MIL-OSI Australia: TAFE in the 21st Century

Source: Australian Education Union

22 January 2019

The crisis in Australian vocational education is more than a funding, marketisation or system design issue: it is a question of the fitness of our vocational education model for our times.

In the context of revolutionary digital technologies, continued globalisation, population ageing and changes to work patterns such as the emergence of the gig and post- work economies, we are failing to repurpose our vocational education resources to develop the twenty-first century capabilities needed by individuals, communities and industries.

Manpower on steroids

After forty years of training reform, policymakers, industry stakeholders and even many educators regard vocational education primarily as a means of producing manpower as cheaply as possible. Successive state/territory and federal governments have managed vocational education as a cost to be reduced rather than as an investment in the individual or in social good.

The understanding that the vocational education sector exists primarily to serve industry rather than individuals or communities is almost universally accepted in the public policy and polemic concerning the sector.

Yet, over the past five years there has been growing evidence that the vocational education sector has suffered from an excess of training reform. Growth in for profit private provision has siphoned government and individual investment into private pockets with little return to industry or community. Vocational education continues to be the Cinderella of the education system despite the fact that in 2016, 4.2 million Australians participated in it.[1]

Reduced funding has meant less investment in teaching practice and vocational education research, greatlyaffectingthecapacity ofthesectorto maintain its knowledge, renew its educational practices and adapt as society and industry change. Despite their best efforts, vocational education providers, even the enduring public institutions, are not resourced to innovate. Given the public ownership of, and historical investment in, TAFE institutions, these ought to be leading the development of new vocational education knowledge and innovative practices. However, TAFE institutions have lost much of their capacity to evaluate and renew their educational practice and thinking.

Australia’s vocational education sector remains in the past, painstakingly preparing people to perform known, narrowly defined tasks for yesterday’s industries. Vocational education and the vocational education system are not positioned to meet the needs of twenty-first century industries let alone individuals and communities.

We do not know how work and employment opportunities will change in the near future. What we do know is that people will need occupational breadth as well as educational depth to adapt and thrive as industries and society change. Researchers who have looked specifically at how vocational education can prepare people for digital disruption emphasise the importance of acquiring broad technical skills that can be adapted and applied in novel contexts, complemented by what have become known as twenty-first centurycapabilities (Baker,

2016; Committee for Economic Development of Australia, 2015)

Capabilities are much broader than the combinations of skills and knowledge specified by the Australian

Qualifications Framework: capabilities also encompass dispositions and attitudes (Barnett & Coate, 2005; Hager & Holland, 2007

I identify five critical gaps in the preparedness of Australian vocational education to support the preparation and ongoing education of individuals for twenty-first century life and work:

  • There is insufficient capacity to ensure learners graduate with the strong core literacy, numeracy and digital skills needed to underpin all other learning.
  • Australian vocational education curriculum and teaching do not address the twenty-first century capabilities needed for long-term employability and community engagement.
  • The applied and workplace-situated pedagogies required to develop high-level technical skills are not regarded as distinctive pedagogies requiring research and development to keep pace with workplace change.
  • Our vocational education institutions and systems are not well prepared to respond to disruptive change.
  • Vocational education institutions have neither capability nor capacity for innovation.

Evidence of the vocationaleducationcontributiontoinnovation comes from the Office of the Chief Scientist, which in March 2016 reported that “… people with vocational education level qualifications had a much higher level of business ownership compared to those with university level qualifications” and “… of the STEM- qualified population, approximately two-thirds held vocational education and training (vocational education) qualifications, while one-third were higher education graduates with bachelor degrees or higher… The vocational education sector makes a critical contribution to Australia’s STEM skills base, a contribution yet to be fully reflected in the evidence base for policy development.’ (Office of the Chief Scientist, 2016, p. 158)

This contribution is invisible to policymakers, the media and the general public. For example, the vocational education sector did not initially feature in the Australian Governments National Innovation and Science Agenda. Lack of recognition of vocational education’s role in innovation means that we have neglected to build the capability needed to optimise that contribution. Recent policies have failed to build the capacity of vocational education institutions and their graduates to undertake research and foster innovative capability.

