Home | Opinion | The Industry View, part 2: employer views of VET and implications for training product reform

The Industry View, part 2: employer views of VET and implications for training product reform

In this second part in the series on industry views on training product reform, we tackle head on calls by non-industry stakeholders for VET to be more broad-based instead of being specifically job facing.

Over the last decade there have been non-industry stakeholders within the vocational education and training (VET) system that seek to alter the specific job-facing nature of VET and create qualifications that are more “broad-based”. ACCI and its members have consistently pushed back against this proposal, both in stakeholder forums and in various submissions. 

There is no doubt that there is a need for change to deal with the complexity and rigidities of training products, but there is no evidence of employer support for the qualifications to be more “broad-based”. 

Employer satisfaction with the VET system has declined, with 72 percent of employers who have jobs that require vocational qualifications surveyed by the National Centre for Vocational Education and Research in 2019 being satisfied that vocational qualifications provide employees with the skills they need for the job, down from 85 percent in 2011.[1] 

This is often quoted as one of the reasons why training products need to change and certainly it is a cause for some concern. But there is a need to look deeper into the survey evidence to understand where the main dissatisfaction points are before drawing a conclusion. 

Of the 13 per cent of employers who in 2019 expressed dissatisfaction with vocational qualifications in providing employees with the skills they require for the job (being a similar level to 2017 – 12.8 per cent):

  • 57 per cent felt that the training was of a poor quality or low standard,
  • 44 per cent felt that relevant skills weren’t taught and
  • 42 per cent felt that there was not enough focus on practical skills. This factor saw the most significant change when compared to 2017 when only 29 per cent of employers cited this reason.

A logical deduction from this evidence indicates that the rise in employer dissatisfaction is largely due to concerns about training delivery and also to a perceived lack of practical skills being delivered. This is a long way from any idea that the qualifications were not broad enough. It could be successfully argued that a broader base qualification is likely to deliver less practical skill.

Looking at apprentices, 78 per cent of employers who had apprentices (which is 23 percent of all employers) were satisfied they had the skills they need; 10 percent were dissatisfied with the training provided to apprentices and trainees, similar to 2017. Of these, 57 per cent felt that the training was of a poor quality or low standard, 33 per cent felt that there was not enough focus on practical skills and 30 per cent felt that relevant skills weren’t taught.

It is important to note that the NCVER don’t even ask the question of employers as to whether the training is too specific and not broad enough.  It even sounds absurd to write the prospect down.

As ACCI has stated repeatedly in its submissions over the years, the fact that workers are likely to have many jobs over their career is not a reason to try and make a qualification (often their first) prepare them for all of these jobs. The most important role that training can play is to ensure the graduate is as job-ready as possible, and to make the task of securing employment easier. They may not always get a job in the occupation that their training prepared them for, but overall employment outcomes for VET qualifications compare favourably with higher education. For trade apprentices, the graduate job outcomes are over 90 percent, which is similar to the most vocational and job-specific of higher education courses such as medicine and pharmacy.

Often stakeholders quote health and personal care as examples of how a broad-based qualification can be applied, with many common units and specialisations. Importantly, this to some extent has already been achieved within the existing system, without the need for change. We need to ask the question, what does a 'broad based qualification' look like in plumbing, or electrical or welding? What does it look like at the lower levels such as qualifications that prepare people to be waiters or bar attendants at Certificate II?

If what some advocates believe is 'a broad-based qualification' is simply ensuring there is a continuing drive towards reducing duplication, developing and recognising more common units and ensuring that soft skills are better incorporated and funded in the delivery, then these are reforms that industry supports. If, however, a 'broad-based qualification' shifts the very basis of the VET system away from the concept that the fundamental building block of VET is occupational skill standards needed for particular job roles and then building qualifications and skill sets based on those standards in order to deliver training relevant to those jobs, then industry does not support this shift and neither should Governments. 

Graduates from both VET and higher education have much better employment outcomes from qualifications that are specific to particular occupations. It is to the benefit of both students and employers to keep VET operating within this frame.

In part 3 of The Industry View, I will address the concerns raised about there being too many qualifications in VET. 

Click here for part 1.

Jenny Lambert is director, employment and skills, at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

[1] NCVER 2020, Employers use and views of the VET System 2019, Adelaide: NCVER

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