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The complexity of VET in Australia

July 21, 2021

There’s a tension that lies at the heart of VET. This tension, or more specifically the competing purposes vocational education and training is expected to fulfil, is discussed in NCVER’s ‘No Frills’ paper, ‘Past Informing the Future’ by Joanne Waugh. 

Australia has high expectations for VET’s ability to deliver skilled workers for industry, with competency-based and ‘just-in-time’ training, as well as playing a key role in economic policy and strategy. 

Facing a continuously changing employment landscape

Some of the main reasons individuals choose to undertake study in VET include: 

  • Exploring career options
  • Having a second chance at developing education foundations
  • Developing flexible, agile skill sets.

VET is expected to deliver top employment outcomes by enabling individuals to face a continuously changing employment landscape. 

However, out of all the educational sectors, VET has historically received the least amount of funding. Despite this, VET is asked to respond to industry, individual and community needs, all within a nationally agreed, yet state/territory-administered system. VET is also used as a tool in education, health and social services, and economic policy.

‘A tool to cure many ills’ 

With all of this complexity and different uses of VET, there is an increasing focus on VET’s role in skilling workers. For the past 20 years, VET’s qualification development model has been strongly industry-informed to ensure relevance of skills in training standards. 

The discussion has found however, that there are limitations to this industry-centered, consensus-driven model for the development of training standards – as seen in the commentary on VET’s ‘failure’ to deliver the breadth of skills and knowledge required.

VET is one major avenue for skills and workforce development, but it's not the only avenue. 

Although we know there are multiple educational paths that can be taken, VET is the one path that is viewed as ‘a tool to cure many ills’ – from unemployment to intergenerational poverty. When VET doesn’t meet expectations, such as VET graduates not having the exact skills to match and fill Australia’s workforce gaps, the system is viewed as coming up short. 

There’s a lot of conversation around the ‘jobs of the future’ and preparing for the future of work – much of which is centered around how VET will deliver this and how other educational avenues like a university degree will be out of the picture when it comes to achieving this.

The complexity and doubt of Australia’s education system and its relationship with industry and work can be summed up with this statistic: according to a survey by Australia Talks, just 37% are satisfied that the education system in Australia is preparing students for the future. 

Competency-based training vs. Concept-focused curriculum

With the jobs and workforce of the future predicted to rely on VET more than ever, there’s a need to clarify the role of VET, and learn from other countries in how they manage training standards development.

Some countries such as the UK have more broad or general educational pathways in VET, and some have called for this to be implemented in Australia, such as the Diploma of Professional Studies proposed by the Mackenzie Research Institute. The purpose of more general VET qualifications like this is to counter the issue of some competency-based training being too ‘narrow’ or prescriptive, restricting the knowledge students can acquire. A greater focus on general education could also increase VET’s flexibility and agility, and improve articulation between both secondary and tertiary education. 

Although a more concept-focused curriculum may play a larger role for the future of VET, the role of industry and work-based learning remains integral to lasting employment outcomes and strengthening relationships between employers, training providers and local governments. 


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aXcelerate is proud to have been a Gold Sponsor for the NCVER ‘No Frills’ 2021 conference.

If you also attended NCVER’s conference and are interested in learning more about VET, check out these articles: 

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