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TAFE by passed « Previous | |Next »
November 5, 2007

It is strange isn't it. The policy emphasis being on investment in skills training and skills formation to address the current skill shortages to ensure ongoing economic growth and prosperity for all. Inadequate workforce skills, it is argued, have contributed to Australia’s declining productivity performance in recent years. CoAG's reform agenda is to improve the skill levels of the Australian population (and thus increase the level of human capital).

Yet both sides of politics continue to ignore the public TAFE sector. Despite the vocational education being traditionally based on the kinds of on-the- job training offered through TAFE, the TAFE sector has become "the great Cinderella" of Australian education.

What we are being offered is a vastly enlarged technical colleges program by the Coalition to address the declining skills formation capacity. So we have a duplication of infrastructure, planning, resources, processes and results that are already available and recognised regionally, nationally through TAFE institutes and colleges.

Why so? Why isn't TAFE being reformed? Isn't this a viable way to address the growing need for more highly developed cognitive and behavioural skills amongst all levels of the workforce?

Is it a case that old policy instruments are now not necessarily adequate for the current situation. The old training regime was structured primarily around trades training, assumed ongoing (i.e. permanent) employment. The ALP's response is Skills Australia, a new institution to advise the government on how to address skills shortages in the work force.

What has happened is the “education” part of vocational education and training has been narrowed into “key competencies”, and then has morphed into “employability skills”.The dichotomy of “vocational” versus “general” education has become entrenched. What has been pushed to one side is the contextual knowledge and information about the trade which enables the worker to become an autonomous learner.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:14 AM | | Comments (8)
Comments

Comments

Gary,
My recollection is that at the time Malcom Fraser was Minister for Education and Science there was a recognised shortage of technical people in Austrlia. The best of the Tech. Colleges were morphed into technical institutes of higher learning, eventually with university status. What became TAFE colleges were left behind and have been struggling ever since.

I do not know how or if the C'wealth does put money into TAFE? Does anyone know how the C'wealth arrived at the decision to create its own group of trade colleges. Was there consultation with the States, with industry, the unions. I suspect no to all of the above. Seems more like one of Howard's gut feeling things.

It is certainly a crazy waste of money and human resources to duplicate a system which is up and running. Build on what you have would have been more responible economic management. The current Government seems intent on duplicating bits and pieces of what the States are already doing. We will have utter chaos if it continues.

Your question about what knowlege and experience people need to have to safely perform tasks that are the convential and modern trades. We need to ask industry and the people who do the work. Certainly politicians are not likly to have the answers.

Gary,
TAFE is now about:
1.a narrow technical skills determined by industry, signified by Training Packages and verified by audits;
2. a deficit model of second chance education.

It is definitely not about an education that all people have a right to enable them to participate as citizens in contemporary society. Many in TAFE argue that,if we are to move the debate about the future of TAFE forward, then we must reject the false dichotomies between general and vocational education foisted on the sector, assert the essential role of a public provider, and fight for the rights of all students in the sector to a general education.

It's a forlorn hope, since not even the universities these days provide the sort of general education that enables citizens to participate in a contemporary informational society.

Nan,
the other view about TAFE is that we need to rethink the nature of vocational education and training so that we go beyond employability skills--however broadly these are defined--and industry derived competencies.

TAFE, in other words, needs to engage students in critical thinking and knowledge creation.This is not a common view of the vocational education provided by TAFE.

Gratton,
TAFE is state based and run by the states. They turned it in a fee-based education in the 1980s and their politicians hold that it must be run as an education business.

The commonwealth had no interest in taking over TAFE, hence the turn to technical colleges.

Nan,
I agree. From what I have read the alliance between TAFE and industry, by prioritising economic needs over educational and social, is still very strong. TAFE continues to remain the servant of industry, producing skilled manpower to build national wealth and prosperity. This does seem to be questioned.

VET policy and practice are premised on two fundamental assumptions that have acquired the status of self-evident truths in the structure, culture and programs of VET institutions.

The principal, if not sole, purposes of VET are to:

1. promote economic growth through the development of the human resources required by industry to enhance productivity and profit;
2. produce skills and competencies for work,
thereby enhancing the employability of individuals.

Economic growth is taken for granted as the principal rationale of training reform. Implicit is the assumption that natural resources are infinite and can be exploited at will, without any consideration of the wider consequences for the global ecosystem. The only perceived constraints on growth are deficiencies in the nation’s human resources, which if developed fully through VET would increase productivity.

There is little critical thinking about needing to ensure sustainable economic growth in an ecological sense.

Gary,
the right wing/business version of vocationalism has other strands to the ones that you mention, eg.,

1. educational standards are falling and our workers are not as good as those overseas and therefore our industries are in trouble;
2. TAFE and universities are not in harmony with the "real" world of work and won't or can't teach contemporary skills that industry wants to secure growth;
3.Curriculum is inappropriate to needs of "modern" world or is not teaching the right things or is teaching too many "soft" or "mickey mouse" subjects which are useless in the real world.
4. Teachers are running the show and neglecting the needs of the community and industry. The teachers are either too radical or are incompetent being isolated from industry and need greater monitoring and control. Teacher unions are unresponsive and self-serving;
5. radical changes to the centralised employment conditions of TAFE teaching are needed to free up conditions so teachers are more responsive to market demands;
6. The commercial and economic health of the nation is threatened, if the above are not implemented.

it seems to me there are other factors as well. In Wollongong we can observe the impact of the world-wide effect of de-industrialization, with the withering of the underlying capital and skills base. An industrialized labor force is been replaced by "the new entrepreneurial" economy of small business who are not interested in education or training. Then there is the effect of computers and the robotization of work by which superior standardization of work can be achieved with minimal human skill, and human capital is redundant.

Gary,I suspect we are being a little impatient about political action on the TAFE system.Next week could reveal progress. After all we still have two weeks to go>