Friday, July 13, 2012

NCVER - 'no-frills' vocational education research conference - day 1

In Adelaide this week for the annual National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) 'no-frills conference. On Wednesday, workshops convened and there was a welcome reception followed by an 'Intelligence2' debate organised by St. James Ethics Centre and presented through NCVER as part of the celebrations for the 21st year of the 'no-frills' conference. The topic was "Having a university degree is grossly overrated" with Professor Peter Shergold, Annabel Crabb and Dr. Lyn Arnold arguing for and Professor David Finegold, Hon Annabel Vanstone and Stephen Johnston arguing against. The debate was supported by an audience of over 700 and provided an enervating start for the conference.

The official Day one of the conference began at the TAFE SA (South Australia) campus. After a welcome from Dr. Tom Karmel (NCVER director) and a traditional welcome to country, to the land of the Ngana people, the first keynote was from Adrian Smith (chair of the Australian Training and Skills commission) on modernising South Australia's skill base. He presented pros and cons of the demand-driven system for VET and presented SA experiences in bringing about change. Skill bases have changed as SA moves from declining manufacturing sector work to growing minerals based industries. Limitations to the supply-driven systems include difficulty of accurately predicting demand and providers focused on numbers and existing capabilities. Skills for All launched to fund training, ACE and VET infrastructure. A managed approach with funding incentives for qualifications in short supply and capping where there is excess student demand and monitoring of RTO quality seen to be way forward.

Second keynote from Professor David Finegold (Rutgers University - US o A) on 'the 21st century workforce: China, India and implications for Australia. Both China and India trying to move from low skill equilibrium (LSE) to high skill ecosystems (HSEs). Globilisation causing movement of higher value added services and knowledge work from Us to India and China. China now a global leader in low-cost manufacturing and shifting investment to innovation and investment. In the last decade increased graduates from 600.000 to 7 miliion with many gradutea travelling overseas to complete post-graduate qualifications. However, both China and India face in challenges (of different kinds) and countries like Australia need to find out how to match the gaps. Both countries have exploding middle class, willingness to invest in education and for India, high numbers of young people. Therefore, Australia positioned to be Asian VET and HE leader through continued investment, re-branding, offerings tailored to local and regional need and welcoming immigration policies.

After lunch, concurrent sessions begin (6 streams) so I attend the sessions relevant to trades-based learning. First up, Karen O'Reilly-Briggs on 'the master artisan'. Started with overview of the apprenticeship system in Europe. Identified gaps/differences between European and Australian crafts training and continued with rationale for investigating viability of introducing a master-level programme for trades people in Australia. Support for concept found but also revealed frustration and dissatisfaction from trade industry representatives with current AQF system. Suggest importance of existing trade qualifciations, idenity and need to address intrinsic motivation for completing trades careers and reaffirm professional trade identity before meanful pathways for master qualification for artisans proceeds.

Then a session with Professor David Dowling on 'consulting with industry and other stakeholders to define a set of graduate capabilities. Worked through process of how to engage engineers in setting up graduate capabilities (Stephen & Yorke, 1998, p2). Part of a policy driven programme design and delivery process. Review of attributes begins the process. Stake houlder consultation starts with divergent phase (each group - practitioners, former students and teachers), then a convergent phase (each gorup forms clusters of skills ), data analysed and fed into development of graduate capability guide.

Stian Thorensen from Curtin University presented on 'initial pathways and transitions of apprenticveces and trainees with disabilities'. Findings from the first year of a three year longitudinal study presented involving 404 apprentices and a comparison group of 85 without disabilities. Rationale and research method presented. Postal survely and ingerview with 30 across 3 states used to identify social economic outcomes and barriers/facilitators to participation. Map starting points, key change points, destinations, outcomes and career intentions.

After afternoon tea, my session on 'first year apprentices of workplace learning' took place. Tiering of employers' ability to traing and apprentices' expectations for training suggested by one participant as a method to try to better match employers and apprentices.

Next. Flip Leijten presented on his 'peer learning project' using videos taking pre and post feedback workshop intervention to find out 'effectiveness of peer learning in vocational training settings.

Dr. Phil Toner from University of Sydney, then presented on 'diversity in pre-apprenticeship programmes'. These programmes carried out with training providers allow people to try out apprenticeship before they sign up. However, in line with previous research (Folye & Blomberg, 2010; Karmel & Oliver, 2010)  pre-apprenticeships were found to not lead to better apprenticeship completions.

Conference dinner at Regency College capped a full day.