Employee or Specialist Problem Solver?

Posted: by Kerrie Bowtell

With extensive focus on the value – and cost to the taxpayer – of vocational education and training (VET) courses, there has been a range of research and reports examining this topic and questioning the value of current approaches to post-secondary school education and training.

So what is a VET course? Training packages and accredited courses are the core training products of the nationally accredited vocational education and training (VET) system in Australia. Developed in consultation with industry, they define the units of competency, the qualifications and the guidelines against which competency performance can be assessed.

Research has shown that, between 2008 and 2014, the proportion of new university graduates in full-time employment dropped from 65.4% to 41.7%, whilst the VET system’s focus on job-specific competencies has typically led to an employment rate of around 75%. Yet further research by Mckinsey and Co showed that, world-wide, employers and education providers agree that the top three ‘skills’ required of youth in the workplace are a work ethic, teamwork and oral communication.

In posing the time-honoured question about whether TAFE, university or the workplace is the ‘way to go’, even more recent research could actually be the answer.

The current trend towards generalist degrees and an emphasis on generic or employable skills in VET qualifications is understandable, but this research tests the true value of a generic approach in today’s workplace and comes up with an alternative.

The research, conducted by Leesa Wheelahan, John Buchanan and Serena Yu through the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, points out that an ‘employable’ skill set like problem-solving is typically not acquired or applied generically.

The research states that ‘seemingly general skills’ often require understanding the specific context for each situation. For example, they suggest that solving the problem of an infant’s tantrum is very different from extinguishing a fire on an oil rig.

The research project found that a notion of ‘intermediate specialisation’, termed ‘vocations’ and ‘vocational streams’, could provide graduates, especially VET graduates, with more transferable skills, giving them the capacity to better adapt to changing labour market circumstances.

The concept of broader qualifications, those with the potential to form streams or routes into related occupational areas, allows extra flexibility and transitions between occupations and training.

The idea is also reflected in the reforms agreed to by Ministers to ease transitions between occupations and to improve the efficiency of the training system by creating units that can be shared across industry sectors.

The report concluded that this approach would help in today’s fast-moving business world, saying it would ‘ease the difficulty faced by organisations when sourcing the labour they need as business circumstances change’.

If you’re interested in exploring this new approach with North Coast TAFE, it starts with a conversation – contact us on 1300 628233.

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