There is general consensus that the Australian VET sector faces a number of workforce issues including the aging of VET teachers, the high level of casualisation, industry currency and the need to increase the capacity of trainers. An underutilised resource that could contribute to the availability of VET practitioners might be industry experts who are highly knowledgeable and experienced in their sector. Through interviews and surveys with registered training organisations and current VET practitioners, this research sought to better understand how training organisations recruit and retain industry experts.
About the research
There is general consensus that vocational education and training (VET) faces a number of workforce problems, including the ageing of VET teachers, the high level of casualisation, the need to increase the capacity of trainers, and the maintenance of industry currency. These issues, along with the need for the VET sector to respond to critical national workforce development requirements, have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Industry experts, who are highly knowledgeable and experienced in their sector, are an underutilised resource as VET practitioners. Their knowledge and experience can provide rich information on up-to-date workplace skill needs, thus adding value and quality to the VET sector. The continuing debate associated with the minimum qualifications for VET practitioners and flexibility in entry points to the VET profession indicates that further input into innovative and practical solutions is required.
Through interviews and surveys with registered training organisations (RTOs) and VET practitioners, this project explores approaches to attracting industry experts to become and remain VET practitioners. Drawing on findings from the research, the authors provide strategies for consideration by government, industry, regulators, RTOs and VET practitioners that can help the journey from industry expert to VET practitioner be more rewarding and productive.
- As described by participants, becoming a VET practitioner is an ongoing journey, not a destination, involving vocational and educational preparation; a transition to VET; and continuing practice and updating of skills to maintain the dual professionalism that is required to train, assess and respond to the changing needs of industry.
- Helping the next generation of workers to develop was a key motivator for industry experts to become VET practitioners. The provision of a supportive culture, structured mentoring, and RTO-supported professional development was the most effective strategy for retaining industry experts as VET practitioners once they were employed.
- The level of remuneration was a key consideration for industry experts in their decisions about transitioning to a VET practitioner role. The perceived lack of career pathways and the continual upgrading of the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment qualification — the qualification required for training and assessing learners — were, however, seen as deterrents to remaining in that role.
- A means for addressing both currency of skills and workforce development could be achieved by more flexible ‘boundary crossing’ opportunities, whereby VET practitioners move back and forth between the classroom and the workplace. Industry bodies would seem the best placed to assist with this.
In countries with vocational education and training (VET) systems, their aim being to provide industry and sector skills to support productivity, there are significant shortages of the teachers, trainers and assessors who deliver the training required for the various trades, vocational skills and services (OECD 2021). Australia is no exception to the problem of attracting industry experts into a teaching/training role (Rasmussen 2016). The factors associated with a transition by industry experts to VET in order to become VET practitioners are at present anecdotal and require further interrogation to develop greater knowledge of what attracted them in the first place and what might be the barriers to making the transition. Equipped with this knowledge, an informed response to the VET practitioner-shortage problem can then be generated.
Central to this project was developing a deeper understanding of the factors encouraging a career move into the VET space, one that takes a person from their chosen initial vocation, where they developed industry expertise, commitment and identity as a competent professional, into a position where these characteristics are again considered as valuable commodities, but with a different purpose. In this new career the individual chooses to ‘reshape themselves into an educator’, who ‘gives back’ expertise and commitment to a new generation of workers, while maintaining current skills and pursuing new skills.
The important informants in this project’s aim for a clearer representation of the journey from industry expert to VET practitioner were registered training organisations (RTOs), which facilitate vocational training and employ teaching/training practitioners, and the VET practitioners themselves — the educators who deliver the VET training packages. This project reports on the collection, analysis and interpretation of these key players’ experiences and perspectives on attracting industry experts to become VET practitioners.
The research was conducted in three phases: firstly, discussions with selected Skills Service Organisations; followed by semi-structured interviews with RTOs representing a wide variety of industry sectors; and, finally, a survey to VET practitioners employed in the RTOs interviewed during the preceding phase.
The overall message from all participants was that becoming a VET practitioner is an ongoing journey, not a destination. Typically begun at some point during an earlier career, it involves: vocational and educational preparation; a transition to VET; and continuing practice and updating to maintain the dual professionalism that sets the VET practitioner role apart and enables them to respond to the changing needs of industry.
Reflecting on the three stages of this journey we provide recommendations by way of key strategies, these designed to assist in making the journey from industry expert to VET practitioner smoother and more rewarding, as well as more productive.
Each of the strategies suggested below relate to the three important stages of the journey undertaken by industry experts — recruitment, transition and retaining and updating — and encompass options for consideration by VET stakeholders; namely, governments, industry, RTOs, VET practitioners and VET regulators. Following each strategy we provide, in parenthesis, the stakeholder/s for whom this strategy is most relevant.
Recruiting from industry
- Continually promote the concept of VET practitioner and assist industry experts to realise that opportunities exist — now or in the future (government, industry, RTOs).
- Provide ‘bite size’ supervised opportunities to enable aspiring VET practitioners to experience the role before committing themselves and without first having to acquire the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (Certificate IV TAE) or a TAE skills set (government, RTOs, regulators).
- Utilise targeted incentives to encourage industry experts to transition into VET (government, industry, RTO).
- Establish a national register of VET practitioners as a central enquiry point, which can potentially act as a resource for those seeking and offering work (government).
- Ensure that the requirements and expectations for becoming a VET practitioner are clear from the outset (government, industry, RTO, regulators, VET practitioners).
- Provide a range of options for working towards a mandatory training/teaching qualification to cater for different circumstances and industry experts’ varying backgrounds (government, industry, RTO, regulators, VET practitioners).
- Provide systematic orientation and support when new VET practitioners commence employment (government, industry, RTOs, regulators, VET practitioners).
Retaining and sustaining the dual professional
- Maintain or build a supportive culture, one that respects visiting industry experts’ and full-time VET practitioners’ ongoing contribution, and continually develop their industry and pedagogical currency (RTOs).
- Develop and sustain VET practitioner commitment to collegial engagement through participation in ongoing development as a dual professional (VET practitioners).
Although not directly within the purview of this project, some broader issues were revealed through the voices of RTOs and VET practitioners. Also topics raised in past research (for example, Productivity Commission 2011; Smith & Yasukawa 2017; Tyler & Dymock 2021) and anecdotally as topics in casual conversation in VET workplaces, they include: the exploration of new models of industry and VET engagement; the suitability or otherwise of the Certificate IV TAE; the development of a fit-for-purpose educational qualification; and the establishment of a professional association for VET practitioners. These are worthy of informed, open and robust discussion, given the frequency with which they have been raised over an extended period.
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