Managing a vocational education organisation: Part Ten – What practices maintain industry currency?

VocationalSkills

The VET sector has long required its practitioners to be dual professionals, specifically to be trainers and assessors as well as being an industry specialist. This requirement has been consistently supported by the sectors governing bodies and in essence is simply ensuring that the ‘right person’ provides the training and assessment to the learner. These requirements are about ensuring that quality training and assessment is delivered, it’s not about focusing on compliance requirements.(Training Accreditation Council, WA)

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Guided readings and extracts from: Industry currency and professional obsolescence: what can industry tell us?, Berwyn Clayton Pam Jonas Regan Harding Mark Harris Melinda Toze, NCVER,  Commonwealth of Australia, 2013

Industry currency

Industry currency is centrally important for VET professionals. Industry currency means that the skills and knowledge that training brings to learners and industry are contemporary and powerful. Professional obsolescence is the flipside – if your understanding of industry is drawn from the 1990s, it’s unlikely that the training you deliver will be relevant or interesting.

The report compared the ways in which industry currency is maintained by two groups of workers:

  • those in the plumbing, hairdressing and printing industries, and
  • those in the science, engineering, human resources and health sectors.

A primary motivation for this research is an acknowledgement concerns are often expressed about the lack of industry currency of many VET professionals. The research doesn’t focus specifically on VET professionals though. Instead, the researchers asked what we could learn about maintaining industry currency from people working in trades and professions.

There’s a side benefit to this research report. The insights it offers can help VET professionals in their design and delivery of training for existing workers.

Key messages

As with all NCVER reports, the key messages are stated right at the beginning, like an executive summary of the executive summary. The key messages in this report are:

  • Strategies used in the plumbing, hairdressing and printing industries to maintain skills include networking, attending industry events and vendor training, reading industry magazines and trade journals, and undertaking online research.
  • Employers in the science, engineering, human resources and health professions are supportive of ongoing training for their employees and have processes in place to ensure it occurs. The majority of this training also takes place in the workplace.
  • In both the trades and the professions there is ready acceptance that for updating strategies to be successful there needs to be a joint commitment from both the individual and the employer.

It’s worth reading just to get a more detailed sense of how different stakeholders regard the importance of industry currency for teachers and trainers. Among employers, it’s not black and white. However, most stakeholders have high expectations that VET professionals will have a solid understanding of present industry needs and a familiarity with future directions. And it’s not always about technology, as the report notes:

  • The hairdressers, for example, considered there had been limited technology-driven change in their industry. The key drivers of change were more aligned to styling techniques, product innovation and consumer trends.
  • In the plumbing and printing industries changes in technology were having a greater impact and were creating gaps in the currency of those in the industry as well as trainers.

Technological change in these two industries was also creating new industry sectors, along with the need for qualified people to become trainers in them. However, despite these changes it was still the view that the basics of the industries remained the same.

Progressing maintenance of industry currency

The authors suggest that to progress the maintenance of industry currency in vocational education and training, training organisations need to adopt a strategic approach that supports updating industry knowledge and encourages practitioners to interact with employers and industry bodies. The authors also argue that individual practitioners need to be committed to the ongoing updating of their industry experience and knowledge.

Implications for policy and practice

The findings from this research on industry currency from an industry perspective suggest a number of ways by which VET practitioner industry currency might be progressed.

Training system perspective

From a training system perspective, the research suggests there is a need to:

  • ensure greater clarity about what constitutes industry currency in specific industries and to determine the type and extent of evidence required to meet compliance requirements under SNR 4.4 and SNR 15.4 of the Standards for NVR Registered Training Organisations and Element 1.4 of the Australian Quality Training Framework Essential Conditions and Standards
  • develop a continuing professional development framework that encompasses the full range of updating approaches, together with resources that organisations and individuals might use to support a continuing professional development strategy
  • develop an audit system that works effectively to encourage the maintenance of industry currency and is tailored to specific industry and practitioner needs
  • introduce a funding regime which recognises that there must be some contribution from all key stakeholders, given the critical importance they have accorded industry currency.

Training provider perspective

From a training provider perspective, the research suggests there is a need to:

  • develop an organisational climate that endorses,
  • supports and rewards updating so that the revitalisation of vocational competence and industry currency becomes the norm among practitioners
  • adopt a strategic approach to the maintenance of industry currency, particularly where technology and the associated knowledge are constantly being superseded. As new knowledge emerges and skill requirements change, those workers who have responsibility for the take-up of innovations will need to be provided with carefully tailored training to keep them abreast of the changes
  • introduce innovative approaches that not only offer formal and structured learning activities but also open up incidental learning opportunities as they arise in the conduct of day-to-day work
  • emphasise the importance of collaborative learning, whereby sharing of new knowledge and mentoring of others, including the casualised training workforce, is encouraged and supported
  • encourage the development of trainer interactions with employers and industry bodies who are willing to assist individuals to update
  • make prominent the issue of industry currency in performance management discussions with individual practitioners and
  • develop meaningful and achievable plans for its attainment strike the right balance between maintaining industry currency and improving teaching quality.

Individual trainer or assessor perspective

From an individual trainer or assessor perspective, the research suggests there is a need to:

  • commit to ongoing interactions with industry to build on industry experience and knowledge
  • use opportunities to engage with industry and build industry networks
  • attend industry events and supplier/vendor training to keep abreast of emerging industry trends
  • share experiences and information with training colleagues
  • apply new industry knowledge and skills to day-to-day teaching and training practice.

A systemic framework for continuing professional development and access to training in key technical areas, together with some innovative organisational thinking about the provision of developmental opportunities for trainers, will go some way to addressing the issue of industry currency in the VET sector.

It must be acknowledged, however, that rapid technological advancement and changes in industry trends will be ever-present and currency will remain a constant challenge.

At best, a carefully targeted and strategic organisational approach will ensure that the most critical knowledge and skills upon which the credibility of trainers, registered training organisations and the sector largely rest will gain the status and focus they deserve.

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