Having recently visited there, VDC News author, Hugh Guthrie thought it would be useful to highlight Canada in at least one VDC News article. This one focuses on innovation activities delivered through partnerships between polytechnics, institutes or colleges and private firms, not-for-profits or community organizations.

This process involves applied research through the College & Community Innovation (CCI) Program. Its objective is to increase innovation at the community and/or regional level by enabling Canadian colleges to increase their capacity to work with local companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Another aspect, highlighted in a recent (2020) OECD report, is the way in which adult learning supports workforce and workplace innovation through Canada’s Future Skills Initiative and provincial workforce innovation centres (WICs) which are “testing and evaluating innovative approaches to skills development.”

Applied research: a potential role for Australian VET?

Applied research in Canada aims to provide partner organisations with access to the unique knowledge, expertise and capabilities available at Canadian colleges and universities. It also aims to train college students in essential technical skills required by organisations in the private, public or not-for-profit sectors as well as providing economic, environmental, health and/or social benefits to the partner organisations. Finally, it aims to foster “a wide range of collaborations among colleges, universities and/or partner organisations.” Essentially, it is also about fostering work integrated learning.

Applied research has also been highlighted in a guide developed for the Victorian TAFE Association in 2019 and in a discussion paper they published in 2018. The aims outlined in the guide are to (1) solve real-world problems for industry clients, (2) advance professional knowledge, theory and practice in TAFE, and (3) to foster research and innovation literacy in TAFE graduates, and finally (4) to evaluate the effectiveness of their practice in order to make improvement. The applied research section of the VTA’s website provides a series of case studies that may be worth a look

Workforce innovation supporting future-ready adult learning

The OECD’s paper about Canada, and the chapter entitled ‘Workforce innovation to support future-ready adult learning’ is particularly relevant to the issue of “testing, sharing and implementing new approaches to employment and training services.”

Initiatives to improve the adult learning system in Canada include attention to five issues. As the OECD’s paper points out, these are:

  1. Coverage and inclusiveness: Broad-based coverage in adult learning is necessary to support a rewarding and inclusive future of work.
  2. Alignment of adult learning provision with labour market needs: For adult learning to improve a participant’s labour market prospects, adults must train to develop skills that employers need, and those needs are constantly changing.
  3. Impact of adult learning: To have the desired impact on labour market outcomes, reliable information about the quality and outcomes of training programmes is needed, as are actual opportunities to apply the newly acquired skills in the workplace.
  4. Financing: Ideally, adult learning systems receive adequate financing through a mix of co-financing provided by employers, individuals and governments.
  5. Governance and co-ordination: With so many actors involved in adult learning, strong coordination mechanisms are essential to ensure coherent policy.”

All of these should resonate with VDC News readers, with the paper also noting that:

“For job-related training to have a positive impact on labour market outcomes, training must be of high quality and relate closely to skills needed by employers. An enabling environment at the workplace is also essential to put acquired skills to good use.”

Evaluating the outcomes of such innovations and initiatives is important and could be a more prominent feature of Australian VET’s applied research approach at provider or system level than at present. However, the paper points out that “a key challenge in developing evidence on the impact of training programmes is tracking participants long enough to observe measurable impact.”