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Refining models and approaches in continuing education and training


19 March 2014

ISBN 978 1 922056 76 4


Interviews with workers and managers show differences in preferred models of training, depending on the purpose of the training. When the purpose is to remain current and employable, to advance careers or to bring about workplace change, then workplace and practice-based models are the most valued. However, when the purpose is to secure employment or change jobs then educational institution-based models are more favoured. This is the second report coming out of a three-year program of research which aims to investigate how the tertiary education and training system might best be organised to maintain the employability of workers across their working lives.


About the research

This is the second report from a three-year program of research exploring how best the tertiary education and training system might be structured to maintain the employability of Australian workers across their working lives. Following on from the first report, this phase of the research investigates training preferences and practices in four industries: mining; services and hospitality; financial services; and health and community services (mainly aged care).

This second phase of research confirmed the findings of the first phase, which suggested that continuing education and training experiences should: be situated in workplace experiences; entail direct support from experienced others; provide high-quality individualised support for learning; and motivate and engage the learners.

Key messages

  • Workers and managers differed in their views on the purposes of training. Workers emphasised personal reasons for engaging in continuing education and training, such as securing ongoing employability, advancing in their workplaces and responding to workplace innovations. Managers emphasised organisation-specific factors and meeting enterprise goals as reasons for training.
  • When the aim of continuing education and training is for workers to remain current and employable, advance their careers or bring about workplace change/innovation, then workplace and practice-based models are the most valued and frequently used by workers. They are also preferred by managers.
  • When the purpose of continuing education and training is to secure employment or change occupations/careers, then educational institution-based models are more favoured.
  • Different continuing education and training purposes require distinct educational experiences and processes — neither fully institution-based nor workplace-based provision will address all purposes. 
  • Additional considerations that need to be taken into account when devising an effective continuing education and training system include the specific requirements of different industry sectors and geographic regions and the need for credible accreditation and certification.

Rod Camm
Managing Director, NCVER

Executive summary

This is the second report of a three-year project that aims to identify how tertiary education and training can best sustain Australian workers’ employability and career development across lengthening working lives. The focus of the project is on continuing education and training, which includes vocational education and training (VET) programs offered through registered training organisations (RTOs) and other educational institutions, structured workplace learning experiences, and individuals’ learning through their work, independently or with others (for example, co-workers, supervisors, experts).

The first report from this project, Change, work and learning: aligning continuing education and training (Billett et al. 2012b), assessed the usefulness of nine models and their associated strategies for continuing tertiary education and training (in Billett et al. 2012a). It was found that three of the nine models aligned with the needs and practices in the two industry sectors examined (that is, transport and logistics, and health and community services). These models are: practice-based experiences with direct guidance; opportunity-based experiences; practice-based experiences with educational interventions.

This report addresses the project’s second phase, which aimed to verify and extend the earlier findings by engaging with a larger and wider informant base. Data were gathered through on-site semi-structured interviews and a short survey of 86 workers and 34 managers from four industries: mining, services/hospitality, financial services, and health and community services. The worksites were in metropolitan and regional locations in Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

The findings, discussed below, explore the reasons why workers and managers engage with continuing education and training and investigate the preferred models for ongoing employability and advancement.

Purposes and provision of continuing education and training

Continuing education and training can serve a range of distinct purposes. These include helping individuals to:

  • secure employment
  • remain current and employable
  • advance careers
  • change occupations/careers
  • bring about workplace change/innovation
  • realise national economic and societal goals.

Interviews highlighted differences between workers and managers in their purpose and preferences for engaging with continuing education and training.

Workers’ purposes and preferences

Workers emphasised securing ongoing employability, advancement in their workplaces and responding to workplace innovations as their main reasons for engaging in continuing education and training. These aims focused on fulfilling personal work aspirations and addressing immediate work requirements. Workers report preferring their learning experiences (for example, guidance from other workers, supervisors and external trainers, work activities and interactions) to be based in the workplace and involve the support of experienced others. Workers consistently reported that effective ongoing learning was achieved through a combination of: engagement in work tasks they were learning about; guidance by more knowledgeable and locally informed partners; and training interventions related to their immediate work and future work life plans. These partners were reported as being supervisors, more experienced co-workers, or trainers/experts from outside their workplaces. To be effective, such partners had to understand the particular workplace’s requirements for work performance.

Workers also reported that ongoing learning progressed differently when they worked alone, with another worker, or as part of a group. The two most frequently cited forms of learning support (that is, working alone and with another worker) are based on individual action and so workers’ agency and intentions for learning are key elements for successful learning. Group learning activities, whether on or off site, are reported to be effective when: the instructional quality is high; learning fulfils immediate needs; and opportunities to practise what is being learnt are immediate.

