Publication cover

The changing role of staff development for teachers and trainers in vocational education and training

By Roger Harris, Michele Simons, Doug Hill, Erica Smith, Ron Pearce, John Blakeley, Sarojni Choy, David Snewin Research report 5 July 2001 ISBN 0 87397 710 6 print; 0 87397 711 4 web


This report analyses the changing parameters of staff development that are emerging from the changing environment of VET in Australia. It illuminates the changed structure of the VET workforce and the differentiation of the roles of practitioners across different types of registered training organisations and it identifies the implications of such changes for the future design of staff development.


Executive summary

This study explored the changing role of staff development for vocational education and training (VET) teachers and trainers in Australian public and private registered training organisations. Substantial reforms in the VET sector over the past decade have had considerable impact on the work of teachers and trainers. In this context of rapid change, the nature, direction, delivery, access and funding responsibility of staff development are undergoing transformation. The purpose of this research, therefore, was to examine current staff development provision, research a range of issues relating to the staff development of VET teachers and trainers, and make recommendations in the light of the new education and training environment.

The lack of national data on VET teachers and trainers, increasing devolution of staff development within VET systems and the complexity of the issues meant that a combination of research approaches was required. Information for the study was gathered in six different ways:

  • a preliminary analysis of VET staff development provision, from information furnished by State/Territory authorities and universities
  • a literature review of mainly Australian, but also some international publications on VET staff development
  • a Delphi survey involving three rounds of surveying 31 key stakeholders in VET across Australia
  • telephone interviews with human resource personnel in a national stratified sample of 394 public and private registered training organisations
  • a questionnaire survey of 686 teachers and trainers in those organisations
  • analysis of 15 case studies of staff development in a number of VET organisations and programs

The overall profile of VET staff is one of a very diversified workforce, where shifts are occurring in terms of such important work factors as employment patterns, required qualifications, fields of study, training market competition and nature of delivery.

Key stakeholders in VET identified a number of particular challenges which staff in the VET sector are likely to face during the next five to seven years. The most critical were operating in a competitive market, keeping up to date with changes in VET, flexible delivery, understanding and working with training packages, and using technology. Only about half of the current VET staff were considered to possess the necessary attributes, skills, knowledge and capabilities needed to meet these challenges. These capabilities were not seen to be uniformly distributed in the workforce, with groups such as part-time, older and casual staff often perceived as having less expertise. Slightly less than half the current VET teachers/trainers were considered to possess the attributes, skills and knowledge required to improve the quality of VET provision. These findings have significant implications for staff development during the next few years.

The study found quite different patterns in the approaches of public and private VET providers to staff development. One of the most important differences is in what is expected of teachers/trainers at the time of appointment. Private providers are far more keen to recruit already qualified staff, while TAFE is more prepared to allow staff to complete teaching/training qualifications following appointment. This difference explains to a considerable extent their varying approaches to subsequent staff development. Far more TAFE institutions have specialist structures for staff development than do private providers, and they offer far more courses at all levels than do private providers, especially at diploma levels and above, reflecting their longer history and larger size. It is clear that the Certificate IV in Assessment and Workplace Training has become the de facto qualification for teaching/training in VET. This will increasingly be reinforced by the common stipulation within training packages for this level of qualification, and by the finding in this study that decisions on staff development tend to be influenced more by policy imperatives than by industrial relations agreements or career plans.

The findings indicate that it is factors more external to providers and their staff that are impacting most heavily on decisions made by providers about staff development. The changing policy context of VET strongly influences the nature and extent of staff development, particularly so in the case of public institutions. The combined impact of the changes in the VET sector is causing increased pressures on the work of teachers and trainers. This factor is reported as easily the most critical factor in preventing them from undertaking further staff development. Nevertheless, the results indicate that a substantial quantum of both formal and less formal staff development is happening.

The degree to which permanent, contract and casual/sessional staff had access to and participated in staff development was found to differ greatly. Providers generally favour permanent staff in terms of their support for staff development. Currently there are substantial barriers to participation in staff development for both permanent and non-permanent staff. The study identified five main barriers - time, access, lack of funding, lack of information and cost.

Throughout this study, the various informants made frequent reference to three interrelated concerns which had as their focus: funding, sectoral change and competition. Linked to these concerns, three key trends were identified as emerging, or already evident and becoming stronger:

  • a shift in the balance of staff development activities away from individual to corporate concerns
  • greater differentiation in the roles of teachers and trainers
  • an increasing diversity in the ways staff development needs are addressed

This study has articulated some of the tensions that exist between priorities for meeting corporate and staff needs within the VET sector. Key stakeholders identified current challenges for staff development almost entirely in terms of compliance with the immediate agendas of various external agencies to whom the providers are accountable. The needs of the individual were seen as second order. The implication was that students would be best served by organisations achieving a high order of compliance in nominated areas. On the other hand, when asked to identify future staff development challenges, areas related to the development of individual expertise as a teacher or trainer came to the fore. There would appear to be a realisation that quality VET delivery will require individual expertise of a high order. Nevertheless, current resourcing is primarily directed to compliance.

The results suggest that the roles of teachers/trainers will become more differentiated. Teachers will need to be appropriately skilled so that their practice reflects the changes resulting from the new sectoral requirements emerging from this increasingly differentiated workforce in VET. For some trainers, the focus of their contribution to VET delivery will be very narrow; some may be employed almost solely for their technical currency and have minimal training in instructional techniques.

The implications of this differentiated approach are significant, and are discussed in the report. In particular, a differentiated workforce implies that staff development requirements will vary. Those with higher responsibilities are most likely to have greater access to staff development opportunities. It seems likely that little staff development beyond the Certificate IV in Assessment and Workplace Training will be made available by providers. There are signs that many contract and part-time practitioners are upgrading qualifications in order to seek permanency at a time when such opportunities are becoming less common.

In the current situation, staff development has often come to be associated with information downloading. This is a reflection of the compliance/time pressures on the VET sector in a culture of 'top down' change. This environment increases the tension between the compliance needs of systems/organisations and the needs of the individual as a professional, and also highlights the uncertainty and lack of agreement over what is legitimate staff development. This in turn raises the question of what constitutes a VET professional at a time when the teaching role is being broken down into professionals and paraprofessionals.

There was considerable evidence of an increasing diversity in the ways staff development needs are addressed, with responses prompted by many different factors explained in the report. At present it seems that individual providers and systems are struggling to address these factors using a variety of approaches, some of which are ad hoc and reactive. The situation is clouded by a lack of suitable evaluation of staff development programs and their impact.

Staff development provisions appear to be inadequate to meet demands at the present time. This is especially true for non-permanent staff who deliver the majority of training programs in many training providers. Questionnaire data indicated that many staff had not completed any staff development related to current National Training Framework issues and artefacts such as training packages, user choice, New Apprenticeships and competency based assessment despite the emphasis on the need for compliance. These data were supported by key stakeholders suggesting that about half the current teachers and trainers in the VET sector did not possess the necessary attributes, skills and knowledge needed to face future challenges. Unless such inadequacies are addressed, the quality of VET provision is likely to suffer.

While examples of good practice in staff development were revealed in this study, there was also evidence of the need to improve the quality of and participation rate in staff development programs. The project identified seven critical success factors in staff development and these were used to generate a process-oriented framework of 'good practice'. The use of this process-based framework is intended to guide the creation of a variety of programs in response to a diversity of needs. Such a diversity of responses provides an appropriate basis for the successful evolution of vocational education and training within the changing environment and should help ensure the sustainability of industries served by the sector.

The study concluded with eight recommendations and a number of areas for further research.


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