Author: Dr Gail Crossley-Craven, CC Education & Business Services, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. drcc@drcc.com.au

Abstract

Systemic changes are required in TVET education in schools. In our fast pace of life, there seems to be an educational shift to shorten the duration of vocational education and degrees and this is actually devaluing education rather than promoting it. I have a dream that will transform schools into meaningful, global, vocational education and training experiences where governments and businesses internationally collaborate to allow our young people to professionally advance through making a significant and meaningful contribution to world-wide economic growth. My vision consists of firstly having a 4 year embedded VET studies to commence in Year 9 and to be completed in Year 12; secondly schools to become entrepreneurial with their students; and thirdly schools to collaborate internationally for Year 12 VET students to learn VET with an international focus. This three-point model considers the seven sets of influences that are contributed to successful job outcomes. To move forward from its conception, several considerations are crucial for this dream to become a reality. There would need to be an overall change of mindset and change of pedagogy. Key Words: VET, schools, education

I have a dream… that one day schools will deliver meaningful, global, vocational education and training experiences. I have a dream that one day governments and businesses internationally will collaborate with schools to allow our young people to educationally and professionally advance their contribution to world-wide economic growth. Regardless of the country, organisations and governing bodies encounter a conundrum: increasing levels of youth unemployment and young job seekers with inadequate job skills. How can governments and businesses worldwide successfully transition the younger generation from education to employment? This is not global breaking news and unfortunately, there is not a quick fix solution. Many young people around the world, especially the disadvantaged, are leaving school without the skills they need to thrive in society and to find employment. As well as thwarting young people’s hopes, these education failures are jeopardizing equitable economic growth and social cohesion, and preventing many countries from reaping the potential human capital that lies latent in our youth. Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) seeks to provide an opportunity for our youth to obtain knowledge through the study of technologies, linked disciplines and the acquisition of practical skills, attitudes, work-related understanding and knowledge in different areas of economic contribution. TVET includes technical education, vocational education, vocational training, on-the-job training, traineeship and apprenticeship training as well as a combination of the mentioned. Today, I will briefly look at the background and methodology of this sector. I will then discuss why systemic changes are required in TVET education in schools and share my dream. This dream will transform schools into meaningful, global, vocational education and training experiences where governments and businesses internationally collaborate to allow our young people to professionally advance through making a significant and meaningful contribution to world-wide economic growth.

Background

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has established collective strategic frameworks that guide government action on schooling and vocational education and training (VET) across Australia. Raising productivity is the key outcome for COAG (2012). COAG (2012) recognises that developing an effective and efficient workforce in these sectors is crucial to accomplishing the desired outcome. Students’ VET expectations and perceptions are largely influenced by the knowledge and skills of their teachers and trainers, their peers, the equipment used and the students’ exposure to the applicability of the learning to the wider community. Therefore, it is imperative that VET students are given the opportunity and experience to learn in an environment that is rich in diversity to equip them to effectively contribute in the workplace in a diverse world. This is the great challenge facing VET in the school context.

Methodology

The methodology that I have adopted is the application of an understanding of the literature to my experience. This synthesis has enabled me to develop an innovative approach to VET within the school environment that is linked with the global world. The literature on learning is extensive and covers a vast array of viewpoints. Depending upon the ideological position of the researcher or educational commentator, differing elements are emphasised. The range of elements, by no means exhaustive, include knowledge or skills acquisition (Bloom, 1956) cognition (Gagné, 1985), adult learning (Brookfield, 1986; Candy, 1991; Merriam, 2001; Mezirow, 1994), learning for intrinsic reasons (Fauré; 1972), learning as an individual of a community (Wenger, 1998) and learning and re-learning for personal identity (Falk & Kilpatrick, 2000). It is possible to integrate this wide range of learning perspectives within the VET programme.

