Voc. Ed. & Training privatisation and the open market: What about equity?

Inequity in Australian Vocational Education and Training by location: Edited by Kaye Bowman, ANTA, 2004

The book reviews the achievements equity groups have made, reports on the issues they face, and discusses how to integrate equity and diversity management models into a framework to achieve a more inclusive VET system.

It includes chapters on the five recognised equity groups – women, people from non-English speaking backgrounds, people from rural and remote areas, people with a disability, and Indigenous Australians. Additional chapters consider other possible groups such as, early school leavers, older workers, men, people in correctional services, and people with low literacy skills, and examines the merit of these becoming equity groups.



Towards an integrative management framework for equity and diversity

EQUITY AND DIVERSITY factors are central to thinking about vocational education and training in terms of the society we have become and the society we wish to become.

This framework represents a new approach to perceiving and managing equity and diversity by amalgamating the three main management models and all of the factors influencing the decision-making processes of vocational education and training providers into a single ‘productive diversity’ model which also reconciles the social justice and the business cases.

Rather, it is a template to be applied to every business plan and delivery strategy of every enterprise and every unit by every manager to ensure that equity and diversity management is actually and permanently ‘built in’ to vocational education and training.

Establishing and maintaining the framework will certainly require the advice and assistance of designated equity and diversity specialists. But they will not own it. They will ensure that it stays ’bolted on’ during-and after—the transition to being ‘built in’. In this framework, specialists will not be solely accountable for ensuring the achievement of equitable outcomes by an institution or unit. They will not be accountable for realising the benefits of workforce diversity in areas such as knowledge management, innovation and social cohesion.

However, the actual prospects of such a shift occurring in the VET system are remote without the key ingredients of leadership, practicable strategies and support and clear motivation and incentives.

Training and professional development

Teachers, support staff and education managers are critical to meeting the diversity challenges of modelling good practice in equity and diversity and of preparing students to work effectively in diverse workplaces. They generally know what the legislation is about and why equity and inclusiveness efforts are required. They are beginning to hear more about the broader concept of diversity management.

Their main questions are:

How do we do this?,

What resources are available?, and

How will my role change?

Training and professional development is essential, beginning with pre-service training and continuing with in-service training, mentoring, coaching, work·based learning and post-graduate education. Managers, teachers and support staff alike need to understand how to apply the principles and practices of equity and diversity management to service planning, delivery and support.

Teachers need to continuously improve their ability to address the impacts of diversity in the classroom, across the curriculum, in learning and teaching styles, in flexible delivery and assessment and in the workplace. Student diversity necessitates a continuous examination of the expectations of teachers and learners and the nature and functions of assessment, particularly where cultural diversity is a factor, whether among a multicultural Australian student body or among international students studying here or abroad.

Responding to issues of gender, age and disability also requires more sophisticated teacher
training and development. Students must also be prepared to operate in workplaces where diversity is problematic, ignored or even discouraged.

Industry and community consultation and liaison

When employers are increasingly seeking staff with ‘effective behavioural skills’, as described by Mournier (2001), equity and diversity program planning and curriculum planning must be informed by industry consultation.

A number of international models for industry liaison on equity and diversity issues which warrant further investigation are currently available, including the New Zealand EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) Employers’ Group program, the Employers’ Forum in the United Kingdom and the enterprise Diversity Councils model in the United States.

In Australia, the Productive Diversity Partnerships Program has forged ties with several large enterprises which have proactive diversity management approaches and has conducted a study of the diversity management issues for small-to-medium enterprises (Pinto 2002). The study recommended the inclusion of diversity management in small business training materials but because business owners and managers rejected the notion of additional
material, it was included in existing units.

The study also pointed to the success of engaging with industry associations, local government and chambers of commerce on issues of equity and inclusiveness. The networks already developed by training providers with local business communities are the logical
starting point for a discussion of issues of inclusiveness and social cohesion of concern to small-to-medium business owners and managers.

Community liaison networks have been established by training providers, and involve community-owned colleges and members of disadvantaged groups in course design. Two best-practice examples of effective liaison are the Bridging pathways (ANTA 2002b) and Partners in a teaming culture (ANTA 2002e) blueprint programs. However, other equity groups still have to be engaged in such a way. For example, a report on the low proportion of women of non-English speaking background who go on from bridging courses to further
vocational study identified the failure of traditional forms of marketing and recommended:

‘That VET service providers consciously form relationships with community groups in order to access migrant communities’ (Westem Australian Department of Training 2002).

A variety of equity and diversity management approaches are already policy or are in use by vocational education and training organisations, ‘built in’ or ‘bolted on’ to varying degrees.
In meeting the equity and diversity challenges of the next national strategyfor VET, providers must make choices which will be heavily influenced by the demographics and the needs of their industry and community stakeholders.

While equity and diversity management strategies are not in themselves the solution to meeting all of the system’s challenges, the importance of social cohesion to organisational sustainability is undeniable, and the desire of the community for inclusiveness and ethical behaviour in institutions and organisations is becoming stronger.

The best practice approaches to equity and diversity of the current national strategy have achieved significant results as the research statistics demonstrate.

But the gains are not pervasive and the approaches are not self-sustainable without a truly integrative model which meets the needs of all parties as part of normal practice.

If we can assume that the men and women of the VET system are, like all other people, simultaneously fair·minded and self·interested, then a management framework which protects against injustice while improving the achievement of such goals as effectiveness, sustainability and personal job satisfaction has a chance of working.

However, this can only occur if the approach is ‘built in’ to every facet of the system, owned by every member of the organisation and part of the process of growth and change that is required of vocational education and training in the coming decade.


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