Some limitations of the (new) Australian Industry and Skills Committee

cosmetic-issues-to-touch

Australian Industry and Skills Committee – http://bit.ly/1d22vx5

In summary, the Australian Industry and Skills Committee appears to be a high level skills education strategy committee without education and training skills representation or expertise. (Bruce D. Watson)

The System is largely based on assertions with no or little evidence. (Bruce D. Watson)

The real issue is that employers’ expectations — for the skills of new graduates, for what they must invest in training, and for how much they need to pay their employees — have grown increasingly out of step with reality. (Peter Cappelli)

An unsettling truth: What employers really want are workers they don’t have to train. (Peter Cappelli)

A relatively slim literature [exists] that applies robust methodologies to provide the evidence that endorses the instincts of so many policy makers. (Anthony Mann)

The implications for VET policy are that it needs to move from a focus on products (such as training packages and assessment materials) to a focus on processes. (Lisa Wheelahan and Gavin Moodie)

“The urgency to engage employers in the transition from school to work in not only about the labour market”, they write. “It’s about the welfare of young people.  Youth unemployment has risen to historic proportions in many countries as a result of the global fiscal crisis, and youth across the world have articulated their frustrations about the lack of opportunities for their futures.” (Anthony Mann)

Cosmetic Voc. Ed & Training reform

The Government Industry-led VET system continues, after cosmetic reform, without education “industry” representation e.g., education union, teachers, trainers, students, vocational educationists, …. the same old same old.

Also, continuing with outdated behaviourist model of education and training. The outdated behaviourist model of education and training has never been discussed at higher levels, at least publicly, since the inception of the Voc. Ed. and Training System. The privatised System is mainly based on assertions with no evidence and references that refer to each other. The circulatory of asserted information.

Is it really assumed industry representatives understand education and training?

I think some honesty is needed because Human Capital/Business philosophies are virtually at direct odds to education and training philosophies.

More: “Do employers really need the skills they say they want? – Probably not.” –http://linkd.in/1PK8J0f

The circulatory of asserted information presented as fact

As a policy officer contributor to the original Voc. Ed. and Training System Policy, Robyn Ryan is on the record,  “The fundamental point of the desirability of market forces in VET has almost always been resolved simply by assertion, often with reference back to a report which had previously made the same act of faith. ‘Skills for Australia,’ a discussion paper issued by then education minister John Dawkins in 1987, quoted in his next document, ‘A Changing Workforce’ in 1988, set off this self-referential chain.” (Robin Ryan, Evidence free policy, Campus Review, 17 November 2008, 11) – http://linkd.in/1EKsnnQ

Are we to put aside  the National Reform Consultations finding of a common theme that no-one could define “industry”?: e.g., http://bit.ly/1IF1whD

“Multiple participants made this point:

o What/who is Industry?

o Does Industry include professional bodies/expert input?

o Big business vs small business.

o Attendees stated that it is often ‘big industry’ that is consulted rather than small business.” (See Melbourne Morning Session: http://bit.ly/1IF1whD )

So, what or who does the Australian Industry and Skills Committee represent?

There are always ways to find representation if it is really wanted and understood as a necessity for successful outcomes and implementation. many business implement customer focus groups and customer advisory committees to ensure they hear more than one side of the story.

In the case of Voc. Ed. & Training, the “industry” ( whatever that is) is the predominant voice and viewpoint which continues to exclude the Voc. Ed. & Training  “industry” – the implementation workforce!

Continuing with flawed Training Packages

Training Packages and Competency-Based Training (CBT) are based on the simplistic notion that processes of learning are identical with the skills that are to be learnt. The Australian construct goes a step further in narrowing competency to workforce-based skills as prescribed in Training Packages.

CBT is derived from outdated and behaviourist learning theory in which the outcomes of learning are described in advance as observable behaviours that are aligned to a particular task, so if someone is observed undertaking a particular task, it is assumed that they have the knowledge they need (Jessup 1991)

From an education and training (not a business/industry) point of view, Training Packages are flawed.

Extracts (below) from: Rethinking Skills in Vocational Education and Training: From Competencies to Capabilities [ http://tinyurl.com/km65vdp ]

As educationists observed from the start of the VET System, it seems a pity that educationists were excluded in the implementation of an industry-led VET System.

The implications for VET policy are that it needs to move from a focus on products (such as training packages and assessment materials) to a focus on processes (brokering standards, accreditation and assessment). The conceptual basis of qualifications will need to move from training people for specific workplace tasks and roles to a focus on the person and their development in preparing them for a broad occupational field.” http://tinyurl.com/km65vdp

There has been fierce debate of CBT and training packages in Australia, so much so that Schofield and McDonald (2004) called for a new settlement to underpin them in their high level review of training packages in 2004. This has led to amendments in the definition of competency to address concerns. In VET Products for the 21st Century, the National Quality Council (2009: 14) revised the definition of competency to explain it more clearly and to simplify and strengthen its meaning.

