The Australian Industry Group (AiG) has just released a paper taking a fresh look at vocational qualifications in the light of the Noonan Review of the AQF.

It suggests a design approach based more on individual needs.

A case for change?

AiG’s paper, entitled ‘Reimagining vocational qualifications’, “questions whether the previous assumptions underpinning vocational qualifications for Australia are still valid.”

It comes in the wake of concerns about how VET education and training is conceived. In particular, there has been a strong focus on Training Packages and the issues confronting their development, implementation, maintenance, currency and fitness for purpose. In particular, the Joyce Review and the Strategic Review of TAFE SA by Kim Bannikoff and Terry Moran raised questions about them. Both these were summarised in a paper by Steven Hodge and Hugh Guthrie presented at a recent AVETRA Conference.

The nub of AIG’s paper is that we have 1990s concepts of work trying to meet the needs of the 2020s and beyond. In their view, the revised AQF provides an impetus for change that will have a significant effect on the way vocational qualifications and pathways are conceived. As AIG points out:

“The proposed changes to the AQF shift the architecture from a rigid and hierarchical model that privileges knowledge over skills, and higher education over vocational education. These changes propose a new model that enables qualification development more fit for the modern economy, now and into the future.”

It also embraces the concept lifelong learning to support reskilling and upskilling. So, a more sophisticated and nuanced model that broadens the conception of a vocational qualification is needed, AIG suggests.

What’s proposed?

AIG suggests that the new AQF places more equal value to knowledge, skills and general capabilities that tries to be ‘sector free’ and “blind to sector divides”.

Their paper also “opens the question of how much of a job needs to be specified, codified then assembled into a qualification to create a meaningful platform to learn how to undertake a job.” It also challenges assumptions about how learning and career pathways work and how people will develop and acquire what they need to foster their careers.

Funding models, they suggest, may also have to accommodate approaches to vocational learning which are not based on always moving on to higher level qualifications. Rather, they suggest what is needed is:

“A more sophisticated matrix of Knowledge, Skills and Applications [to] assist in revaluing qualifications across the framework.”

This means vocational qualifications will need to have “a purposeful balance between technical and generic skills, and knowledge, all of which could be developed through an engaging applied learning pedagogy.” The learning could be completed in entirety to gain a qualification, or “accessed via meaningful chunks” such as micro credentials and skills sets.

They also propose focusing vocational education not on the job as it is at present, but on the individual and the range of knowledge and skills they need to work now and into the future. This also means giving more emphasis in vocational education to ‘knowledge’ and the development of sustainable generic skills.

In AIG’s view it would involve occupational standards that are “more cut down than the current units of competency.” [In fact, when you look at the competency standards for a range of professional occupations they are far less detailed than those that ‘govern’ VET’s Training Packages.] So, in addition to the cut-down occupational standards:

“The remaining components needed to build a qualification could be assembled from a bank of generic units/modules, codified in a more appropriate way, i.e. better capture the depth and breadth of knowledge and other employability requirements.”

Finally, AIG proposes that: “Qualifications would be brought to life with the development of dynamic, customisable contemporary learning guidance.” This suggests that VET teachers and trainers will be more critical than at present in helping developing and implementing this ‘learning guidance’. And AIG suggests that this ‘learning guidance’ will mean moving “beyond a narrow instructional paradigm that has more comfortably worked for audit regimes, than for learners and workers.”

Maybe a possible way forward is proposed in another article in this edition of VDC News.