TAFE institutes, as permanent public institutions, ought to be the natural leaders for developing and sustaining applied vocational education research and innovation in Australia. Despite limited resources, some are working towards this, such as Holmesglen Institute with its Centre for Applied Research and Innovation and TAFE Queensland, which is building an applied research portfolio. However, lack of resources, means that TAFE institutes and the vocational education sector generally are not achieving their potential contribution to innovation. Significant investment in applied research and innovation infrastructure and staff capability is needed to enable Australian TAFE institutes to create the organisational cultures that will produce future adjusters and implementers of innovations.

Strong core skills

First, there must be a genuine, adequately funded commitment to ensuring all adults have strong core literacy, numeracy and digital skills as a basis for ongoing participation in work and community. This commitmentmustacknowledgethespecialised needs of significant groups such as early school leavers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and recently arrived migrants.

Qualifications for twenty-first-century industries

Our narrow, behaviourist vocational qualifications need to be broadened for the twenty-first century to ensure that technical skills are transferrable and complemented by twenty-first century capabilities such as critical thinking, creativity, adaptability and entrepreneurship.

The range of qualifications levels available through vocationaleducationmustexpand.Vocational education of the future could offer vocational qualifications ranging from AQF 1 to 10 designed for applied and workplace- situated learning. Higher, including degree level, apprenticeships could be expanded to cover a much larger range of industries, recognising the valued of situating vocational education in real workplaces. Incentives may be needed to encourage reluctant employers to host on-the-job learning.

In the future even more than in the past, vocational education qualifications must meet the needs of individuals seeking to reskill or upskill throughout a lengthened working life as well as new entrants to the workforce; some of these will be seeking new employment opportunities after interrupted lives. These many circumstances require an expanded range of qualifications, skill sets, micro-credentials and pathways.Skilful curriculum design will be necessary to ensure that that individuals are able to achieve the mix of core skills, technical skills and capabilities needed at each critical life and employment stage.

To address this complexity, many are arguing for a localised approach to ownership and development of vocational education qualifications, giving providers ownership and allowing them to respond agilely to local needs (Billett, 2016; Wheelahan, 2015). Such a change would mean an end to industry ownership of national qualifications, but not necessarily of vocational standards. The development of national industry standards to frame technical skills development in locally developed qualifications could maintain the qualification portability and recognition which has been so useful in Australia.

Twenty-first century teaching

There is a need to recognise and resource high quality, self-renewing vocational education teaching. This requires serious initial and continuing teacher education in applied and workplace-situated pedagogies. To develop and maintain its relevance in a changing workforce environment, vocational education teaching practice must be based on applied research into the development and evaluation of the applied and workplace-situated pedagogies required to develop high-level technical skills and twenty-first- century capabilities in context. Twenty-first-century vocational education must operate within a lifelong learning context, respond to digital disruption in education as well as industry and nurture innovation. It will take much more professional development than a certificate IV to meet these needs.

Future ready vocational education providers

We need a network of ‘grown-up’ institutions, each with its own sense of purpose related to its aspirations for its students, not to current government policy. TAFE institutions, as large, enduring public providers are the natural anchor institutions for such a network (Wheelahan, Buchanan, Goedegebuure, Mallet & McKew, 2017). There is no reason why TAFE institutions could not become the repositories for excellence in vocational education practice on behalf of all education institutions.

Autonomous twenty-first-century vocational education providers should develop their own qualifications and quality standards reflecting local needs and national industry standards as appropriate. TAFE and other vocational education institutions already deliver mixes of vocational qualifications from foundation certificate to postgraduate level (AQF 1-9) depending on local needs.

An integrated tertiary education sector

Given that the workforce will need more higher-level vocational qualifications in future, perhaps we no longer need to designate qualifications as vocational and higher education. In future it may be more useful to differentiate what we now think of as VET institutions on the basis of their specialist expertise in applied and workplace-situated learning, understanding that increasingly learning will take place in and around workplaces.

