T-VET or not T-VET? – Why people love TAFE.

There tends to be more of an emphasis on self-directed learning and a consideration for the skills (including life skills) the students may already possess.

by kathryn mcgilvray, february 9, 2015,  http://bit.ly/1DRU4sV

There are currently about 60,000 school teachers in NSW. But how many of them realise the differences between a TAFE environment and the school environment? Many high school teachers see their students head off to TAFE for T-VET courses, but sometimes not really knowing what exactly they do there or even why they’re doing it in the first place.

For many decades now, teenagers have been actively contributing to the workforce. But times are changing and so is the workforce. It’s more competitive now than ever before. Those teenagers who are skilled in job specific areas will have many options for future education and training as well as further success in the job market.

I’ve noticed a gradual shift has been taking place over the last decade or so. There’s more recognition now that our teenagers are a precious resource that mustn’t be wasted. Entering the labour market with some valuable skills and training already under their belts, rather than learning solely on the job, is something that is now largely considered advantageous to both the employer and the employee. This improves the overall quality of the teenaged workforce and gives employers something to work with rather having to start from scratch with each new recruit.

So why do young adults like the TAFE environment?

For a start, TAFE is not school. A school generally functions as a microcosm with its own rules and regulations and expectations of conformity, such as the wearing of school uniforms.

Apart from having classrooms with desks and chairs, the TAFE environment is generally quite different. There may be equipment that’s specific to industries such as hospitality, plumbing and automotive. Students are usually on a first name basis with teachers. There tends to be more of an emphasis on self-directed learning and a consideration for the skills (including life skills) the students may already possess.

TAFE provides teenagers some flexibility, responsibility and an opportunity to succeed at a more ‘grown up’ level. These young people like the fact they can gain a qualification before leaving school, which may give them greater opportunities for scholarships and apprenticeships. The students are often given a wide range of practical experiences whilst studying at TAFE that are used in the ‘adult’ world and these real world skills will be invaluable to their further careers.

This is not to discount the value of the HSC, but merely to provide a contrasting alternative to potential employers.

These young people have much to contribute to our society and many older Australians look back on their time at TAFE as one of the most valuable and memorable experiences of their lives. Whatever the debate around education funding, the fact remains that young people want to be skilled and work-ready. It’s up to government and employers to work closely with TAFE to continue to drive innovation and change in the workforce.

I love TAFE

by Andrea Millsom, http://bit.ly/1DRTLi2

Our vocational education used to be the envy of the world – it was connected to, and responsive to, the needs of a changing workforce and the changing nature of work.  Vocational education was the driver for our economy.  Not any more.

I love TAFE.

I love the practical stuff that TAFE represents – how to use certain machines, training in cutting edge technology and systems.  Training that means that your job is right there at the forefront of your industry.

TAFE worked for me – I got jobs out of my training, and learnt things that were relevant to delivering my job every day.  I did a general uni degree, got a job, then retrained, got a job in that industry, trained more, then got a different job, and needed to ‘add on’ a different skill set associated with that job to my original qualifications so I could do this new job.

My story is not unusual.  Before these latest round of TAFE “reforms” people re-skilled on a regular basis: after redundancy, as a response to industry changes, getting back into the workforce after having kids.  People weren’t penalised by having to pay full fees to re-skill. They are now.  If you need to study at the same (or lower) level from your original qualification, you will be up for paying tens of thousands of dollars for your re-training.  Most people don’t have that, so they are ending up with significant levels of debt.

TAFE took me from the community sector through horticulture and into disability.  I did further tertiary study in theses areas to add value to my TAFE qualifications.  But TAFE was the entry-point, the thing that enabled all the further study.

I couldn’t have got into those courses without either my TAFE quals or the jobs that those enabled me to get.  I am deeply grateful to TAFE for both my interesting career, and unusual resume!  However my employers are even more grateful – there aren’t many people with the same skills as me, and I use these skills every day.

Because of TAFE I was able to move from traditional female-dominated sector (community work) to a non-traditional one, male-dominated one (horticulture).  TAFEs were implementing government policy aimed at encouraging young women into non-traditional industries.  But it wasn’t just about breaking down gender stereotypes, it recognised that women have a lot to offer in the trades – we are more likely to be patient, we have good fine motor skills, and we are reliable employees.  We turn up and do the job.

The best thing about TAFE in the 90s was how integrated it was with industry.  When I did my first course in 1992, I got a job in the industry straight away.  The teacher had chatted to an employer who said ‘give us a call’ and I walked into a job in a production nursery.

When I did my third career change, and was back in TAFE in 1997, my fellow students were all workers from local disability services.  We were a diverse bunch – but very few were school-leavers.  Most had come to disability ‘the long way round’, through caring or volunteering, or a career change.  There were a fair few blokes – more than you would normally get if you simply advertised for staff.

Just as in my previous course, the teachers were in touch with all of the local disability employers so that our course was tailored to their needs.  It was also structured so that we learnt as much from each other as we did from the formal curriculum – but that was the idea.

Study after study shows that this kind of peer-educator group-work is the way that people really learn.  Not ‘quickie’ online certificates, but the development of real, hardwired, professional practices and standards.  It took me and my colleagues two years of turning up two evenings a week to get our Cert 4 equivalent – but many of us have gone on to take on leadership roles in our organisations or other substantial contributions to our sector.

Our vocational education used to be the envy of the world – it was connected to, and responsive to, the needs of a changing workforce and the changing nature of work.  Vocational education was the driver for our economy.  Not any more.

What a mess successive Labor and Conservative Governments have left.


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