Vocational Education and Training (VET) is a fairly new educational concept that teaches the students skills required for performing a particular job[ CITATION Yin06 \l 1033 ]. In the last few decades Vocational Education and Training has changed focus from simply preparing the students for jobs that demanded less than a degree to a broader preparation that incorporate academic, vocational and technical skills development for more competitive professions or advanced degree[ CITATION Yin06 \l 1033 ]. Socioeconomic as well as political forces have contributed to major changes in the Vocational Education and Training system in Australia. With the diversification of the economy there is increasing demand for skills in specialized fields such as computer science, health sciences and electronics thus the introduction of flexible short-term post secondary specialized training programs that are all inclusive. According to Wonacott (2003) VET has evolved in the last century from mere response to changes in technology, society, education and workplace to go beyond instilling specific skills required for a job. Today VET therefore not only encompasses technical training but also sound academic foundation, personal skills and higher-order thinking skills. Suffice to say that the changes in the VET system have necessitated changes in the roles, responsibilities and the entire work of VET trainers. This paper will explore the changes in the VET sector and the VET work over the last two decades especially as influenced by the political and socioeconomic forces.
1.0 Historical Background of Vocational Education Training
Vocation educational training in Australia has a history spanning from the mid to the late nineteenth century. Then Australian institutions offered the development of skills in industrial training especially in fields like mining and mechanics; predominantly male fields[ CITATION trand \l 1033 ].
In the sixties to seventies the Australian society and industries experienced drastic changes. There was a shift in the country’s economy involving a decline in economic significance of traditional agricultural and mining industries as new fiscal/communication industries emerged and women started entering the VET system. The Kangad report of 1974 on the needs in technical and further education defined the mission and roles of what is currently known as the TAFE system[ CITATION trand \l 1033 ]. In the 80s a myriad of private trainings sprouted to meet the need of the new service industries [ CITATION Depnd \l 1033 ].
A couple of reports in the early nineties; the Deveson report, the Finn report and the Carmichael report looked into ways of expanding the training system, increasing the participation of young people in VET and development of a national system that was consolidated. There was National consensus that there was need for reforms of the VET system. In 1992, all states, territories and the Australian Government agreed to establish the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) and a cooperative VET system with strategic input from industry[ CITATION Depnd \l 1033 ].In 1994, the Fitzgerald Report on VET led to development of elements of the current system, including; concepts of ‘best practice’ and ‘user choice’; states and territories take responsibility for accreditation and standards endorsement and a stronger and more coherent industry-led structure. These elements led a major shift in the way vocational training was offered. In the early 90s for example a “sage on the stage” approach where an expert trainer teaches new staff was used in the Department of Child Safety (DCS). Following the introduction of the best practice and user choice concepts in 1994 the training unit in the DCS abandoned this teaching model to allow learners greater degree of choice in the direction of their learning. The new training model equated to two vocational graduate certificates in community services (B. Rowland, personal communication, February 17, 2011). The late-1990s saw the introduction of New Apprenticeships, the establishment of the National Training Framework (NTF), the introduction of VET in schools and the development of Training Packages[ CITATION Depnd \l 1033 ]. In 2005 the functions of ANTA were transferred to the Department of Education, Science and Training. In 2006 the Council of Australia Government (COAG) instructed a review and amendment of the Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF).
The amendments which came into effect in 2007 encompassed concepts such as outcomes focused (focus on quality of outcomes); national consistency; streamlining of standards for Registered Training Organizations (RTOs) and transparency. The AQTF reforms were endorsed by the COAG in 2009 and later, 2010, by the Ministerial Council for Tertiary Education and Employment. The AQTF reforms which introduced stronger conditions and standards for RTOs registration came into effect from July 2010.
Currently VET in Australia is provided by registered training organizations (RTOs) which include both private and public providers that are strictly monitored and regulated by the Australian Quality Training Framework. There has been growing public demand for higher quality of education not only at the lower formal sectors but also at the VET level hence the introduction of stringent standards to govern and assess different vocational training programs. As such the VET practitioners have had to work under more strict regulations and scrutiny, now more than ever before the trainers are aware of the training standards they must adhere to[ CITATION Ste091 \l 1033 ]. The introduction of tighter restriction for example has led to comprehensive revision of the materials used for CSO* entry level training to address the performance criteria, essential knowledge and skills (P. Palmer, personal communication, February 17, 2011). The personnel are required to provide 3 forms of evidence for each performance criteria, essential knowledge and skills of all competence units relating to the 2 Vocational graduate certificates in order to obtain RLP* for these qualifications(P. Palmer and B. Rowland, personal communication, February 17, 2011).
