Wednesday, April 14, 2010

ITF NZ vocational education research forum

At the annual NZ vocational education and training research forum held at Victoria University’s Rutherford House. Over 200 participants and a host of interesting presentations to look forward to. Flip Leijten, who is working with me on the multimodal projects is also attending, It will be good to find out his perspectives on the various concepts he will encounter over the two days. It is a good way to introduce Flip to conference presentations as next year we plan to present our findings from the multimodal projects at this conference & other similar ones in Oz.

Jeremy Baker CEO of ITF opens with a warm welcome. Seems many abstracts submitted but presentations selected for quality and relevance. Representatives from all sectors of voc. ed. in NZ represented and this is the one conference in NZ which is focused on voc. ed. research. Good to see the growth of interest in the area considering that there was very little research in NZ in voc. ed. a decade ago.

Conference opens with a welcome address from Dr. Peter Coolbear, director of Ako Aotearoa who spoke on excellence in vocational education in NZ. Focus on defining excellence as being the learner perspective & how learners and employers view their educational experience and assess the value of their learning. Drivers of excellence include personal motivation of learner, personal motivation of educator, the organisation, the system, policy settings and the funding incentives. Also provided an overview of the four Ako Aotearoa National funded projects plus some of the hub projects and good practise projects how these fit into the Ako Aotearoa objectives of ensuring key findings reach decision makers to provide for prompt action.

First keynote by Professor Richard Lakes from Georgia State University on VET sectors: Alignments in workforce and economic development. Began with a summary of USA voc. ed. direction. Then discussed the national crisis of youth transitions as less than 25% of high school seniors qualify for college, poor results on PISA study with USA on the bottom quadrant of science and math, highest incarceration rate etc. Presented Georgia work ready project as one way to work through challenges presented. Workkeys is used as a diagnostic test (applied maths, reading for info & locating info. & work habits) to establish work readiness. Various public sector funded initiatives detailed to assist various groups to access voc. ed. to prepare school leavers for available work.. Detailed various methods used to link to state policy to match workforce skills requirements in various specialised sectors & especially in emergent industries like the life sciences / biotech sector, aviation maintenance etc.

After morning tea, attended a series of presentations from Phd students doing research in the voc ed area. Short 15 minute presentations so only an overview of each study. I was interested in finding out more about research approaches and methodology.

Begins with Lois Parks from Victoria University on a ‘theory of national Human resource development policy evaluation and engagement’. Her study based on the tourism industry. Introduced usual strategic HRD/VET logic whereby govt. organises qualifications etc which eventually leads to skills development in the industry targets. Proposes an alternative approach which is a critical HRD/stakeholder evaluation logic. This proposal uses iterative cycles of stakeholder engagement to fine tune skills development so that skills meet relevant/current industry needs. Data analysis leads to the building of a series of models.

Then ‘human capital deficiency in the NZ dairy industry – a case study’ presented by Rachel Lowry (with Professor Graham Elkin) from the University of Otago.Based on a study written up 2 years ago and involves specifically looking at the knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA) of dairy farm assistants. Dairy industry an important contributor to the NZ economy & has been impacted on my various macro (technological, economic, legal-political, socio-cultural and international) and micro (customers/clients, competitors, suppliers, labour supply and government policies) influences. Skill shortage still impacting on industry despite higher unemployment rate in NZ. Interviews with dairy farm employers to find out what KSA they require when they appoint dairy farm assistants. Performance gaps were then identified and current training needs not 100% met. More authentic learning systems recommended to bridge the gap.

Last presentation before lunch was an interesting one from Kim Hastwell from Auckland University on ‘potential language, literacy and numeracy challenges of supermarket work.’. Research based on workplace experience for training opportunities programme students. Highest two levels of students in the TOPs courses are afforded opportunities for work experience, mostly in supermarkets. Students were mainly refugee/migrants unfamiliar/ new to NZ culture. Interviews of supermarket markets to find out pre-requisites for employment. None mentioned literacy or numeracy but all mentioned communication skills (mainly oral communication) along with usual work readiness skills. Assumption seemed to have been made by managers that if someone could speak and understand English, they would also have the relevant literacy/numeracy skills. Job demands for ‘customer service’ covered a whole host of actual KSA. Although literacy events did not required extended reading/writing, the supermarket environment is extremely literacy-rich. Numeracy was often ‘embedded’ or ‘invisible’ and required the ability to estimate (sometimes more a spatial perspective), conduct accuracy with mental arithmetic, understand different date formats along with understand graphs and tables. Implications for training needs to include employment pre-requisites couched under specific social and cultural mores, foundation for on the job communication, literacy & numeracy learning needs to be workplace relevant (including voluntary work experience).