Many young people have become disaffected by learning (Allan, 2014;Jones, 2013). Workbased learning has a demonstrated effectiveness in reducing this disaffection (Allan, 2014;Hall and Raffo, 2004) and providing young people with direction (Anlezark, Karmel and Ong, 2006;

Sondergaard and Murthi, 2012). Within Australia, research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2011) found that male Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who had been involved in VET in schools were more likely to complete Year 12. Students involved in VET programmes were more engaged and had improved vocational outcomes than those not involved in VET programmes (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011). This suggests that an effective VET programme can have a significant impact on improving the social wellbeing of the student (Balatti and Falk, 2002).

In the context of the role that meaningful work plays in the shaping of one’s personal identity as an individual and within a wider social context, there are seven key influences from the individual’s viewpoint that contribute to the successful outcomes of any VET programme. These are: (1) the individual’s condition; (2) the individual’s emotional status; (3) the individual’s employment attitudes; (4) the individual’s work-ready skills; (5) the individual’s qualifications, education and training; (6) the individual’s work related experience; and (7) the individual’s attitude to their career. These elements need to be understood in order to achieve the intrinsic and extrinsic outcomes that can arise from involvement in a VET programme (Copps and Plimmer, 2013).

VET programmes are more than just the creation of human capital. They can develop social capital (Coleman, 1988 Falk and Kilpatrick, 2000). Effective VET programmes foster participation and engagement (Billett, 2002). They are about providing vocational progression through self-awareness and achievement grounded in meaningful work (Hartung, 2013; Hodgson and Spours, 2010). Shortterm VET experiences that are not grounded in the life span of the individual are limited in their effectiveness (Kammermann and Hättich, 2011; Newhouse and Suryadarma, 2011). Long-term VET programmes can be highly effective in the positive development of the individual (Klotz, Billett and Winther, 2014).

The implementation of VET programmes can be demanding. The importance of commitment and the challenge of gaining this commitment from employers to a VET programme can be highly demanding (Dustman and Schonberg, 2012). Current VET programmes and approaches are often highly restrictive due to contextual and resource limits (Thompson, 2010). They are often developed as an add-on to the school curriculum without any real integration.

There is little doubt that education needs a transformation if learning is to remain relevant for a large number of our young people. A report by UNESCO advances the need for a globalised orientation of education founded in international co-operation and assistance (Faure, 1972; United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2012). Innovative VET programmes must be a part of this transformation (Rauner and Smith, 2010; Turner and Lapan, 2013).

Why systemic changes are required

Why are changes required in the education system? Firstly, in our fast pace of life, there seems to be an educational shift to shorten the duration of vocational education and degrees and this is actually devaluing education rather than promoting it. A reputable Australian Institution advertises daily that people can complete three fully accredited Post-Graduate Business Qualifications (including an MBA) in 12 months while working! In my way of thinking, this devalues education and makes a mockery of higher education. This is not part of my dream for education; it is becoming a nightmare. Why are people and governments attracted to a fast and furious way of learning? While it might be advantageous to list these “qualifications” on your resume, I question the validity of them and the true usefulness of them in a practical world. In fact, if I was interviewing a person who had completed three fully accredited Post-Graduate Business Qualifications (including an MBA) in 12 months while working, I would be highly suspicious and question other aspects of their resume. To me, this is a deterrent. I certainly understand that the sooner a person completes their studies, the sooner they can earn money and contribute to the economy of the country. However, I cannot understand how some VET and higher educational providers can continually shorten the duration of their courses and still claim to deliver quality and meaningful education to students who are expected to implement their learning in the real world.

Secondly, not all people want to embark on a particular path of study but feel pressure to do so; pressure can come from parents, family, schools, teachers, peers, society and perhaps cultural obligation. Perhaps the student does not possess the capability to complete this course of study and resort to employing someone to assist with the assignments. All too often schools and colleges are requiring students to complete VET courses for the educational institution’s reputation rather than for the student’s career pathway. This method of educating devalues vocational education itself and can detract from the appeal of learning. Furthermore completing VET course for the sake of it, creates an academic-vocational divide with the view that vocational education is a quick fix to gainful employment rather than a meaningful learning experience that will take the student to a career path of their choice. Educational institutions that participate in this practice are doing themselves a dis-service as well as potentially steering the student in the wrong career direction.

