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A pursuit for higher vocational education – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

A pursuit for higher vocational education – comment by CEO Craig Robertson

‘Forget whatever you learned in your teaching degree, it doesn’t work in the face of 25 marauding kids.’ For all the teachers out there I’m sure you heard that during your practicum. I did. It was an important part of immersion into a workplace. I resolved to apply my theories of teaching and class management once I had my own classroom.

It tells the story of the dilemma in vocational education at present: where does theory and knowledge play its part in the learning equation?

The industrial complex guiding vocational education and training in Australia has organised industry defining job roles, yet it is the training organisation doing the lion’s share of the work. Providers are expected to design courses, develop theory content, frame the learning and skilling journey on sound pedagogical grounds, assess the outcomes and issue the certification – the human side of the learning journey.

This is why this week TDA launches the National Enrolled Nursing Advisory Council. The council consists of TAFE education leaders delivering enrolled nursing education. Each is an experienced practitioner in nursing with deep understanding of the professional standards and practices which underpin nursing, which they bring to the learning process.

Unpacking the current VET Enrolled Nursing qualification, demonstrates why we need the council. There are 20 core units of competency for the Diploma of Nursing and five electives. Just in five core units alone there are 112 functional elements a nurse is required to display and 212 discrete elements of knowledge. Industry may choose to list these requirements, but it is education that brings them to life and in a context that makes sense to the student.

It’s been a while since factors of production within modern economies, including services, relied on a Henry Ford approach – rote, segmented and decontextualised skills exercised in a production line. Yet this seems to be the construct of VET in Australia through the training package model.

Despite Recommendation 10 of VET Products for the 21st Century (the policy framework guiding training packages) which ‘allow for VET qualifications to provide for identified knowledge and preparatory units of competence as appropriate’, the industrial complex has won out.

The modern economy is calling for adaptive workers, especially those engaged in human interaction.  The competency model as reflected in training packages doesn’t help. Leesa Wheelahan makes a fantastic contribution to this issue. In the chapter, Vocational qualifications and access to knowledge,[1] Leesa examines the unit, Manage and Lead People, and writes, ‘the complexity and contested nature of management and leadership are absent, while an idealised notion of management and leadership is presented, contextualised by unproblematic notions of work in which all share the same commitment to the enterprise, regardless of what that may be.’ Leesa then goes on to say:

Required knowledge is specified later in the unit, and this also is listed as unproblematised concepts that have been decontextualised from disciplinary systems of meaning, such as ‘typical causes of workplace conflict, including cultural differences’.

The working life is more complicated and vocational education graduates need just that – education about the vocation, not simply training in processes.

In the case of nursing, and increasingly in care roles, a new approach is critical. Emeritus Professor Peter Coaldrake AO in his review of higher education provider categories called out the issue. Informed through his role as Chair of Jobs Queensland he indicates that ‘… roles providing pastoral and personalised care to our young, our sick, our elderly, and our disabled will be especially important areas of contribution to employment growth.’[2] The Aged Care Royal Commission is likely to call for new education models as well.

Submissions to Coaldrake’s review made the important point that the distinction between higher education and VET is becoming less distinct. A new educational flavour to VET is sorely needed, driven by the power of knowledge in the hands of the student. Surely, we can do it. Even the recommended changes to the Australian Qualifications Framework has knowledge as key across all levels.

In the end we in TAFEs seek the best for students so they can be the best they can be. The calibre of the educational experience comes first. It’s the ultimate in self-assurance we wish for our graduates. In TAFEs we are proud of our education leadership and the advisory council will bring that to enrolled nursing.

Knowledge informs practice. What use would it have been if I floundered in my teaching practice and had no organising theory and framework, even in embryonic form, to fall back on? The Advisory Council is an important first step in pursuing a higher vocational education.


[1] Knowledge and Identity: Concepts and Applications in Bernstein’s Sociology
Ivinson, Gabrielle; Davies, Brian; Fitz, John
[2] https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/final_report_-_review_of_the_higher_education_provider_category_standards_no_alt_text_0.pdf

Capitalise on TAFE's reputation in export markets, TDA urges parliamentary committee

TDA has urged a parliamentary trade and investment committee to consider a more robust approach to expanding the role of TAFE in Australia’s key export markets, particularly in Southeast Asia.

Speaking at the House of Representatives, Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth on Friday, TDA Chief Executive Craig Robertson said there was keen overseas interest in the Australian approach to work-based vocational training.

“People are really interested in Australian TAFEs and the VET system, primarily because they’re intrigued about how we work closely with industry, and they’re always interested in how that works, and how you’d deliver what we’d call a competency-based program,” he said.

TAFE already has a strong presence in the Pacific region through the Asia Pacific Technical College, supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and managed by TAFE Queensland.

But, he said more could be done in the region to capitalise on TAFE’s strong reputation for a comprehensive range of high quality technical programs linked to industry.

“I think we’ve really got to think through differently how we promote TAFEs internationally,” he said.

Pointing to the free trade agreement with Indonesia, he warned of a narrow focus on the promotion of Australian VET qualifications, rather than a more expansive approach to helping build the capacity of the local workforce.

“Really what we are trying to offer overseas is how to develop the capabilities within labour market supply chains that can allow industry sectors to grow,” he said.

“And while it’s good to see the development opportunities that are growing in the South Pacific, if it’s restricted to there, I think we lose an opportunity more broadly in Southeast Asia.”

News report says government may extend apprentice wage subsidy 

A report by Nine News suggests the federal government may be prepared to extend its apprentice wage subsidy beyond next March.

