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The VET Industry: How Far We’ve Come

February 2, 2018

Currently our VET system is driven by an amalgamation of personal development and economic requirements, provided by both public and private institutions. There are strict regulations on how education providers can deliver and assess training, and many governing bodies exist to determine the quality of Australian education. But it wasn’t always this way.

Let’s look back on our education history and see how far we’ve come.

Early 18th century

When Australia was colonised in 1788, there was a shortage of capable labour — affecting the growth and stability of an emerging nation.

“The Joiner’s Apprentice,” Robert Campbell

At the time two systems were being utilised: the technical schools (off-the-job training) used throughout Europe, and the apprenticeship (on-the-job training) system used in Britain. To combat their skilled labour deficiency, Australia adopted Britain’s apprenticeship system. Beginning in NSW and spreading as other settlers joined, apprenticeships began providing the skills needed to contribute to economic growth.

19th century

More than a century after the implementation of the apprenticeship system, the International Conference of Technical Education, held in London in 1897, found that the technical schools used in Europe provided superior training to the British and Australian apprenticeship systems.

This lead to the upheaval of the old system view and the uprising of technical education schools in Australia.

20th century

During the 1900s technical education became mainstream, and in the 1970s was given close attention due to a significant report by the Minister of Labor and National Service, Sir Billy Snedden. This report advised that the government needed to support the vocational education industry to compete with other countries, or Australia’s standards of living would soon be diminished.

Combined with the well-known Kangan report, these ideas resulted in significant Federal financial support, bringing about the birth of the modern VET system.

By the late 1980s, competency-based training was introduced to enable the Australian VET industry to be more competitive in global markets and establish new career structures for the Australian workforce.

21st century

At present the VET market is a combination of competency training activity, mostly financed by the government, and apprenticeship activity funded by employers or individuals.

Notably, most occupations and industries have no formal licensing or qualification requirements and ‘employers tend to recruit and retain workers based on their skills, attitudes and work experience, not their formal qualifications’ (Coates 2008).

There are two systems in place for regulated occupations:· Competency-based nationally recognised qualifications controlled by the Australian Quality Training Framework· Diverse approaches by industry regulators assuring the skill and knowledge requirements

Australia’s VET sector has come a long way since its colonial adoption of the British apprenticeship system, and is committed to continual improvement to ensure future economic growth and stability.


  • Coates, S 2008, Qualifications and culture, in Campus Review, vol.18, no.8, p.16, Sydney.
  • Commonwealth of Australia 2007, Intergenerational Report 2007, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.
  • Noonan, P 2002, A licence to skill: The implications of industry licensing for the implementation of training packages, ANTA, Brisbane.

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