Another major development in the VET system is the nationalization of the system so that by 1992 the entire system was put under the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA). While initially each state or/and territory operated its own regulatory authority the introduction of the Australian National Training Authority meant National recognition of RTOs. As such there have been attempts to standardize the work of the VET practitioners. The ANTA which was established to develop a VET system with agreed goals, strategies, policies, priorities and funding arrangements formulated the first set of objectives to include; equipping Australians for the World of jobs, enhancing mobility in the labor market, achieving equitable outcomes and maximizing public funding for the VET system. Changes in the political and societal arena have culminated in a refinement of the VET goals to focus on effective, efficient and collaborative approaches, increased responsiveness to the industries, improvement of quality and increased participation of the industry[ CITATION Arm03 \l 1033 ]. These developments therefore require the VET practitioner to be actively in touch with the current industrial needs and to actively engage the industry in the training process. The VET practitioner has to be growing in concert with the labor market in order to be effective and relevant. Therefore the current VET system is nationally recognized, industry driven and, competence based which is a departure from the past[ CITATION DIA00 \l 1033 ]. The CSO entry level training for example is mainly industry driven and competence based (P. Palmer, personal communication, February 17, 2011).
Unfortunately the ANTA did not effectively achieve its intended purpose therefore in 2005 it was abolished and its responsibilities were transferred to the Department of Education Science and Technology (DEST). These changes were occasioned by the federal Elections campaigns of 2004 and subsequent change of government led by Prime Minister Howard. The government’s intention was to integrate the VET policy making with other areas by increasing the participation of the Federal government while effectively reducing the role of unions in the VET system[ CITATION CSe05 \l 1033 ].
The current VET system represents a struggle between quality and political needs which is evident in the child protection (CP) training environment. Social issues have also risen in the training system with the society demanding these issues be addressed in the training programs. The Forde enquiry into the abuse of foster children in foster care for example raised issues like training on assessment of care providers and accurate recording of cases. Some of these issues were raised by people with limited understanding of adult education with who expect training sessions where a teacher tells the staff what to do. As such the training unit in the CP section has endeavored to educate the department and the public that training does not involve telling the staff what to do (P. Palmer, personal communication, February 17, 2011).
2.0 VET Qualification Framework
The Australian Qualification framework provides for six qualification levels, namely: Certificate I, Certificate II, Certificate III, Certificate IV, Diploma and Advanced Diploma[ CITATION Ausnd \l 1033 ] for the VET system. The VET curriculum has been very dynamic in the last couple of year as the industries evolve to meet the market challenges. As such the VET practitioners in the last two decades have had to be equally dynamic and innovative in order to keep in step with the ever changing curriculum. The delivery model in the VET system has been recently influenced by the concept of experiential learning. Industrial Training Packages that emerged in the late 1990s guide the VET techniques. The packages provide flexible arrangement for skill delivery incorporating classroom and hands on delivery strategies[ CITATION Kim09 \l 1033 ]. The VET trainers therefore need to be equipped with the knowledge of the training packages which is a new requirement in the trainers work. The educators who specialize in training a particular industry need to directly participate in a form of direct experience to acquire the relevant skills and knowledge [ CITATION Won03 \l 1033 ]. In terms of the Training packages the trainer has to be knowledgeable on the competency standards, assessment guidelines and qualifications. The nationalization of the VET system through establishment of standards such as the Australian Quality Training Framework, Australian Qualification Framework and Industry Training packages in the last two decades demands that the VAT trainer moves from being a passive transmitter of knowledge to an ever learning participant in skills development[ CITATION Ste03 \l 1033 ]. In the las two decades therefore the VET practitioner has became more knowledgeable not only in curriculum content but also on the standards and other national requirements. With the introduction of training packages that underpin CSO staff, for example, have undergone extensive learning/training in adult education, training packages, competence based training and curriculum development (P. Palmer and B. Rowland, personal communication, February 17, 2011).
