Just a few weeks ago Scott Morrison addressed the need for a post-COVID educated workforce and pressed the virtual re-set button for the VET sector. The same sector that according to the Productivity Commission, has failed two generations of Australians.
I am concerned that such a simplistic assumption may send us crashing into another brick wall in the near future. The lack of success, in certain vocational pathways, is complex but can be explained by the lack of alignment with industries and learners’ needs.
However, I think Scott Morrison is right to use this historic inflection point to promote a much-needed transformation into our VET system.
Change is now a need and not an option
We have all been pushed into a new reality that has caused both emotional instability and distress. But it has also provided an opportunity to think innovatively and collaboratively. All around us, we see businesses streamlining their processes making it faster, easier and safer to interact. We need to apply these same opportunities to the VET sector.
COVID-19 pushed us out of an established business environment and into working remotely, for most of our workforce, while others are dealing with a tsunami of changes in workplace practices. This is the virtual world and it is here to stay.
Employees need support to help them work remotely. Managers need support to learn how to manage remotely. Businesses need to get constantly changing compliance, policy and procedures, related to COVID-19, out to the masses. No one can thrive in this new environment without learning new concepts and changing behaviours to accommodate the new way of working. But we, as vocational educators, cannot simply be reactive, and we certainly should not make the same mistakes that took VET to its current level of status.
VET must stop being the add-on of the school system, the politically correct option for those that have been left out of the predominantly academic environment of school-university society. VET is not the intervention strategy for bad students. It is the option for those who want to take a vocational pathway, those who want to start a productive life at the earliest stage of their education life. Therefore, VET must be connected with the expectations of these learners to support their success, and not to keep them as far as possible from antisocial pathways.
This is the time for the VET sector to showcase the value we bring to the industry and to the learners we serve. Our job is to prepare people to work effectively and deliver education in the most effective way possible (vocational preparation), and to maintain professionals who are current with the continuous changes in the workplace (professional development).
In these uncertain times, let’s use the space created by this crisis to think about what the industry and our learners have deemed as a priority, and let’s start there. We can’t impose results for the current VET sector, but we can impose a new start, with new strategies, resources and accountabilities.
Right now government, industry and learners are struggling to focus in this new environment. Now is the time to be innovative with training delivery modes, content and use of technology. This is a great opportunity to build the new normal based on:
- Greater participation of industry in the vocational system (i.e. preparation of courses, evaluation of training, and competency judgements)
- Meaningful instructional design based on a robust training needs analysis
- A more agile and risk-based regulatory approach that effectively protects industry and learners, and
- Establish real partnerships between universities, RTOs, industry and the community.
The VET brand will not be perceived as valuable because the government decided to spend a few million dollars on marketing. Real Skills for Real Careers needs to be demonstrated and not just announced.