Maybe even join AVETRA?