Skills in demand are likely to change how we design and deliver training

In early July, the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) held the 26th No Frills Conference, this year in Hobart. No Frills brings together VET researchers and VET professionals and encourages them to jointly examine a specific challenge before the sector. This year No Frills investigated ‘Skilling for Tomorrow’ – as the conference flyer put it, the theme ‘explores the drivers changing the world of work, the skills we’re predicted to need in the future and what this means for training.’

How we respond to those themes will fundamentally influence VET teaching and learning.  Ahead of the conference NCVER released a paper rounding up the issues to consider in shaping good answers. Skilling for tomorrow (7 pages) summarises what we know, or think we know, about the future of work and the kinds of skills that future will demand.

Two changes likely to happen sooner rather than later

Two observations in the paper have implications for VET providers and teachers.

The first observation is this:

‘Courses and their associated qualifications will need to become more modular to allow them to be completed progressively and flexibly alongside work. Further, modular course offerings should serve as the building blocks for more long-term and continuous engagement between students, employers and VET providers.’

Acting on this proposition would mean the end of the qualification structure we have now – certificates and diplomas. It would see us using concepts like micro-credentialling where small units of learning are certified. Skillsets go part of the way, but perhaps we are looking at options like certifying even one or two performance criteria from a unit of competency.

The second observation comes from a research report prepared by CSIRO for TAFE Queensland:

‘… the report recommends reorienting course offerings to reflect the growing importance of communication skills, also arguing that incorporating technological and numeracy skills into a broader range of courses will be of great benefit to students and employers.’

In most qualifications we pay limited specific attention to developing communication skills. Relating them to units of competency isn’t straightforward, and communication skills tend not to appear in assessment designs in a detailed way. We do much better on technological skills, but numeracy is a patchy area.

Communication skills are in focus across tertiary education

The emphasis on communication skills is growing across all sectors of education.  An example of this wider conversation is captured in a publication of the Australian Business Deans Council. Skilling business graduates for an uncertain future (13 pages) suggests that to foster communication skills (along with technological and numeracy skills) we need to break down familiar learning silos.

The ABDC report shares one idea of what this could look like:

‘Business schools are championing the integration of students across universities; providing a wider breadth of knowledge and worldviews by bringing students and experts from different disciplines together. At Swinburne University, Professor Keryn Chalmers says, they are mov­ing IT, maths, business and marketing students, for example, into groups that work across school boundaries.’

VET delivery could adopt the same strategy. Instructional design might purposefully and frequently ensure students enrolled in, say, a Certificate III in Plumbing have learning interactions with students in a Certificate IV in Project Management and a Diploma of Marketing and Communication. The same kinds of interactions that characterise most workplaces and on the job collaborations.