The 31st No frills conference, held earlier this month, had transformation as its theme – especially in relation to “adapting, anticipating and activating change in response to future skill demands” and what is needed to enable that. A discussion paper, authored by NCVER’s Bridget Wibrow, looks at the issues.

The paper notes that transformation is facilitated by VET in a number of ways: VET’s adaptability, its role in skilling Australians and – most recently – its ability to adapt to unanticipated events. This transformation process has ‘flow-on’ effects within the sector according to the paper, especially in relation to notions of quality and how the skills of the VET workforce are developed and maintained.

Promoting adaptability

The paper focuses on three aspects: skills forecasting, qualification design and RTO-industry partnerships. In relation to skills forecasting, the National Skills Commission is playing a key role in this, as are states and territories who may have their own skill needs and priorities. However, as the paper notes:

“Changes to the labour market, including in the nature and mix of skills, will continue to evolve in ways that are difficult to predict with certainty. It will be critical for the VET sector to harness the power of big data and to apply ever more sophisticated analytical techniques to improve our understanding of the future skills and capability requirements of the workforce.”

In addition, and as VDC News readers will be aware, “governments are currently working
to streamline the qualification development process and the design of qualifications.” One approach has been the notion of establishing ‘industry clusters’. There will be nine of them, operational by early 2023 and they will replace the present industry reference committees with sub-committees, with membership including VET educators and RTOs “to inform the process and advise what is trainable.”

Finally, Industry-RTO partnerships can be used in helping to design course content, or by offering workplace experience or work-integrated learning opportunities. This is especially valuable when these partnerships are with companies that are at the ‘cutting edge’.

VET’s role in skilling Australians

VET has an important role in the skilling process: the development of initial skills, re-skilling and in providing opportunities for lifelong learning. This process starts with VET in school programs, but one of the issues that another article in this issue highlights is a bias against VET as an education and training option.

VET’s ability to adapt to the unforeseen stuff

Most recently, this has been highlighted in the move to online delivery in response to the COVID pandemic and address skill needs that arise and need to be met urgently. In addition, increased offerings of “short courses, such as micro-credentials and skill sets, offering further confirmation of VET’s role in transforming the future.”

The ‘flow-on’ impacts of all this on VET and its workforce

There are flow on effects that arise from all these needs and changes, however. These include for the VET educator workforce itself, which “will need the knowledge and skills to accommodate these changes, which include teaching new skills, while simultaneously maintaining their industry currency. This [as the paper notes] presents a formidable task.” These impacts include, firstly,

“how to ensure that educators are equipped with the appropriate skills and knowledge to teach the requirements beyond the technical skills, and, secondly, how to attract more industry experts to become VET educators to safeguard future supply.”

Another issue is quality, with the current focus on compliance with regulations, standards and contractual requirements diverting attention away from improving the quality of delivery, the paper points out. Another issue raised looks at the continued reliance on competency-based approaches and moving to “provide a more holistic view of achievement rather than the current fragmented approach of units of competency.”

We’ll try to highlight some of these issues as the presentations of the No frills conference become more publicly available through VOCEDPlus and we can write about them in VDC News.