A new paper by NCVER’s Gitta Siekmann and Michelle Circelli brings together findings from international country comparisons of industry’s role in VET over the last decade.

What is industry, though, and how can its engagement with VET be optimised? It is probably easier said than done!

What is industry, exactly?

Do we know who industry is and what its role should be? That’s a couple of the key questions Gitta and Michelle ask. The paper provides a history of industry’s role in VET governance and other matters, beginning with Australian National Training Authority (ANTA), which operated between 1992 and 2005 and working its way through to present arrangements.

In truth, though, the word ‘industry’ encompasses a broad church, including business advocacy groups and peak bodies, unions and professional associations, employers and employees, all of whom represent various sectors. And, of course, there is also the Australian Industry Skills Committee and a plethora of industry reference committees (IRCs). All this makes things very challenging because they all have different objectives and agendas. They can also engage with the sector at the national, state and territory, regional, local community and individual provider levels. Thus ‘industry’ “is not a homogeneous term and needs to be unpacked to clearly identify and define what the term encompasses.”

It is sometimes said that the VET is ‘industry led’. But, is this really true? In a paper published by L H Martin, Hugh Guthrie and Berwyn Clayton suggested that “a more accurate description is that the sector is government led but industry advised” given that industry in its many manifestations often had conflicting views about ‘where’ and ‘how’ to lead the sector.

Gitta and Michelle also point out that some argue that industry involvement in the national VET system was actually broader and more coherent under ANTA than it is now. So, have we lost the plot and what can we learn from overseas? This is what the remainder of the paper sets out to explore.

Lessons from international comparisons

The paper draws on international comparisons in social partnerships and governance covering the last ten years. It looks at 6 major countries: Canada, the UK, Spain, New Zealand, Germany and Finland as well as others such as Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and United States. Insights on the approaches in each of these various countries are briefly summarised in the paper, and these are worth looking at.

Overall, what Gitta and Michelle found by looking at these various countries is that:

“industry parties had a role in VET governance to varying degrees: from decision-making powers at all levels (Germany, Finland), to involvement in an advisory capacity (United Kingdom), and to more limited involvement across multiple layers of government (Canada, USA).”

But they also point out that it is “important to keep in mind … that the cases do not reveal whether the ‘governing’ industry parties successfully represent the collective view of their constituency.” And that’s probably what happens in Australia too.

Learnings for Australian VET

Effective social partnerships between all the parties (governments, employers, unions and training providers) need each partner to be highly valued “and willing to take responsibility for their component.” These partnerships are “the key to effective VET governance and, ultimately, improved outcomes for learners.” All this requires skilful co-ordination, they suggest.

One focus of relevance to VDC News readers is the role of industry in training and assessment. Here, Gitta and Michelle point to roles for governments and policy makers, employers, workers and unions and training providers.

For providers, they suggest a need to invest in their vocational teaching workforce with up-to-date industry experience (and we would add teaching and assessment skills too), develop their training courses in consultation with industry and governments/regulators and finally, use and integrate with industry partners for effective competence-based assessments.

All these are worthy objectives, but maybe there are also a range of operational, bureaucratic and regulatory impediments that need to change to make these worthy aims a reality?