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NCVER insights: the impact of COVID-19 on industry innovation, skills and the need for training

August 17, 2021

NCVER’s recent study into how COVID-19 has impacted industry in terms of innovation, skills and the need for training has uncovered some important insights about the way industry has used VET and other forms of training in response to the pandemic, and insights for the future.

Adaptation vs. Innovation

Most businesses that were interviewed adapted rather than innovated – meaning they altered their usual operations instead of introducing new or significantly improved processes. Although many of the businesses’ methods to respond to the problems caused by the pandemic were adaptive rather than innovative, they're still considered indicators of potential skills needs and training.

What does this mean for the future of VET?

Popularity of non-accredited training

NCVER found that most of the businesses interviewed didn’t require training through the formal VET sector to implement their required adaptations. Instead, many used informal on-the-job training or free online training. There were some exceptions, such as the aged care sector who mainly used online accredited training for infection control.

Unless a qualification was needed for a particular job, such as toolmaking, respondents weren’t overly concerned with accreditation (apart from three interviewees representing RTOs). In fact, some organisations in the aged care sector have tried to make their training cheaper and more flexible by developing their own non-accredited leadership courses based on the content of accredited VET courses.

Short courses and microcredentials

In addition to many organisations choosing to use non-accredited training, RTOs also face the increasing popularity of short courses and microcredentials. The interviewees were found to have a clear preference for short courses, with a focus on skill sets to address skills gaps and skills development – regardless of type or location of delivery and provider.

Some respondents thought that short intensive courses, including microcredentials, are the future of training, as they enable businesses to be responsive to rapid change. Interestingly, they weren’t concerned whether these short courses should be accredited or not. The respondents representing RTOs suggested the short courses should be designed to be stand alone, provide stackable skill sets, or be used to build a full qualification if needed.

The formal VET sector also needs to be competitive with free online training via government, industry associations and vendor websites. One respondent representing manufacturing felt that there was already sufficient free online training available from government websites for meeting clearing training needs or training for COVID-19 marshals, and so didn’t use VET. Another respondent in advanced manufacturing said their company uses internal training and online training provided by professional networks like LinkedIn. This type of training is being used because they view the VET sector as unlikely to meet the company’s niche business needs.

MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, like LinkedIn, Coursera and edX seem to be leading the way with microcredentials, and have the potential to boost student enrolments by the thousands. This Edalex survey on 1000 college graduates in the USA also found that short courses, including the provision of digital badges, were quite popular.

LinkedIn Learning courses

Shift to online delivery of training

As we probably all know and have experienced over the past year, there’s been an accelerated trend towards online and blended learning since the start of the pandemic. Consumers have found online training to be time and cost-effective. One example in NCVER’s study was an RTO that converted part of a first aid course for dental and general practices to online delivery. This meant that practices only needed to be shut down while training for three hours, rather than five hours like they had been doing previously.

Other businesses used online training as an opportunity to train in new software systems, such as web design, new contactless booking systems and new student enrolment systems. The software vendors tended to provide this training, as some interviewees believed VET didn’t have the capacity to provide training for the wide range of specific systems available.

Overall, the respondents saw online training as ‘here to stay’ – whether through the formal VET sector or otherwise. However, face to face training still plays an integral role for some industries, such as hospitality and health care.

Has the pandemic highlighted the need for VET for future workers?

For some respondents, external training from a VET provider will be essential for the next generation of workers, as they’re unlikely to have grown up with the machinery and skills of current older workers. When thinking about COVID-19, this could apply to sewing skills for PPE manufacture.

In the travel industry, one representative had this to say:

VET can play the important role of providing accredited training for industries like the travel industry that need updated knowledge and ideas that are highly relevant to changing consumer preferences. For the travel industry, this refers to the shift to online booking versus direct customer contact – changes that the current training doesn’t yet reflect.

Respondents across all three case study industries also identified a demand for training in leadership, management, and online sales and marketing during crises (including floods, droughts and bushfires) rather than technical skills. This is consistent with the areas of skills shortages identified by the ABS before the pandemic. With the National Skills Overview and the IRC Skills Forecast also finding that adaptability and learning skills are the top priority general skills for industry, this type of training is likely to become more prevalent, and incorporated into existing courses.


  1. The impact of COVID-19 on industry innovation, skills and the need for training

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