Friday, 6 July 2012

Associate Professor Leesa Wheelahan's Friday keynote presentation

Associate Professor Leesa Wheelahan from the University of Melbourne's L.H. Martin Institute spoke on 'The link between post-compulsory education and the labour market: revitalising the vocational in flows of learning and labour.' While Leesa emphasised she remains a 'critical friend' of Australia's Vocational Education and Training(VET)sector, she nevertheless is critical of its current structures and suggested ways in which it could be changed to reflect better outcomes for individuals and enterprises. She considers that there are several 'intractable' challenges in the relationship between the Australian labour market and VET training: skill shortages, a flexible but unresponsive system in relation to the creation of forward thinking training programs, a loose fit between qualifications and jobs, a failure of most VET graduates to progress in their jobs, and a contradiction between a CBT training system that only teaches defined skill sets while concurrently encouraging innovatory practices. While these circumstances create a set of problems for training policy and practice, there are also presented internal challenges within the sector itself. Key amongst these is the weak link between school and work and the failure if the job market to facilitate flexible movement within and across and individual's life career choices. Part of this may be due to a lack of 'intermediate' qualifications between low and high skilled occupations and related qualifications. This 'gap' can hamper career progression from lower to higher levels. A solution from the VET sector may be a stronger emphasis on the Diploma qualification as a 'crossover qualification' between the two as it enables progression to higher education programs and its association with professional careers. Leesa calls for a more responsive VET sector with both liberal (for example, Australia and Singapore) and coordinated (for example, the Scandinavian countries) economies, though holds out better hope for the latter because of their more closely integrated social, economic and educational systems. A key to facilitating vocational education change may be replacing the current CBT curriculum conceptual framework with a capability framework that relies less on CBT's atomised approach to skills training for jobs and more on developing individual skills within contextualised and community-based workplace learning environments. Such an approach would facilitate a focus on the relationship between work and education and not just education. It would also focus on the way labour is deployed at work while establishing minimum standards of knowledge, skills and attributes. Local accreditation by experts and key stakeholders would also be possible within a national assessment framework, to ensure quality. Associate Professor Whelahan's address was warmly received and provoked much discussion during and after her presentation.

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