Friday, April 24, 2009

ITF vocational education research forum Day 1

The annual NZ vocational education & research forum was convened by the ITF (Industry Training Federation) over two days this week. It is heartening to see vocational education research flourishing in NZ, in part via the provision of contested funding from Ako Aotearoa to conduct research in the tertiary sector. This year almost 200 people attend the 2 day conference compared to about 40 at the first conference 6 years ago.

This year, the conference was held at Victoria University’s Rutherford House. Conference opened with a warm & pertinent welcome from Hon. Anne Tolley, Minister of Tertiary Education.

First keynote was from Professor David Ashton, from SKOPE at the University of Cardiff & the University of Leicester. He spoke on the topic of the global auction of skills: implications for sector approaches to workforce development. Two main arguments were put forward. One that there should be (but is not) a relationship between how much money is put into training & the returns on investment. Secondly, the influence of multinational organisations on training direction which is not in synchrony with national interest. The study was based on surveys / interviews etc in seven countries & four core sectors. Presentation started with a good overview on labour markets etc over the last couple of decades related to changes in the organisation of production due to globalisation. He presented the idea of ‘skill webs’ & how they have evolved from low skill (high skilled work remained in home country, dependent on quality of national ed. system & rewards determined by national internal revenue) to strategic skill webs (global supply of skills, internationalised skill strategies). This presentation provided much food for thought as to how a small country like NZ is going to be able to contribute, utilise & ameliorate the effects of globalisation. With the advent of ‘virtual R & D teams’ working via ‘digital taylorism’ the world is ‘flat’ & participation by NZers becomes easier but also more challenging with competition from countries like China, India & Russia.

Concurrent sessions then ran. First up motivating learners to complete qualification through workplace leanring by Karen Moses, R & D senior advisor for LearningState (the ITO for state sector organisations). Concern on low completion rates of tertiary learners (including apprentices & trainees). 70% of learning happens through work & life experiences, 10% through training & 20% through coaching and mentoring. A workplace assessment model based on Cheetham & Chivers (2005) model of professional competence. Examples of how this model works was then provided. Key motivator was relevance of learning, learning that may lead to future careers, learning which was challenging & provided social opportunities for interaction, qualification a form of legal tender, RPL & RCC available. Self direction was a sign of motivation in learners & readiness to learn emerges from the need to learn.

After lunch, I attended the session with Dr. Peter Coolbear , Dr. Kirsty Weir & Dr. Warren Sellers from Ako Aotearoa on enhancing the value & impact of research into voc. ed. & training. Ako Aoteoroa is funding 18 million a year on various projects to tertiary education. The presentation was on how to ensure the research leads on to best possible educational outcomes for all learners. An inventory of voc. ed reseach in NZ from 2003 – 2008 reveal 118 pieces of work but much of this is not widely disseminated or known by practitioners. Pasteur’s quadrant was used by Tooley & Darby (1998) to identify type of research needed to improve practice. Integrity of method suggested as most effective way to ensure research outcomes are effective and have impact on practice. Ako selected 40 projects & mapped these against the quadrant for methodological integrity & potential impact. 21 of the projects were ‘health sector’ based with the other 10 spread across other types of workplaces. 70% were in the quadrant indicating low methodological & potential impact. Limitations included unclear results, work not build on previous literature, little triangulation, quantitative research measured perceptions & lack of generalisable findings. Ako will work together to help foster user generated research and to support & encourage practitioners to take advantage of use-inspired research,

Then a session from Dr. Johnny Sung, University of Leicester on the varying nature of industry-led VET training. Instigating ‘sector skills councils’ may not lead to actual industry –led training. Four broad types of industry led VET systems were examined. Analysed via nature of employer / industry led varies hugely between systems, way funding channelled through sectoral system, way employers may influence qualifications & training content, employers role in creating training places. Into the models of employer involved, employer modelled, employer owned & employer driven. An associated paper on the role of employers in sector skills development provides background & good information.

My session came after afternoon tea. I presented on a small part of my thesis, the concept of ‘proximal participation’ in helping young people ‘belong to a workplace’. The apprentices in my study ‘fell into the trade’ after working in the bakery as cleaners, dishwashers, retail assistants and catering assistants. These support / peripheral jobs provided the opportunity to ‘belong to the workplace’ by building relationships with the other workers in the bakery, trying out the baking lifestyle and viewing the practice bakery work. As proximal participants, they could adopt an identity as an observer. In order for proximal participation to be effective, time span of the engagement with the work had to be long enough to allow relationships to build.

Last session from Elizabeth Valentine, CEO of ATTTO & Steve Hanrahan, CEO of HSI. They spoke on career maps & pathways into the tourism and hospitality industries. Project revolved around providing career maps, articulating career paths, national map of provision and defining a process for “lifting the bar” funded by the TEC. Project was to assist with preparing the two industries for the Rugby World cup in 2011 & then the Cricket World cup in 2015. Example of the career mapper database for baristas was presented as how the career maps were constructed.