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Despite challenges, potential changes in VET are electrifying

Despite challenges, potential changes in VET are electrifying

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History has never been kind to claims that “this time, it’s different”. This is especially the case in education, where complexity and inertia threaten to stymie even the most well-intentioned reform. So, it’s with some trepidation that I make the following observation about Australia’s Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, which has seen 33 sector reforms since 1998:

Despite challenges, potential changes to VET are electrifying.   Since Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s JobMaker Plan was floated at the National Press Club, the direction, pace and scale of VET change contemplated is becoming clearer. Recent comments from Prime Minister Morrison and Stephen Joyce (who headed up the Morrison Government’s vocational education review) suggest qualification development is first in line for an overhaul. Reading the tea leaves, an extension to the current Skill Organization pilots is likely. These pilots give the industry a closer role in defining, designing and assessing VET training products across human services, digital technologies and mining industries. Major change in sector funding design and magnitude isn’t far away, either. The Productivity Commission’s review of the Federal Government’s national skills and workforce agreement with the State Governments is due prior to March 2021. Resolving even some of the issues over sector funding’s scale, complexity and inconsistency in sector funding would be a massive unlock for students, providers and employers. I know what you’re thinking. There is a sense of déjà vu. The sites of reform Prime Minister Morrison proposed in his National Press Club address are strikingly similar to Ian Macfarlane’s focus in 2014. However, despite this sense déjà vu, recent developments give us the sense that, after a number of false starts, industry and education providers are getting on with thoughtfully collaborating, designing and delivering education. For instance, TAFE NSW’s Digital Technology Centre of Excellence, recently launched by the NSW Government, plans to offer specialist training programs in artificial intelligence, big data, gaming, cloud computing, cyber security, and programming. These will be co-designed and co-delivered with industry and universities as well as other partners. Outside Australia, similar developments show how policymakers, educators and industry are exploring potential approaches to deepen industry engagement and improve the long-term outcomes of vocational training. The UK’s Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has launched a competition to back the identification of “Institutes of Technology “. These Institutes of Technology are unique collaborations between vocational colleges, universities and business. Coincidentally, the competition was launched in the same week the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology was given the power to award its own degrees. As I said at the outset, history has never been kind to claims that “this time, it’s different”. However, the post-pandemic economic and humanitarian recovery gives all stakeholders a unique moment to reshape the VET sector and strengthen VET’s potential to ensure Australian businesses of all shapes and sizes have the skills they need to support their growth. Despite challenges, the potential changes are electrifying.

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