As the need for higher-level vocational education increases, it becomes increasingly nonsensical to retain hard sectoral and funding boundaries between institutions that primarily deliver vocational education and those that primarily deliver higher education. Parity of esteem can only come with parity of policy and resourcing.

This is an edited extract from Vocational Education for the 21st Century published in August 2018 by the LH Martin Institute, University of Melbourne. It is one of a series of discussion papers contributing to the debate necessary to reform and invigorate the TAFE sector.

Professor Anne Jones

A full version is available on the L H Martin Website.


Baker, K. (2016). The digital revolution: the impact of the fourth industrial revolution on employment and education. Retrieved from

Barnett, R. & Coate, K. (2005). Engaging the Curriculum in Higher Education. England: Society for Research into Higher Education, Open University Press.

Billett, S. (2016). Beyond competence: an essay on a process approach to organising and enacting vocational education. International Journal of

Committee for Economic Development of Australia. (2015). Australia’s future workforce? Melbourne.

Hager, P. & Holland, S. (2007). Graduate Attributes, Learning and Employability Dordrecht: Springer.

Office of the Chief Scientist. (2016). Australia’s STEM Workforce: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Retrieved from content/uploads/Australia’s-STEM-workforce_full- report.pdf content/uploads/Australia’s-STEM-workforce_full- report.pdf

Wheelahan, L. (2015). The future of Australian vocational education qualifications depends on a new social settlement Journal of Education and Work, 28(2), 126-146. doi:10.1080/13639080.2014.1001333

Wheelahan, L., Buchanan, J., Goedegebuure, L., Mallet, S. & McKew, M. (2017). VET in crisis. Melbourne: Centre for Vocational and Educational Policy, University of Melbourne.

This article originally appeared in The Australian TAFE Teacher Spring 2018.

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MIL OSI Australia

MIL-OSI Australia: Fewer teachers entering federal politics

Source: Australian Education Union

21 January 2019

A new report has highlighted the decreasing number of teachers who have entered federal politics over the past 30 years.

According to the report ‘The way in: representation in the Australian Parliament’ by policy group Per Capita, in 1988 teaching was the most common career path for members of federal parliament.

Nearly a quarter (23.2%) of MPs in 1988 (including a third of Labor MPs), came from teaching backgrounds. In 2018 this figure had dropped to only 12.4% (including one fifth of all Labor MPs who still come from teaching backgrounds)

However the study showed that there has been an exponential rise of new MPs from

backgrounds as political advisors (in 1988 3.6% of MPs, in 2018 38.9%) and a doubling of MPs with a banking or finance background (in 1988 4% of MPs, in 2018 9.7%)

The educational background of our federal parliamentary representatives has also changed markedly in the past 30 years.

Graduates from government schools were under-represented in 1988, and they are still under-represented today. Then and now, MPs are much more likely to be privately educated than the broader public. In 2018, 66% of Australian children went to public school, but only 39% of MPs did. Nearly half of ALP MPs were publicly educated, while only 3 in 10 Liberal and National MPs were.

The report described as ‘unexpected’ the surge in MPs who were educated at Catholic schools. A full quarter of 2018’s Parliament, including a third of National Party MPs, received a Catholic education.

According to the report, in 2018 30% of Australians have a post-school Certificate or Diploma, usually delivered through a TAFE provider. However only 9% of federal parliament has a vocational qualification as their highest qualification.

The AEU feels that the decreasing number of federal MPs with experience in public schools or vocational education as either a student or a teacher is an area of concern.

The vast majority of children attend public schools, and it is vital that the federal parliament contains an appropriate proportion of members who understand the importance of a fairly-funded and –resourced public school system.

MIL OSI Australia

MIL-OSI Australia: Game changer

Source: Australian Education Union

18 January 2019

The ALP’s $1.75 billion commitment to early childhood education puts pressure on the coalition government to reverse cuts and provide certainty to the sector.

