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Issue # 1414      10 June 2009

New report: vocational education and training pivotal to economic renewal

Vocational education and training (VET) will be pivotal to Australia’s economic renewal, according to a new report commissioned by the Australian Education Union (AEU). The union said that prior to the global financial crisis, Australia’s skills shortage was pronounced.

“This was partly created by neoliberal policies preoccupied with ‘contestability’ and ‘market design’ – policies represented by a low quality quick fix approach,” said AEU federal president, Angelo Gavrielatos. “The success of Australia’s recovery will rely on a strong education, training and skills base.

“However, we will be doomed to repeat the failures of the past if we persist with the same policies that contributed to the massive skills shortage.”

He said that Australia needs new policies which ensure that it comes out of the global financial crisis in a stronger position than before.

“We need to create a new approach to VET to ensure that future generations of workers have adaptable education and training skills in an ever changing economy,” said Mr Gavrielatos. “That is critical to meet the demands of economic renewal.

“Well supported and resourced TAFE colleges are central to this new approach. Innovative and responsive, TAFE colleges can support the development of a modern, adaptable and sustainable labour market.”

According to the author of the report, Dr John Buchanan, current education and work arrangements did not cause the economic crisis. However, they must be central to its solution: any serious economic renewal will be overcoming deep-seated fragmentation in flows of learning and labour which is caused by insufficient recognition being given to the depth and complexity of vocational knowledge.

“Policies that only focus on restoring growth will merely entrench deep-seated problems,” said Mr Gavrielatos.

Prime among these are an ecological unsustainable growth path, deepening wage inequality, retarded productivity growth and the paradox of “skill shortages” co-existing with “wasted skills”.

“Improved flows of labour require overcoming profoundly unbalanced systems of workforce development. The modern obsession with short run performance and work intensification leaves little time for the development of labour.

“Current policy has embraced a system which atomises skills into literally thousands of units of competence.”

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