School-based VET students usually commence VET studies in Year 11. By this stage of schooling, some students are disengaged with school and seek alternative options that do not usually involve completion of a course that will lead them to a stable career and income. Students’ engagement in securing gainful employment and job-related learning are essential for developing their capability and employment pathways. People who are in full-time employment, full-time study, or a combination of part-time work and part-time study are considered fully engaged (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014). In my practice, young people who are fully engaged are at less risk of an insecure employment future and seem less likely to personally suffer from general anxiety. Furthermore according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2014), ‘students who did not go on to higher education and participated in VET in Schools were more likely to be employed full time five years after doing Year 11’. Also reported in this group was the ‘level of full-time employment for males five years after Year 11 had increased from 63% to 66% for the sub-population that did VET in Schools while females had increased from 46% to 49%’ (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014). There is no doubt in my mind that these figures from the ABS could be increased if the VET system in schools was changed to encompass and incorporate VET that is truly targeted to the student and embedded in the secondary education curriculum. Therefore, it is important for students’ engagement that they are encouraged to participate in VET early in their secondary schooling for the development of their capabilities and lasting employment pathways.

My dream to transform VET in schools

Transforming VET in schools will be no easy feat but I believe vast changes need to be implemented in order for my dream for education to come to fruition. My vision for meaningful, global, vocational education and training experiences consists firstly of having a 4 year embedded VET studies to commence in Year 9 and to be completed in Year 12; secondly schools to become entrepreneurial with their students; and thirdly schools to collaborate internationally for Year 12 VET students to learn VET with an international focus. This three-point model considers the seven sets of influences that are contributed to successful job outcomes. To move forward from its conception, several considerations are crucial for this dream to become a reality. There would need to be an overall change of mindset and change of pedagogy.

The first point of my vision is to introduce a 4-year embedded VET studies to secondary students who would commence in Year 9 and would be completed at the end of Year 12. In the education vision I am proposing, the decision of matching a course to a Year 9 student would not be taken lightly. It is envisaged that students would be screened through interviews and assessments to ascertain the particular VET sector or sectors to which they are most suited. Opportunities arise at schools where students are offered VET course at school because there is a vacancy in that course not because the student is suited to the course or indeed has an interest or a desire to work in that particular VET sector. Once again, this method of VET selection and student/course fit devalues VET studies and can create a wider gap between the student, student learning and the career path pertaining to that VET sector. Additionally, the students would have VET studies counselling by wellinformed professionals to avoid students from completing unrelated certificates that would result in a confused direction for their career path. Rather than the current trend to streamline courses that condenses them so much that underpinning knowledge and scaffolding of information is often omitted, the inclusion of broader and more in-depth content of the VET course would truly add value to VET studies in schools. A consultation process between government bodies, industry authorities and professional people in the VET sectors would be conducted to determine how VET studies in schools can be enriched to include some of the much needed information, content and practice that has been omitted in some of the condensed versions of VET courses that are being currently delivered to VET students. With the inclusion of broader as well as more in-depth content in VET courses, students are more likely to have a deeper understanding of knowledge in their chosen field. Therefore the students would be more likely to transfer that knowledge into the workplace to experience successful job outcomes. A 4-year embedded VET studies to secondary students who would commence in Year 9 and would be completed in Year 12 would increase the individual’s emotional status, the individual’s employment attitudes, the individual’s work-ready skills, the individual’s qualifications, education and training and the individual’s attitude to their career.

