Transform rival communities of VET practice – innovation in voc. ed. and training needed now!

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The Australian reform agenda is also likely to benefit from exposure to the ways that other OECD countries are tackling similar challenges, not least looking to countries with strong youth education and training and workforce development systems.

From the USA there are many examples of how the community college has played a long-term proactive extension role by developing the workforce for potential new growth sectors. Because this type of investment does not yield immediate return, public funding has been applied in the context of wider economic development.

Systemic transformation of professional and institutional norms in VET is not likely to occur spontaneously, but will instead require supportive policy framework conditions and impetus while at the same time engaging practitioners and researchers so as to build a rich evidence base on which policies can be shaped.

VET knowledge ecology in Australia still has a road to travel.

Extracts: OECD/CERI STUDY OF SYSTEMIC INNOVATION IN VET,  http://bit.ly/1FSaB4G

Implications for the study of systemic innovation in VET

There is a growing body of knowledge which has demonstrated that innovation happens at different levels and that employee (skilled worker) and user-driven innovation have an essential role to play in innovation processes. These reflections – especially pertinent for SMEs, could guide policies to redirect and vitalize systemic innovation in VET.

The Australian reform agenda is also likely to benefit from exposure to the ways that other OECD countries are tackling similar challenges, not least looking to countries with strong youth education and training and workforce development systems. From international literature on firm innovation, there is ample evidence that responsiveness to market needs from the education and training sector may in fact exclude those companies where the needs for strengthening their base is the biggest.

In companies where competition strategies are built on cost-cutting and automation and where work functions are rather routinised, human resource strategies are most often ad-hoc and looked on as a costfactor. In those companies, attitudes to training are unlikely to change unless accompanied by long-term and integrated outreach strategies addressing the business as such and not only the training climate.

From the USA there are many examples of how the community college has played a long-term proactive extension role by developing the workforce for potential new growth sectors. Because this type of investment does not yield immediate return, public funding has been applied in the context of wider economic development (Shapiro et al., 2007).

Reasons why systemic innovation is slow

There seem to be a number of reasons why the capacity for systemic innovation so far has not reached its full capacity. The key features that seem to hinder systemic innovation in the VET space are:

 short-term policy making;

 the continuous auditing of the system through planning instruments and accountability, and tensions around funding; and

 the potential vested interest of state and territory government officials as planners, purchasers, and also in some instances owners of training provider institutions.

Key challenges

Some of the key challenges that system reforms have to address are:

 Transformation of the relatively unconnected communities of VET practice, institutions of education and training, research, and local agents of innovation, into a coherent and dynamic learning ecology.

 Greater emphasis on evaluation to formally capture and map innovative activity (including that of the private sector), leading to the generation of systemic reports (at a national level), and the active dissemination of good practice. This last point, dissemination, relies crucially on good knowledge management and knowledge transfer systems both within and across communities of stakeholders.

 Moving from a system planning culture well suited to an economy with stable occupations to a policy framework which is capable, of much faster detection of changing skill and knowledge requirements, particularly in rapidly advancing and converging areas of technology, but also in mature sectors such as mining which remain crucial to the economy.

 Maintaining a sustainable level of broad personal and general skills across the whole population so as to avoid knowledge-based social exclusion.

Drivers of change

…Policies have encouraged a more responsive and market-driven VET system through competition and contestable funding arrangements for particular purposes and programs, however, …stakeholders [of] the Australian VET system report that these strategies have also had their limitations.

Most important of these is that providers focus much of their attention on:

1) meeting imminent and ’just-in-time’ needs of employers; and/or

2) those sectors and enterprises that have the internal capacity to formulate their needs with regard to training and human resource development.

This can result in training provision that is reactive rather than proactive in meeting emerging skills and workforce needs, and enterprises with less internal capacity (both SMEs and larger businesses/sectors that do not have strong lobbies) not having their needs met.

One clear reason for this is that outreach investments to companies where training is not a strategic priority would simply be too costly for individual institutions, and the time scale for return on investment – whether for workforce development or apprentice training – far too long and uncertain. Policies and incentives have not been in place to enable the system to respond early enough and with sufficient scale to emerging skills demands….. This approach has required providers to learn how to adapt to short-term funding arrangements potentially reducing their focus on medium-term demands and what this could imply in terms of institutional innovation in outreach and delivery mechanisms.

The accountability measures in place and the lack of an evidence-based and knowledge management culture could furthermore aggravate the institutional innovation capability to begin to uncover and target the demands on the VET system for tomorrow.

In Australia there is a complex and varied landscape of VET provision that, while offering choice, appears to be difficult to navigate. This complexity might be one of the reasons that VET is perceived as the poor cousin among some potential user groups and why university education, which appears as a much more transparent pathway or “brand”, is favoured.

Though the qualification framework formally speaking allows for transition to tertiary professional education, there is limited data on the transitions from VET and thus the extent to which VET in reality functions as a pathway into tertiary education.

Demand for innovation in VET

A concurrent theme in the debate with policymakers has been a growing demand for innovation in VET to make the system more responsive to uncertain and long-term structural changes in the economy.

Another side to the coin of a systemic call responsiveness could be that the Australian VET system is overburdened with expectations in relation to a broader socio-economic agenda of innovation, which is likely to require a number of complementary policy measures in order to succeed.

Issues of gender in Australian Technical College (ATC – provision in five traditional trade sectors: automotive, building and construction, electro-technology, metal and engineering, and commercial cookery), lack of public maternity policies, and thus potential under-utilisation of female talent is just one example of a potential disconnect in policy realms.

Does current policy thinking  disrupt the VET System ability to foster innovation?

One of the key questions arising from the review which should be fundamentally examined is:

Does current policy thinking of the success criteria for VET disrupt the systems’ ability to foster innovation?

If VET is to lead to stronger capacities for innovation, the system itself needs to become more innovative, risk- and development-oriented. Questions which may be posed are:

 whether predominant success criteria for VET systems are sufficiently geared to systemic innovation;

 whether predominant thinking and system success criteria are sufficiently supportive of a culture of creativity, and allow for systemic learning from failure (Shapiro, 2007).

Systemic transformation of professional and institutional norms in VET is not likely to occur spontaneously, but will instead require supportive policy framework conditions and impetus while at the same time engaging practitioners and researchers so as to build a rich evidence base on which policies can be shaped.

In this respect the VET knowledge ecology in Australia still has a road to travel.

Recommended reading:

30 urgent voc. ed. & training culture, legislative and policy challenges http://linkd.in/1FoPWSl

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