However, when workers’ purposes for learning involved changing occupations and careers or getting a different job, the structured courses, assessment and certification available through the formal education and training system were preferred to achieve these goals.

Managers’ purposes and preferences

Managers emphasised workplace-specific factors as driving their preference for and approaches to continuing education and training, emphasising in particular the effectiveness of training programs in meeting enterprise goals. The means of securing those purposes were often distinct and their view of what comprised effective learning experiences was narrower than workers on occasions; that is, the managers' focus was on training programs and they often relied entirely on these programs to achieve their desired outcomes. However, they agreed with workers in recognising the need for learning experiences to be focused on workplace issues and goals. The workplaces of a number of the managers featured trainers from registered training organisations who actually came to the workplace and became familiar with the workplace’s operational and skill development needs and staff.

These findings suggest that the different purposes for continuing education and training may require specific experiences and processes. Neither a wholly workplace nor institution-based provision of continuing education and training can address all of the requirements of workers and employers. Various combinations of workplace and off-site training appear to offer the most efficacious forms of continuing education and training.

Preliminary models for a national continuing education and training provision

This phase of the research identified four models with the potential to support a system of continuing education and training that promotes workers’ ongoing employability and advancement:

  • Practice-based experiences with direct guidance: workers claimed that ‘hands-on’ practice-based learning experiences with direct one-on-one guidance and instruction from experts offered the most effective way to develop their competence and confidence in their work.
  • Practice-based experiences with ‘educational’ interventions: these interventions refer to both ‘in-house’ trainers and external trainers — from registered training organisations — offering accredited qualifications. This model provides workers with access to expertise to assist their work-related learning, with follow-up support making these interventions effective.
  • Wholly practice-based experiences: these were highly valued, particularly when opportunities to apply and refine what had been learnt in either on- or off-site work activities were included. Being able to work and learn further by applying skills to new and ongoing tasks was consistently valued.
  • Wholly educational institution-based experiences: these are essential for the learning and certification that cannot be realised through individuals’ workplace-based experiences; they need to be accessible to working Australians.

Within these models, workers’ learning was found to be best supported through:

  • Taught and guided processes in workplaces: these are premised on the guidance and instruction being expert-directed, but hands-on, and preferably in workplaces.
  • Facilitated/expert-guided group processes: small groups that support information-sharing and working together are preferred.
  • Individuals working alone: individuals need to be supported when working and learning alone through access to expertise and necessary information when clarification is needed.

Consequently, an effective national model of continuing education and training provision needs to comprise both work-based and educational learning experiences, a conclusion that accords with findings from earlier studies. The findings reported here, however, also identify additional features that characterise this model of continuing education and training and which are applicable across industry sectors, locations and workers. Among these features are:

  • the critical role of those regarded as occupational experts, from within and external to the workplace
  • the increasing acceptance of the need for ongoing learning, both for occupational compliance and ongoing competence
  • manager and worker ambivalence about the necessity of certification, but general acceptance of it as part of national provision, albeit to meet government and industry requirements or for upskilling
  • a pattern of workers being proactive learners, motivated by certification requirements and/or personal goals for employability and advancement
  • managers taking on significant training and mentoring roles, sometimes by default.

The interviews also identified differences across industries relating to how continuing education and training is utilised and valued and its accessibility across metropolitan and rural/regional locations.

Implications for tertiary education and training provision

The trends identified here have implications for the way by which continuing education and training is provided as part of a national tertiary education and training system. First and foremost, the findings point to workplaces as sites that: sustain employability; secure some forms of advancement in the workplace; and respond to the ongoing changes that constitute contemporary working life. More specifically, there is a need for arrangements to encourage and support:

  • the use of expertise to inform workers’ practice-based learning experiences
  • collaborative arrangements between registered training organisations and other educational institutions and workplaces to better contextualise learning experiences and outcomes
  • a balance between the need for certification and genuinely meeting industry, workplace and individual skill needs
  • a better understanding of workers’ motivations to engage in continuing education and training, and giving ongoing support
  • training and support for managers acting as trainers and mentors
  • recognition of differing industry requirements for continuing education and training and therefore their differing approaches
  • innovative approaches to meeting non-metropolitan continuing education and training needs.

However, there is still a crucial role for educational programs and experiences that sit outside workplaces and which are readily accessible to working Australians.

These findings stand alone, but also will both inform and be evaluated in the final phase of the research through consultations with a range of stakeholders responsible for practice and policy.


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Supporting documents

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