The Conversation” has been busily looking at the VET sector in October. Five articles by VET’s luminaries have focused on a number of critical issues. We highlight a couple here.

The articles

VET luminaries Erica Smith, Linda Simon, Stephen Billiett, Robin Shreeve and Ruth Schubert and Leo Goedegebuure have covered a range of topics. Erica’s looks at VET teacher qualifications and quality. Linda highlights why she believes VET needs support to rebuild its role in getting disadvantaged groups into education and work. Stephen suggests we need to change negative views of the jobs VET serves to make it a good post-school option. All of these important issues have been highlighted in earlier articles in this newsletter. All are worth a read.

Let’s focus on two of them. Robin’s article proposes new national set of priorities for VET would make great social and economic sense. Ruth and Leo’s summarises a paper published by L H Martin, that we have highlighted before. It suggests Australian VET needs a plan of action, not more talk.

More action, less talk?

Ruth and Leo argue the world of work is changing fast. No argument there. The recent World Congress certainly highlighted that! So, what do they propose? First, they suggest we need to:

“identify the mature, comprehensive, low-risk providers and give them a new status, independence from government control, and operational autonomy so they can lead the change we need.”

Second, they propose giving them “long-term equitable funding, based on an agreed framework with clear and measurable performance outcomes, as well as self-accrediting status to respond quickly to the changes in skills required of new and existing employees.”

However, they believe the time for action is now. They suggest we know what the problems are, we just need to get on and solve them. So, rather than “more temperature-taking”, they suggest there is a real need to begin work on the actual implementation plan and action. This can begin now – not in three- or four-years’ time.

Action or buy in?

Robin’s article maybe suggests a different course. He is really arguing that VET is in a very different place than when the landmark Kangan report was released back in 1974. At that stage the page was relatively empty. Now, he argues, it is full and the texts are competing. As he says:

“A lot of it has to do with conflicts over basic questions of form and function – who should run the system, how it should operate, what its primary purpose is and what its relationship with other sectors should be.”

He sees VET in a culture war over its identity. Is it an industry trainer? An alternative to university? Or is it “a provider of foundation, ‘second chance’ and initial vocational programs for disengaged adults and young people?” Probably all three, and that’s where the problem starts!

Further, he argues it has lost funding and enrolments. In addition he says:

“it’s been battered by poorly thought out marketisation policies, and its students have been the victim of loan scandals by rogue providers.” And that “VET [also] operates in a confused mess of governance and policy prescriptions.”

So, he paints a gloomy picture – although he did start the article with how uplifting a VET experience can be for its students.

What does he believe is the way forward? His article concludes that:

“VET needs a new national settlement with a set of priorities and operating principles that are fit for the future. Achieving this will not be easy as it involves resetting federal-state relationships and balancing the sometimes competing priorities of students and industry groups.

It will take a new national review similar to Kangan. The review may need to cover the entire post-secondary system. But if it does, we can’t forget VET is about educating people for the changing world of work, especially the disadvantaged. This not only makes good educational and social sense, but the pay off in increased workforce participation makes very good economic sense as well.”