The Business of Vocational Education – Purpose

What is the purpose of Vocational Education?  For me this is a really important question because I think  our answer to this question will have some wide-reaching implications for how we might view the sector, and how we might be able to conceive of a business model which would be ethically and financially sustainable and meet the needs of the many and varied stakeholders within the sector.  If we look at a simple definition from the Australian government, Vocational Education and Training (VET) is designed to deliver workplace-specific skills and knowledge, and covers a wide range of careers and industries, including trade and office work, retail, hospitality and technology. While this is a solid definition, I tend to think that it does not go far enough, simply because it fails to mention the link between VET and employment or workforce participation.  Other definitions talk about it as preparing participants for work or for advancement, by providing with the skills and knowledge mentioned in the original definition and this is I think an important link in the VET chain.

It is an important link because if we consider VET as related to workforce participation (whatever that might mean in the long run) then that changes the dynamic and the purpose, at least to my mind.  If the outcome or the aim for someone undertaking a VET course is a greater level of workforce participation, rather than just to undertake study for the purpose of study, then what an ethical business model is going to look like is certainly going to change as well.  I say this because ones ability to participate in the workforce is not solely dependent on having a piece of paper which indicates that you should possess certain skills or knowledge.  I have over the years fired heaps of people who had pieces of paper that said they knew and could do certain things, but after a short period of time it became abundantly clear that they could not.  It is actually having the skills and knowledge which the paper you have says you have and being able to put them into practice which at least to some extent determines how long you will be able to participate in the workforce.  If we put the idea of producing competent graduates who can participate in the workforce at the center of our business model, then a lot of other structure around what that model might look like seems at least to me to be self-evident.

It is easy to see the first things to go in approaches such as this.  Models that preface provider growth on the strength of continuing streams of enrolments, or where the central concern is the issuance of certificates to generate payments are going to have a difficult time justifying themselves;  whereas models which consider the student experience and competence outcome as their central focus are going to be those that make the grade.  This should however be taken to suggest that a provider cannot be both student focused and profitable, the two are not mutually exclusive at all, nor should it preclude us from suggesting that the delivery of vocational education should not managed in as cost-effective way as possible.  It is simply a recognition that what we should always be seeking as an outcome is competent graduates, graduates who have the potential to participate in the workforce, even if for whatever reason they do not.

These concepts of competent graduates, workforce participation and cost effectiveness become even more important when publicly funded rather than personally funded vocational education is considered. It could be suggested that where someone is funding their own education, providing we meet the outcome of competency, the need for a workforce participation outcome seems not to be as strong.  It does need to be suggested here though that where the ‘personal’ funding’ is something like an income contingent loan scheme (such as VET FEE Help) I tend towards the suggestion that workforce participation and cost effectiveness or ROI come back into play, and all three need to be present.

So it seems to me that the purpose of being in this industry should be to provide high quality learning which leads to competent graduates with improved workforce participation potential in an efficient and cost-effective manner.  Now if we believe this it seems to give us very solid base from which we can develop an ethically and financially sustainable business model.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.



About pauldrasmussen
Paul Rasmussen is one of Australia’s most widely read Vocational Education and Training Commentators. He provides deep, unbiased analysis and insights not only on topical issues, but also on the underlying structure and policy which supports the industry. His writing and analysis has been praised for its uncompromising and thought provoking style and its ability to focus on the issues of real importance to the sector. He has advised various government departments and ministers, training providers, public and private organisations, not for profits and small to medium enterprises on the VET sector and the issues and opportunities facing it. He is one of Australia’s most awarded learning professionals and a regular speaker at a range of conventions and forums. His extensive experience in vocational education, and learning and development coupled with formal qualifications in philosophy, ethics, business and education management allow Paul to provide a unique view of the road ahead and how to navigate it.

4 Responses to The Business of Vocational Education – Purpose

  1. Alan Izadfar says:

    Paul, I always follow what you and other contributors write and wonder what the answers to all these questions are practically.
    • The notion of definition of VET by regulator to specify its purpose is said multiple times, but if we look into the universities and higher education, there are the same purposes and the same definitions. So I wonder as a VET trainer and higher education tutor, where the real differences are. I only can say the level and the volume of information is shared with the student. AQF also supports my understanding.
    • The notion of delivering quality and having business –despite what field- do carry an inner contradiction unsolvable. As always greed easily deviates from it and therefore all of the regulators and administrators are in need to straighten the deviations and deviators.
    To me the connection with industry for VET yet is lost. I have been in this field for six years and have not seen any link between the industry and education providers. In addition, I have seen the same for the universities. The people are trained mostly for the sake training not for the industry effectiveness.
    • Then, is the separation of local and international students’ market that should be a must. As there are notable differences between their character and their requirements. By Immigration Law, the international students come here to study and move back to their home or absorbed to the Australian fabric of life (about 90%). So this is the very place that business people see that these students are paying for their education. It is education for education not for work place competency (by working in menial jobs around the country) and so it is a good field to utilise for business sake more than delivering a quality education. It only requires highly ethical people to look after this part of market.
    Am I correct and what you and others think?

    • pauldrasmussen says:

      Alan. You make some interesting points. I do tend to agree that there js significant crossover in purpose between HE and VET. To me wh we e the difference lies is in the depth and type of knowledge shared. Interestingly in the recent piece on funding by Peter Noonan he suggests that diploma and above qualifications whether they are delivered through HE or VET should be funded through the same processes because hey are esentially the same. Your point about the link between training and industry is well made and again applies to both the HE and VET sectors. The lack of connection between graduates and industry requirements is astounding. While there is always a tension between quality and business i think that what separates the great companies from the not so great is their ability to manage this tension of without the need for high levels of regulation.

  2. Ross Woods says:

    Excellent article. Keep up the good work

  3. George Wilson says:

    I think you have shown a superb quality of how to write a blog. Idea in your mind is very clear and you know exactly what you have to express to others. It has been tough for many people out there but I think it is your cup of tea properly.

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