It was a federal Labor government that introduced 15 hours’ universal access to preschool education for Australian four-year-olds almost a decade ago.

Since then, successive coalition governments have cut $440 million from the sector and failed to provide long-term funding. At this stage funding is not guaranteed beyond 2019.

But Labor’s recent policy announcement of its National Preschool and Kindy Program, guaranteeing ongoing funding for two years of preschool for three- and four-year-olds, is a game changer. It’s been enthusiastically welcomed by teachers who have been campaigning for years to secure permanent funding.

Guaranteed funding will give certainty to educators and provide proven benefits to hundreds of thousands of children and their parents, says AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe.

“It’s a critically important investment in the future of our children because the number of years spent in early childhood education is a strong indicator of a child’s level of achievement in later stages of life, both in and out of school,” says Haythorpe.

Australia lagging

Quality early childhood education improves school readiness, lifts NAPLAN results and PISA scores, and increases Year 12 completions among a host of other benefits, says Elizabeth Death, Early Learning and Care Council of Australia CEO.

Australia lags behind many countries that already provide two years of early childhood education, and “children who start behind, stay behind,” says Death, who was part of an AEU delegation of educators and parents who visited federal parliament recently to lobby for secure funding.

“Analysis of international test results shows that children who attended at least two years of quality preschool achieved much higher scores at age 15 than those who attended no preschool or only one year,” Death says.

A head start is particularly important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, or where English is a second language at home.

Cara Nightingale, a preschool teacher from a diverse community in the Melbourne suburb of Hampton Park, notices the practical benefits of investing in early childhood education. She says that children who’ve attended have a much smoother transition and settle faster into the routine of primary school.

“It also helps breaks the cycle of disadvantage for our most vulnerable children, as well as contributing to Australia becoming a more equitable society that will prosper both socially and economically,” says Nightingale.

A clear choice

The uncertainty of Australia’s political landscape makes it difficult to predict where the early childhood education sector will be in 2019. As things stand, coalition government funding for early childhood runs out at the end of this year.

Labor’s pledge to boost preschool funding and extend access to three-year-old children if it wins power gives voters a clear choice to consider when they next head to the polls.

“It’s also a really strong indicator that public education generally is shaping up to be the big
issue for the federal election,” says Haythorpe.

In short

  • The ALP will guarantee ongoing funding for two years of preschool.
  • Many other countries provide two years of early childhood education.
  • Access to early childhood education helps to break the cycle of disadvantage.

This article originally appeared in the Australian Educator Summer 2018.

MIL OSI Australia

MIL-OSI Australia: Attracting and Retaining Women Tradies in Regional Australia

Source: Australian Education Union

17 January 2019

Encouraging women into TAFE to learn trades could help fill major skills shortages in regional Australia.Yet despite major efforts from government, industry and education providers the number of women in the manual trades in Australia has barely shifted over the past 20 years.

Emerging preliminary research from Charles Sturt University is revealing the factors that support and facilitate the success of women in manual trades in regional Australia. The research team is led by Dr Donna Bridges and includes Dr Stacey Jenkins, Dr Larissa Bamberry and Associate Professor Branka Krivokapic-Skoko. This team of researcher spoke to employers, trades women, job network agencies, education providers, government, councils and trade unions in New South Wales to understand the barriers to recruiting and retaining women.

Barriers to recruitment

So why don’t women want to become apprentices?

The harsh reality is that recruiting women is difficult. The world of work is gendered terrain where cultural norms dictate which jobs women and men should perform. Quite simply, trades are seen as a masculine occupation by women. They don’t associate manual jobs as one suitable for them and don’t have female role models to look up to, or to visit them in schools.

Influenced by these gender norms, families are dissuading girls away from taking up trades in a bid to protect them from working in a male dominated environment. Partly because they want to protect them from heavy lifting and dirty work, but also to protect them from fears of sexual harassment, or worse.

To compound this, schools reinforce the gendered norms with some school career advisors considering manual trades to be masculine professions and only offering information to boys rather than encouraging girls to consider them as an option.

