Tuesday 2 June 2015

Towards a Learning Economy: A need for change in VET

Above: Image courtesy of Careers Online
In 2001 CRRI was funded by the NSW Board of Vocational Education & Training to complete a major research project on the needs of Technical and Further Education in NSW as world economies moved more and more down a path towards knowledge-driven enterprises.

The project was led by Professor Trevor Cairney & Dr Liz Sommerlad from CRRI at the University of Western Sydney.

The research project was commissioned and funded by the NSW Board of Vocational Education and Training. It sought to extend understanding of the impact of the knowledge-based economy on the nature of work and training.

The project was called 'The changing nature of work and the emergence of the knowledge-based economy: The implications for vocational education and training of the demands of the emerging knowledge-based economy' was a project that examined the changes being brought to work and training with the growth of technology and knowlege-based industries.  

It involved an analysis of the ways in which the emerging knowledge-based economy impacts on the content of work, the knowledge and skill requirements of occupations and of work in different parts of various industries. It also considered the extent to which the current VET system meets the requirements of the knowledge-based economy.  The project was funded to the Centre for Regional Research & Innovation (CRRI) with 2 partners providing 10% of the work - the Centre forResearch and Learning in Regional Australia (UTAS) and the TAFE NSW IndustryPartnership Centre.  Funding of $159,200 has been provided to CRRI by the NSW Board of Vocational Education & Training.

The research team set out to analyse the ways in which the emerging knowledge-based economy impacts on the content of work. In particular its concerns were with the knowledge and skill requirements of occupations and of work in different parts of various industries, and the extent to which the current VET system meets the requirements of the knowledge-based economy. The project was shaped by the following questions that were part of the original project brief from BVET:
1. What is the extent and speed of changes in the type and level of knowledge and skill
required in a range of industry sectors, occupational areas and organisational sizes?

2. To what extent is work and the need for training being changed by the growth of the
knowledge economy, and the employment implications of the knowledge-based

3. What impact have changes in the nature of work had on VET provision and its
intersection with general education? How can it best meet the needs of individuals
and organisations, and how well is the VET system adapting to and anticipating in
these changes?

The project commenced with a review of key literature before embarking on a series of 3 stages designed to provide an emerging understanding of the way knowledge is used and privileged in industry and business. These three stages incorporated analysis of existing ABS data using proxies for knowledge and innovation, a major survey of organizations across 4 industry sectors, case studies of individuals, organizations and institutions, and systems analysis of knowledge-based organizations.

This research project established that the nature of work is indeed changing. In fact, it appears that the very shape of industry is being altered as we witness a period of economic change that has emphasised new forms of knowledge as well as changed priorities for knowledge and skill acquisition and use. Technological innovation and access to knowledge and skills are key drivers of innovation in this ‘new age’, and their application has become central to the competitive strategy of firms. On the basis of our findings we argue in our final report that successful and self sustaining cities and regions in the 21st century will be those that are best at linking businesses to the global economy.

Our review of research also showed that the view within the literature is that more than ever, business strategy, innovation, learning and training are closely integrated. What this requires is a training sector that leads instead of follows. It also requires a VET sector that is characterised by innovative learning organisations networked regionally, nationally and globally. There were many special implications in this report for TAFE, an organisation that was seeking to re-position itself within a training sector that has undergone great change.

When we completed the project in 2002 it seemed to the research team that there were three alternative pathways facing the TAFE sector. It could do nothing and watch its market  being increasingly eroded by private providers and industry-based training. It could become even better at responding to industry needs and reform existing programs to better reflect industry needs. Or finally, it could work in partnership with government, the broad VET system and industry to position itself as a key partner in industry-based reform, technology renewal, and regional and industry innovation.

While at the time of this research it was clear that Australia’s VET sector was internationally competitive, our research findings pointed to a need for change and re-positioning. The role of VET globally was, and is still, under review as governments attempted to work out the best use of elaborate and expensive training systems. BVET had an opportunity to take the best of the current VET system and to try to reform it to take a leading role in working with other partners to position NSW business and industry in an even more competitive position. Sadly our report was not released and the recommendations were never to our knowledge addressed.

Our study highlighted the importance of an internationally competitive VET system to Australia’s future and identified 4 major challenges, each of which presented the sector with significant opportunities:
  • The VET sector has a key role to play in increasing the level of competitiveness and innovation in Australian industry.
  • The diversification of industry is creating the need for new forms of training provision.
  • Changes in technology are creating significant challenges and opportunities for the
    VET sector.
  • In the emerging knowledge-based economy there is an increased need for VET providers to explore new forms of industry collaboration and partnership.
You can read a short version of our full report HERE.

The full report was never made available by BVET but can be provided for interested readers.

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