August and September have been busy months with both the No frills and VDC conferences being held.

This year, the annual ‘No frills’ conference was held in Sydney. Here are a few highlights.

The conference

The 27th ‘No Frills’ conference was co-hosted by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) and New Zealand partners: the Industry Training Federation and Ako Aotearoa. For the uninitiated, Ako Aotearoa co-funds innovative teaching and learning projects, provides high-quality professional learning and development opportunities, and leads initiatives that contribute to raising the levels of success for priority groups. Their site is well worth a look!

This conference provided a wonderful opportunity to find out about VET across the Tasman. And, as usual, the two days of the conference explored a wide range of issues, including policy, skills and skill needs, practitioner issues, employability and foundational skills, young people, apprentices and trainees, digital learning and finally rural and remote as well as international education. By accessing the VOCED site, you can take a look at the conference program and guide and view or download copies of many of the presentations. So, go to the VOCED database and browse what was presented to your heart’s content.

The keynotes

Two wonderful keynote speakers, Professor Lene Tanggaard from Aalborg University in Denmark and Dr Andrew Charlton, the Director of AlphaBeta – a leading economic analytics company based in Sydney and Singapore – presented on creativity in VET and the future of work respectively.

Unfortunately Andrew’s presentation is not available, but you can watch Lene’s here, and access her Powerpoint as well. A couple of things stood out for me, though. She points out that, in relation to fostering creativity:

“We have placed too much focus on individual talent, the ‘recluse’ and the exceptional rather than on working communities, the development of all employees’ potential and the inventiveness of everyday work. This does not mean that we should not celebrate the achievements of individuals. We should however develop a clearer understanding of how those achievements come about.”

So, what does this mean for VET teaching? She suggests that “vocational education must respond to the new challenges relating to creativity and innovation by daring to highlight the importance of expertise in a field and mastery.” It must not be thought of as a detached ‘meta-competence’ but as something that develops when someone immerses themselves, experiments and encounters resistance that needs to be overcome with creative thought and solutions.

Other highlights?

There was so much that was good, it is difficult to pick winners. Also, I could only go to so many presentations and so have missed some really good ones. For me, debates around the future of work and employability skills and foundational ones such as literacy and numeracy are important right now. As Dave Tout from ACER pointed out, the new work skills that matter most are being a lifelong learner as well as being able to solve problems, think critically, use STEM,  verbal communication and interpersonal skills and have an entrepreneurial mindset. AlphaBeta, Andrew Charlton’s organisation, produced a report for the Foundation for Young Australian that explores the ‘smarts’ of surviving in a new work order.

Next year No frills will be held in Adelaide from the 10th to the 12th of July. Save the date and keep an eye out on the NCVER website for further details.