Competency is now defined as: the consistent application of knowledge and skill to the standard of performance required in the workplace. It embodies the ability to transfer and apply skills and knowledge to new situations and environments (NQC/COAG 2009: 14).

The latest version of the Training Package Development Handbook says that: Competency is a broader concept than the ability to perform individual workplace tasks and comprises the application of all the specified technical and generic knowledge and skills relevant for an occupation. Particularly at higher qualification levels, competency may require a combination of higher order knowledge and skills and involve complex cognitive and meta‐cognitive processes such as reflection, analysis, synthesis, generation of ideas, problem solving, decision making,conflict resolution, innovation, design, negotiation, strategic planning and self‐regulated learning (DEEWR 2011).

Recommendation 10 from VET Products for the 21st Century is to “Allow for VET qualifications to provide for identified knowledge and preparatory units of competence as appropriate” (NQC/COAG 2009: 15). The purpose of these changes was to simplify and strengthen the meaning of competency and to address concerns that underpinning knowledge was inadequately incorporated. While these are laudable objectives, we argue that the structure of CBT precludes achieving these objectives.

The outcomes of learning are tied to descriptions of work as it currently exists. They focus on the present (because outcomes must be related to a specific workplace activity) and thus emphasise tradition and inhibit the development of innovative knowledge and new forms of practice (Wheelahan 2010b, 2010c).

This removes specific applications of knowledge from the applied academic disciplines which underpin professional and vocational practice. Students have access only to contextually specific elements of theory that are relevant to the particular context, so that the emphasis is on elements of content rather than the system of meaning.

CBT is based on the simplistic notion that processes of learning are identical with the skills that are to be learnt. This is derived from behaviourist learning theory in which the outcomes of learning can be described in advance as observable behaviours that are aligned to a particular task, so if someone is observed undertaking a particular task, it is assumed that they have the knowledge they need (Jessup 1991). The conditions for learning are external, and what is to be learnt is a given (Smith and Ragan 2005). However, this underplays the complexity of learning and the resources that people bring with them when engaging in tasks. While there can be no learning without doing, underlying capacity lays the basis for new learning. This is widely recognised in the case of language, literacy and numeracy, but less acknowledged when it comes to systematic access to theoretical knowledge.

Young (2010: 16), in drawing from the work of the Russian learning theorist Lev Vygotsky, explains that: access to higher order concepts … [is]a complex two‐way pedagogic process. Initially, the learner’s everyday concepts are extended and transformed by pedagogy through engaging with the theoretical concepts of the curriculum. The process is then reversed; learners draw on their newly acquired theoretical concepts to re‐engage with and transform their everyday concepts.

This allows students to ‘think with’ their ideas and concepts and not just apply them to specific situations. Theoretical knowledge becomes part of the lens through which they view the world. It is the basis for innovative learning in the workplace, and for educational and occupational progression.

For example, a mechanic will learn that a particular formula applies in a particular context, but this does not tell them if the same formula will apply in a different context, or what to do if they are confronted with the unfamiliar. They need access to mathematics if they are to exercise autonomy and judgement. In contrast, Clarke and Winch (2004: 516) argue that students need to learn the relevant theory and then learn to recognise instances of theoretical propositions in practical situations to which they can then apply appropriate means (Clarke and Winch 2004: 516).

Moreover, it cannot be assumed that knowledge can be tied to specific events because events are complex outcomes. Understanding how events are constructed, identifying those components that are contingent and those that are necessary, the differences between events, and their relationship to other events are critical aspects of understanding, particularly in allowing students/workers to discriminate, select and apply knowledge in an appropriate way to particular contexts.

…..education and training systems can supply skills but they must be effectively deployed in the workplace. [And]… while employers must effectively deploy skills, education and training systems need to focus on producing workers who are autonomous and can engage in discretionary learning to support innovative workplaces.

Alternative to Training Packages: “Capabilities not Competencies” – http://linkd.in/1IZGfxI

Trying to understand employer engagement in education

“The urgency to engage employers in the transition from school to work in not only about the labour market”, they write. “It’s about the welfare of young people.  Youth unemployment has risen to historic proportions in many countries as a result of the global fiscal crisis, and youth across the world have articulated their frustrations about the lack of opportunities for their futures.”

Extracts from: Anthony Mann, Director of Policy and Research, Education and Employers Taskforce, London, United Kingdom, FRIDAY, MAY 30, 2014,  http://bit.ly/1FHWuQQ

The work begins by offering a long overdue attempt to conceptualise the experience of employer engagement within wider social and economic theory concerning the progression of young people through their educational experiences and into the labour market.

Across the world, governments are asking themselves how can they close the gap between the worlds of education and employment? How can they better engage employers in the work of schools?

While hardly a new phenomenon, the attention of policy makers and commentators has grown significantly over the last decade.  It is a policy which has won the recent attention and the strong endorsement from the OECD – in its key 2010 strategic review of vocational education, Learning for Jobs – from European Union agencies (CEDEFOP and InGenious) – and from an influential team at Harvard University (Pathways to Prosperity).  In England, the main political parties no longer argue whether a period of one or two weeks work experience should be a mandatory element of secondary education, but at what age placements should best be undertaken.