My second point is that schools need to become more entrepreneurial with their students. Schools have the capacity to provide many opportunities for students to participate in VET studies and work in the selected VET areas of study within the school community. It is unique as secondary schools are one of the few areas where students could be exposed to the majority of VET study sectors without necessarily leaving the school environment thus providing a safe learning and working environment. It takes a total change of mindset by government and industry bodies, all school staff, parent and guardians, the students and the school community. Students would be more likely to take ownership of their VET learning if they perceived it as an ongoing daily valuable and practical contribution to the workplace. Schools are businesses and by using innovative business savvy, VET studies can be embedded into the business management of the school. Think about the VET sectors that apply to a school. The VET students could: assist in the school’s business administration; install, program and maintain the school’s technology; build and maintain the school’s website; the cater for the school’s tuckshop/canteen; cater for school functions and events; manage the school’s tuckshop; supply sustainable produce to the school’s catering ventures; landscape the school’s gardens; maintain the school grounds; maintain and complete construction projects which would include plumbing, carpentry, painting and bricklaying. Each of these areas would be discrete, profit centres to teach business acumen to VET students. This list is only the beginning of the innovative and entrepreneurial ways that secondary schools can incorporate VET students’ studies to transform schools into meaningful, vocational education and training experiences to allow our young people to professionally advance through their contribution to economic growth of the school community. This entrepreneurial approach to VET studies would transfer to successful job outcomes through the student’s conditions; the student’s emotional status; the student’s employment attitudes; the student’s work-ready skills; the student’s qualifications, education and training; the student’s work related experience; and the students’ attitude to their career.

My last point of my vision is for schools to internationally collaborate for Year 12 VET students to learn VET with an international focus. Under my vision, Year 12 students would have already completed three years of the four-year VET course so would meet the challenge of learning from and communicating with international VET students, international VET staff and international business people. People with degrees have more of an opportunity to work internationally than vocationally trained people. We need to break down the barrier to the academic-vocational divide by transforming schools into international vocational education bodies rather than only a local community focus to allow the international stage to recognize and embrace the value of VET students in the same manner as people with degrees. In this technological age of Skype and the like, virtual classrooms, webinars, video conferencing, attending video conferences and the many other technologies unlisted and undiscovered, teaching VET with an international focus is both feasible and viable. This international approach to VET studies would contribute to successful job outcomes through the conditions; emotional status; employment attitudes; international work-ready skills; the student’s qualifications, education and training that would be accepted internationally; the student’s work related experience; and the students’ attitude to their career that could be potentially international.

Conclusion

I am not naïve in that I am fully aware that this vision will not happen overnight and will be met with road-blocks along the journey. There is much to be done as I have mentioned. For my vision to become a reality, strategic thinking and planning among a collaboration of educational institutions (secondary, tertiary), governments, industry bodies, organisations/businesses with an international focus and professional experts needs to take place. Systemic changes are required in TVET education in schools due to our fast pace of life where there seems to be an educational shift to shorten the duration of vocational education which is actually devaluing education rather than promoting it. Essentially students would commence their VET studies in Year 9 at the age of 14 rather than the current system where most schools commence VET students’ VET studies when they are in Year 11. The students would be thoroughly guided and counseled prior to programme commencement to ensure a correct fit to match the student and to the VET programme. In the four years until they complete Year 12, the students would be trained with a local entrepreneurial focus in the safe environment of the school as well as an international focus in their chosen area of study while they are in their fourth year of the VET programme. This three-point model considers the seven sets of influences that are contributed to successful job outcomes. The seven key influences from an individual’s viewpoint that contribute to the successful outcomes of any VET programme are met using my vision. These elements will achieve the intrinsic and extrinsic outcomes from the involvement in this proposed VET programme.

To move forward from its conception, several considerations are crucial for this dream to become a reality. There would need to be an overall change of mindset and change of pedagogy. Furthermore, government, industry and corporation collaboration for student sponsorship would provide the muchneeded resources to change the future of VET studies in schools. My dream is that one day schools will deliver meaningful, global, vocational education and training experiences and governments and businesses internationally will collaborate to allow our young people to educationally and professionally advance their contribution to world-wide economic growth. My dream is also that I live long enough to witness this meaningful VET experience.

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