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Learnings from NCVER's 2021 Research Conference

August 6, 2021

We’ve recapped three insightful presentations from NCVER’s 30th national research conference. The theme this year was ‘past informing the future’, and each session focused on a different aspect of the complex nature of VET in Australia. Although we haven’t covered every session from the conference (which would make for a very long article), you can take a look at all of the insightful presentation slides here.

VET in Australia

Presentation: National Skills Commissioner Adam Boynton

The National Skills Commission (NSC) has been driving innovative research in the VET sector.

Firstly, the NSC pricing methodology outlines a phased approach that aims to solve various problems with current pricing for qualifications. The NSC’s average price benchmark database shows that students pay very different prices for the same qualifications depending on their jurisdiction – with some price variances exceeding $10, 000. This pricing is primarily driven by policy decisions across jurisdictions.

The NSC has also been looking at similarities between qualifications, including course names, units, course descriptions, the frequency of keywords within these texts and more. From this analysis, the qualifications were clustered based on the similarity of the skills taught by the units within the courses. Many of these clusters were found to mirror existing training packages, and some of the clusters intersected, indicating overlap across training packages (in fact, over 2000 units of competency have more than 90% overlap with at least one other unit, and over 5500 units have more than 70% overlap).

Additionally, the NSC is working with the Australian Bureau of Statistics to develop the VET National Data Asset to assess the performance of the VET system with greater depth and accuracy. This links total VET activity data to data on employment, earnings, income support, and participation in further education and training (all anonymously).

The data being examined includes:

  • income
  • employment status
  • contribution to industry, especially industries experiencing skills shortages
  • reliance on income support
  • participation in further education and training.

This research will be further refined based on stakeholder feedback, expert input and the quality and usefulness of the data – it’s important that the final results focus on the value-add of training.  

Boynton also spoke about the effects of the pandemic on the labour market. One trend is that around 93% of new jobs in the next 5 years will require either a VET or university qualification. This can be seen in the shift towards higher skill level occupations and growth in STEM occupations, while routine manual occupations have a challenging outlook. Some additional industries and jobs projected to see further growth over the next 5 years include aged and disabled care, registered nurses and software programmers. Other emerging occupations include digital technology, online engagement, sustainability engineering and trades, as well as new business practices, new regulatory roles and new areas within health.

The key learning from Boynton’s presentation is something many of us are highly aware of – the emerging jobs of today and tomorrow are all likely to require employees to continually refresh their skills and retrain throughout their careers.

Watch the full keynote address here.

Education: a passport to life

Presentation: Dr. Liz Allen, Demographer

Dr. Liz Allen’s inspiring story highlighted many important issues that need to be addressed in Australia’s education system. Allen emphasised just how much education and training determines our lives – from jobs to health, income to wellbeing, and even life expectancy across generations.

Currently, education and training opportunities aren’t granted equally. Allen discussed the issue that those who are born at a lower socioeconomic status have a compounding disadvantage, with the gap between lower and higher socioeconomic statuses growing throughout life. This is a structural problem that needs to be addressed.

Allen’s blueprint for overcoming inequality and disadvantage in Australia starts with education and training. Education and training should be acknowledged as a public good that not only benefits individuals, but communities – and it should be accessible to all and funded fairly. When education is accessible to everyone, it has an equalising and empowering nature that goes beyond socioeconomic status. All educators can make positive change and improve equality in education by ensuring every student, no matter their life circumstance, is granted the opportunity of education to become a passport to life.

Watch the full keynote address here.

Understanding VET’s role in helping the disadvantaged

Presentation: Professor John Buchanen, The University of Sydney

Buchanen shared important insights from an upcoming study on people from disadvantaged backgrounds in VET, in particular disability. The study found that overall, people with disability and their family members were very positive about their experiences with VET, and appreciated Smart and Skilled fee-free courses. However, there are many challenges when it comes to successful education and engagement for those who are disadvantaged. This includes:

  • stigma that runs deep – undermines confidence to be involved in VET, while staff need more expert guidance to provide tailored support
  • problems in navigating the organisation and content of education, including support for course choice, pacing and accommodation in courses
  • variability and accessibility of support – some staff lack confidence and understanding about disability, support is uneven across the system, and some organisations are too small to have disability support staff
  • adequate support and many courses are not provided in rural and regional areas
Quotes from the study[1]

Hallmarks of successful educational engagement and employment include:

  • Connections: between schools, local communities and VET organisations; between disability service providers and VET; between VET organisations and employers fostered through work experience
  • Disability capable employers: where a person’s disability provided them with a competitive edge (e.g. autism with some IT employers); disability employment is part of a large organisation’s diversity strategy; organisational leaders had a personal motivation to take on people with disability; supported employment is the purpose of the organisation.

Policy is where the VET sector has the most control in improving these challenges. However, according to the study, the real problems with inclusion begin after the qualification ends. The VET sector needs to engage with segmentation, flows of learning and labour and labour demand.

There were many more insightful sessions at the conference. Learn more from the presentation slides here, and listen to NCVER's No Frills podcast episode here.

aXcelerate is proud to have been a Gold Sponsor for NCVER’s ‘No Frills’ 2021 Research Conference.


  1. Buchanen presentation, VOCEDplus [download]
  2. VOCEDplus NCVER Conference presentations

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If you're interested in learning more about the state of VET in Australia, check out these articles:

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