Employer engagement has become rapidly established within global priorities for schooling.  It is a development which has happened largely in the absence, as set out in a new collection of essays published by Routledge, of significant research.  The collection, Understanding Employer Engagement in Education, marks the very first gathering together of serious research essays into the character, delivery and consequences of employer involvement in the learning and progression of young people.  It brings together insights from papers first offered at the international conferences and seminars arranged by the London-based education charity, theEducation and Employers Taskforce.

Over seventeen essays, authors from around the world (if with a strong UK focus), analyse the phenomenon of employer engagement both within vocational education and training, through school or college based apprenticeships, and within mainstream academic schooling seen in such activities as careers talks, enterprise competitions, business mentoring and workplace visits as well as short work placements.

Collectively, the contributors consider why governments have become so determined to bring workplace experiences into schooling, how such interventions can best be theorised and understood within labour markets undergoing radical change, what impacts school-mediated workplace exposure can be expected to have on recipients and how access to such experiences are distributed across society.

The collection is likely to gain most attention for three chapters which offer measurements of the impact of employer engagement in education on the educational and employment outcomes of young people.  Percy and Mann (Education and Employers Taskforce) apply quantitative analysis to recent UK survey data to show significant links between the extent of teenage employer contacts arranged through schools and later earnings, employment levels and self-declared career confidence. Massey (UKCES) explores the phenomenon from an employer perspective, analysing large scale polling to show how commonplace it is for British employers to take on permanent recruits after short periods of school-managed work placement.

From a Canadian and VET perspective, Taylor et al (University of Alberta) finds participants in school-based apprenticeships to achieve better in school and apprenticeship completion rates than peers.  The three studies add considerably to a relatively slim literature applying robust methodologies to provide the evidence that endorses the instincts of so many policy makers.

The ambition of the collection though is not just to measure gains related to employer engagement, but to critically understand how and why such benefits might be expected and to who can be expected to gain most from them.  The work begins by offering a long overdue attempt to conceptualise the experience of employer engagement within wider social and economic theory concerning the progression of young people through their educational experiences and into the labour market.  Louise Archer (King’s College, London) provides a critical review of the concept of aspiration and Julian Stanley (University of Warwick) and Anthony Mann (Education and Employers Taskforce) draw on human, social and cultural capital theory to offer a conceptual framework to help understand how young people encounter such employer contacts and how they might turn such experiences into resources of ultimate labour market value.

From a US perspective, James Stone III (University of Louisville) locates employer engagement firmly within pedagogic debates concerning the nature of practical and academic learning, while the OECD’s Kathrin Hoeckel describes the character of contemporary youth unemployment.  The collection locates employer engagement in education, consequently, squarely within fundamental debates over the relationship of education and skills provision to individual and national economic success and the changing character of school to work transitions.

Essays by Li and Devine (University of Manchester) and Holmes and Mayhew (University of Oxford) provide new quantitative analysis of longitudinal data tracking the winners and losers in the changing British labour market.  Casting new light on the nature of the problem, studies of British teenagers in urban areas by St Clair et al (University of Glasgow) and Norris (RSA) and Francis (King’s College, London) show teenage career aspirations to be almost uniformly high, but formed without “the active knowledge of what the labour market offered or close knowledge of the educational requirements of particular occupations.”

In the British context, through a series of essays it becomes clear that it is young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds who are placed at structural disadvantage in attempting to access workplace experiences to inform developing career aspirations and to provide access to resources of value to their progression out of secondary schooling.

Teenagers educated in English fee-paying schools are seen, in essays by Mann and Kashefpakdel (University of Bath), Huddleston et al (University of Warwick) and Jones (University of Manchester), to be routinely accessing work placements and careers related engagements closely linked to occupational ambitions and highly relevant to immediate designs on university admission.  In contrast, Le Gallais and Hatcher (Birmingham City University) show how social circumstances dictate access to work experience placements, unless schools actively intervene to secure and manage placements. Through these chapters, the influence of social and cultural capital theory is writ large. Bourdieu and Granovetter have much to say of relevance to contemporary policy.

In their foreword to the collection, Nancy Hoffman (Boston’s Jobs for the Future) and  Robert Schwartz (Harvard University) reflect on the significance of the issues raised in the book following their own participation in the OECD’s Learning for Jobs review.  “The urgency to engage employers in the transition from school to work in not only about the labour market”, they write. “It’s about the welfare of young people.  Youth unemployment has risen to historic proportions in many countries as a result of the global fiscal crisis, and youth across the world have articulated their frustrations about the lack of opportunities for their futures.”

In this context, the collection serves to introduce employer engagement in education as a new field of critical enquiry relevant to policy makers, practitioners and young people themselves as they seek to gain footholds in the shifting sands of the twenty-first century labour market.  In so doing, the book raises many important questions for ongoing research, marking the beginning of what is hoped will be an international exchange of evidence enabling fuller understanding of what can happen when a young person interacts with the economic community and how positive impacts can be most fully, and most equitably, distributed.

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