In one of the other articles in this issue of VDC News we talked about the importance of networks for VET staff and suggested there is a need to refocus on them as a means of improving quality.

Let’s now focus on what a 2006 paper said about what networks we might consider and what they can help us do.

What can networks help us do?

Networks, as we know, can be formed for short-term purposes or to help address more sustained needs. They bring together individuals with a common purpose.

Some networks might focus on implementing new Training Packages. Others could address specific issues like equity concerns such as the learning needs of groups of learners including Indigenous people, those in prisons or those with a disability.

Networks might also address the better development of employability and 21st Century skills and credit transfer arrangements, as well as language, literacy and numeracy issues. Indeed, there are already groups and networks for addressing this latter issue such as the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association, and the Australian Council for Adult Literacy.

More formal networks that focus on teaching and learning issues are really needed because they enable VET practitioners to increase their knowledge and skills, or more specifically focus on assessment by sharing assessment tools and strategies. Others might look at how to improve flexible learning approaches, or to ways of better integrating technology into VET delivery. This might involve a focus on e-business technology and practices and e- or online learning. Where possible these should transcend provider type (public/private and community) and – while acknowledging that competition is part of VET – also allow for a greater degree of collaboration. Some call this process ‘co-optition’ where the two elements (competition and collaboration) are acknowledged but blended.

Their one common feature is that all the types of networks described above aim to improve the quality of VET delivery – or some aspect of it. The best networks generate new knowledge about practices and possibilities in the national training system. And, as a 2008 paper by John Mitchell entitled ‘Networking in VET: how to form, benefit from and sustain networks’ notes, one of the keys to having a good network is efficient information sharing processes that help the network function effectively. Networks, he says, can also be sustained in the longer term when they are able to continually respond to their members’ changing goals and needs, and to changing external conditions. However, building networks is made more challenging by factors such as inexperience in networking and when there are both limited time and resources to participate.

We also know, or suspect, that there are lots informal networks ‘out there’ but are they really out there and findable? Also, are they adequately supported so that they can continue to help all those in VET to benchmark and improve all they do?