3.0 Impact of the Economy on VET
Economic challenges in the last two decades have had an adverse effect on the VET system as well as the work of the VET practitioners. The government declining funding for VET has resulted in a 22% decrease in per student contact hour funding since 1997[ CITATION Aus10 \l 1033 ]. The system being heavily dependant on government has therefore suffered significantly especially with regard to staff development. With dwindling funding it means that the trainers may be incapacitated to some extent in the provision of quality training.
On the positive side though as the boundaries between VET and tertiary education have become narrower in the last two decades the VET providers are now providing Bachelor degrees in applied courses not being adequately addressed by the Universities. This therefore gives more students, especially low-socioeconomic students, access to higher education in fields such as Winemaking, Equine studies, Music, Design, Viticulture, Information technology, aquaculture and many more. The involvement of higher education by RTOs in the last two decades has therefore expanded the work scope as well as qualification requirements of the VET practitioners[ CITATION Sar991 \l 1033 ]. The VET programs have also been diversified and restructured to meet the societal and industrial needs. For example the training for CSOs currently equates to a Vocational graduate. In addition the department is developing an integrated learning system that allows the staff to undertake various trainings leading to one of 12 certificate IVs or one of the 9 diplomas (P. Palmer, personal communication, February 17, 2011).
There is increasing demand for multiple skilled personnel in the dynamic labor market which calls for the VET practitioners to be flexible and versatile[ CITATION Har01 \l 1033 ]. In the last two decades economic constrains have dictated that industries cut down on their labor force by maximizing on the skills of fewer employees hence the concept of multitasking has gained popularity. There has also been a growing reliance on contracted/ temporal employees. The VET practioners therefore have had to be innovative so as to be able to increase the competence level of the contract employees who often have lower academic qualifications. In addition VET trainers have been encouraged to enhance their knowledge and skills in various areas to keep abreast with the changing industry disciplines and teaching competencies. The said teaching competences range from classroom-related delivery methods to administrative requirements of the Australian Quality Training Framework[ CITATION Kim09 \l 1033 ].
4.0 Impact of Politics on VET
The last two decades have seen employment relations take a central palace in both economic and Political debates in Australia[ CITATION Rus00 \l 1033 ]. With regard to the VET sector government changes have had far reaching effects on the system due to reorganization and restructuring of departments. A case in mind is the formation of the Department of Child Safety six years ago to address child protection. The recent change in government (2009) resulted in a department restructuring in which the Department of Child Safety was merged with other eight departments to form the Department of Communities. In this case it called for a sharing of limited resources and reorganization of the VET programs under the merged departments. Being a member of a training unit of one of the merged departments I am required to come up with measures to cut cost and restructure the training programs. Needless to say different governments have had different priorities and strategies depending on their manifestos. The merging of departments which began in 2009 has limited the resources available for vocational training programs.
5.0 Social Impacts
The VET practitioners in the last two decades have had to contend with public perceptions that are contrary to the standards they are expected to uphold which makes their work rather difficult. With the growth in the formal education there is the perception that training involves experts providing academic instructions in a classroom setup while the learner passively absorbs the knowledge. Conversely the recent developments in the VET sector demand a multidimensional approach to delivery of skills, participatory learning and assimilation of skills. The work of the VET practitioner therefore become challenging because it is an extreme opposite to the public’s, particularly the learner’s, perception and expectations.
There is also the notion that since most employees enter the workforce with a Bachelor degree they do no need training. This notion is founded on the traditional perception that the VET programs are designed for those who are unable to access higher education. This poses a challenge to the trainers because they often have to deal with students who have a negative attitude towards the system.
6.0 Changes in VET Delivery mode
With the growth in the education sector there have been innovative modes of delivery. Recently there has been the introduction of distance learning in the Vocational Training and Education[ CITATION Lou04 \l 1033 ]. This development has made it possible for students in the remote areas to access vocational training and also afforded more flexibility to the students. In addition the advancement in information technology has brought a lot of change in the VET sector[ CITATION Rum99 \l 1033 ]. The advancement in information technology has provided additional teaching tools to the VET practioners. In the last two decades the VET trainers have had to acquaint themselves with the emerging information technologies.
The last two decades have seen a lot of developments in the Australian VET sector and the work of the VET practitioners. The political and socioeconomic forces have conspired to widen the scope of the VET work, to shift focus from in put to out put (quality), to engage the industry more in the system and to emphasize the need for cost cutting measures in the VET sector. By and large the changes in the VET sector in the last two decades have expanded the roles, responsibilities and work of the VET trainers.
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