The story on Nine’s Saturday evening news said the government was pledging a “skills led recovery”, committing more than $500 million to keep 90,000 apprentices and trainees in work.

“If economic conditions don’t improve, the Employment Minister hasn’t ruled out an extension of the scheme well into next year,” the report said.

The government’s Supporting Apprentices and Trainees program provides a 50 per cent wage subsidy for apprentices and trainees with small and medium sized businesses and is due to end 31 March 2021.

Since April the program has provided about $500 million to 50,000 employers.

The Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Senator Michaelia Cash said, “Were supporting around 90,000 apprentices and trainees across Australia, keeping them on the job”.

Noting that the subsidy is due to end in March, the report said, “the minister hasn’t ruled out extending it.”

VET FEE-HELP complaints still flowing as deadline looms 

The number of complaints about the former VET FEE-HELP scheme grew by almost 20 per cent in the three months from April to June, according to the latest quarterly report of the VET Student Loans Ombudsman.

The report says that an extra 1,236 VET FEE-HELP complaints were received during the quarter, up 19 per cent on the previous quarter but 13 per cent fewer than in the same period the previous year.

As at June 30, the VET Ombudsman has recommended the re-crediting of VET FEE-HELP debts for 7,762 complaints, worth $123 million.

The Minister for Education, Skills and Employment, Senator Michaelia Cash told The Australian last week that more than $2 billion in student loan debts have now been re-credited to almost 130,000 students since 2016.

As at 30 June, there were almost 3,000 VET FEE-HELP complaints still to be determined.

Anyone wishing to lodge a complaint only has until 31 December 2020.

TAFE Victoria 'consortium' enters international projects arena

Victorian TAFE institutes have been working together under a consortium model to bid for large projects offshore under the TAFE Victoria brand. 

With an initial focus on Indonesia, TAFE Victoria was recently successful in gaining funding from the Ministry of Education and Culture (DIKBUD), under the Indonesian Retooling Program 2020.

Six Victorian TAFE proposals were selected with funding totalling more than US$400,000.  Delivery will be fully online using a blended approach, commencing in October.

The program design incorporates the Australian Government endorsed International Skills Training courses, contextualised for industry specific areas. This program aims to strengthen the professional competence of vocational practitioners within the Ministry.

Participants will gain the IST certificate alongside vocational competency in their industry specific area.

The successful TAFEs and industry specialties are:

  • Holmesglen – Website Security
  • Melbourne Polytechnic – Hospitality
  • Melbourne Polytechnic – Engineering Technology
  • Box Hill – Welding
  • Bendigo Kangan – Heavy Vehicle
  • The Gordon – Building Design

New priority skills list highlights health, IT, construction jobs

The federal government has issued a new priority skills list that will allow skilled migrants to come to Australia to fill critical needs in areas such as health, IT and construction.

The 17 occupations on the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL) were based on advice from the National Skills Commission and consultation with relevant Commonwealth agencies and will be reviewed regularly.

Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash said the PMSOL would be complemented by strengthened labour market testing requirements.

“In addition to the current requirements of two national advertisements, employers must also advertise their vacancy on the Government’s jobactive website,” Minister Cash said.

Existing skilled migration occupation lists will remain active and visas will still be processed, but priority will be given to those in occupations on the PMSOL.

The 17 occupations are:

  • Chief Executive or Managing Director
  • Construction Project Manager
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • General Practitioner
  • Resident Medical Officer
  • Psychiatrist
  • Medical Practitioner
  • Midwife
  • Registered Nurse (Aged Care)
  • Registered Nurse (Critical Care and Emergency)
  • Registered Nurse (Medical)
  • Registered Nurse (Mental Health)
  • Registered Nurse (Perioperative)
  • Registered Nurses
  • Developer Programmer
  • Software Engineer
  • Maintenance Planner

Bangamalanha conference to probe Aboriginal education, jobs and training 

The fourth Bangamalanha Conference, hosted by TAFE NSW on September 23, will share knowledge and expertise to assist Aboriginal people, post-school.

To be held virtually, the conference will look at ways of creating real and lasting improvements in education, training and employment for Aboriginal peoples.

Keynote speakers include:

  • Dr Anita Heiss, award-winning author of non-fiction, historical fiction, commercial women’s fiction, children’s novels and travel articles.
  • Nova Peris, the first Aboriginal woman elected to federal parliament and the first Aboriginal Australian Olympic gold medallist.
  • Mark Olive, known as ‘The Black Olive’, Australia’s most celebrated and renowned Indigenous chef.
  • Stan Grant, political journalist, ABC presenter and Aboriginal affairs advocate.

You will be able to share ideas and connect with others via virtual workshops.

Members of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, pictured, are also expected to join in!

See more

Diary Dates

AVETRA 2020 Researcher Development Series
Webinars designed for early career, emerging and practitioner researchers
June 2020 – March 2021
More information

TAFE NSW Virtual Open Day 2020
9 – 10 September 2020
More information

TAFE NSW: The 4th Bangamalanha Conference (virtual)
23 September 2020
More information

VDC 2020 Virtual Teaching & Learning Conference
19 & 20 November 2020
Registrations Open

Australian Training Awards
20 November 2020
Melbourne
More information

TAFE Directors Australia Convention 2021
29 – 30 April 2021
Westin Hotel, Perth
More information coming soon

Worldskills Australia
28 April – 2 May 2021
Perth Exhibition and Convention Centre
More information

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