Olivia Brown, AEU Federal Women’s Officer and a former TAFE student, believes that we need to see a cultural shift in society. ‘”We need to actively engage women, especially young women, with the premise that they are both equally capable of achieving success in technical careers, and that the indicators of that success are not inherently of a gendered nature whatsoever.To overcome previous social norms which have previously repressed women from high-skilled technical work, women must be encouraged and exposed to technical skills at a young age, both within the family home and with various opportunities during their education at school.I found during my time running a technical trade camp for high school girls, many were surprised at their natural technical ability, and were then able to correlate success, enjoyment and satisfaction within a technical field of work, something they would never come to realise without such exposure.”

Barriers to retention

Masculine cultures can be resistant to diversity and by implication change and many women reported being expected to fit into dysfunctional male-dominated cultures. The resistance to including women manifests in bullying and sexual harassment causing women to drop out, or if they report it using appropriate channels, they can become ostracised or victimised. The researchers found that while the deliberate use of foul language is acceptable to women in many instances, vulgarity and sexist slurs focused on individuals is not.

Many women reported being told to ‘toughen up’ and not cause too many problems. They were told they were too ‘prickly’, too easily offended, or too thin skinned which ultimately lays the blame on individual women as being the problem and takes the emphasis off a dysfunctional culture.

Dr Stacey Jenkins affirmed that TAFE teachers can play a large role in helping women feel supported in the classroom. ‘The women we spoke to said the younger males within the classroom could be quite disruptive…the teacher’s confidence in classroom behaviour management and equity matters played a contributing role in how comfortable the women felt.’

“The women who were mature in age in the classroom noted they felt their age and life experience helped them in being resilient and dealing with the disruptive and sometimes sexist and inappropriate behaviour of the younger males. There was some discussion offered from them that it would be useful if consideration could be given to trying to ensure that if there were other females doing the same trade, that the training provider should try and ensure that they be placed in the same classroom, as a support for each other, as otherwise they could feel quite isolated” she said.

Isolation also led to women feeling they were being scrutinised under an uncomfortable spotlight. The spotlighting phenomena can also cause women to feel as though they need to out-perform their male colleagues in the amount of work they do and how well they do it. The pressure to perform is compounded further by being in the spotlight, not only for oneself but by representing all women. Women tradies felt because the industry has so few women, those that are visible establish a benchmark. Therefore, they felt that if one woman’s performance is poor, the perception of all women’s capacity or performance is damaged.

Damaging rumours or ‘jokes’ that women only acquired their job through ‘sexual favours’ are also extremely detrimental to the self-esteem of women and workplace relationships between women and men, ultimately leading to concerns about workplace safety.

Breaking down the barriers

While there clearly needs to be an increase in diversity and a change in culture, Stacey Jenkins concluded ‘On a positive note one of the tradeswomen noted they still rely on their TAFE teacher as a mentor and is in regular contact with him, which she has felt has been very valuable.’ Indeed, mentoring, buddy systems, all women teams, networking initiatives and using social media were all seen as effective ways to break down barriers. TAFE NSW in the South region has piloted several female mentoring programs with positive outcomes.

Discussions also highlighted how successful community education and awareness programmes, which focused on early engagement with girls can help to ‘normalise’ women tradies. Examples include Women’s Sheds; Supporting and Linking Tradeswomen (SALT) a not-for-profit network of female tradies that began with seven tradeswomen in Wollongong in 2009 and now has representatives nationwide, and a programme where women ‘on the tools’ share their experiences with school children and women in the community.

The researchers believe TAFEs can make an important contribution to developing support and retention strategies in male-dominated trades by recognising young women’s existing levels of resilience, and building in skills training for all qualifications in the areas of resilience, adaptability, team work and communication.

While more research needs to be undertaken to determine whether there are differences amongst the regional areas, it is clear that targeted actions are needed to achieve sustainable social and cultural changes for women in the trades. Changes that not only benefit women and men but build skilled communities and a global future for regional Australia.

MIL OSI Australia