Vocational Curriculum for Australian Service Industries: Standardised Learning for Diverse Service Environments?

Article excerpt

The debate over the adequacy of competency-based training (CBT) to meet the needs of service industries is far from over. In Australia, the national training package qualifications (which are CBT based) are well entrenched, with competency elements growing like bacteria on a buffet Developed by industry for industry, this framework appears to have had little impact on training practices in the workplace. Enterprise training is not linked to the National Training Framework (Smith, Oczkowski, Noble, & Macklin, 2002). In colleges, atomistic customer service outcomes delivered in standardised, context-free conditions do little to meet the needs of service industries, tourism and hospitality in particular. Sociocultural approaches point to the context embeddedness of workplace learning, including the diversity of social interactions within the organisation and with customers. The industry is also a dynamic one, with ongoing changes to the tourism product (which includes service) to meet increasingly sophisticated expectations. Customers, including international visitors whose contribution is one of the country's largest sources of foreign income exchange, are looking for unique and culturally authentic experiences. Curriculum reform is an urgent priority if vocational training in colleges and workplaces is going to meet the emerging needs of this competitive services sector.

**********

How do we reconcile the model of a national vocational curriculum framework with the concept of a post-industrial service economy? While we have a highly prescriptive framework for delivering vocational training, in which competencies are described in detail, we also have demands for a more flexible, responsive workforce. In the tourism industry in particular, research tells us that customers are looking for unique experiences. In Australia, the strategic plans of tourism commissions developed by the states and territories are typified by the following quote (emphasis added):

   Western Australia offers a unique mix of Indigenous,
   European and Asian cultures. This fusion
   and creative expression of cultures coupled with
   our breathtaking natural landscapes and bio-diversity
   provides a competitive advantage in attracting
   visitors looking for unique and engaging experiences
   (Department of Culture and the Arts, Government
   of Western Australia, 2004, p.3).

A Google[TM] search of tourism web sites in Australia reveals 919 potentially unique experiences. Are we, however, training our tourism workforce by following standard recipes? Does our training package framework encourage the development of service professionals able to deliver these 'unique and engaging experiences'? Peter Renshaw (2003) wants us to define worthwhile learning and valued communities, 'Our role as educators is principally to clarify what is worthwhile learning and what sort of communities we should be learning for and within' (p. 23). Using the illustration of the slow food movement, he asks whether we should, as part of this vision, preserve and resist losing parts of our culture. Thus, in theorising the what, when, why and how of learning, we should also be developing a view of what is important and valuable. What is important and valuable is not necessarily new. As globalisation contributes to increasing homogenisation of cultures, a likely future trend is a renewed interest in maintaining cultural diversity. Culture is a tourism asset, and a strategic approach to tourism training would see cultural elements integrated into the curriculum.

A vision for the future of the tourism industry is needed and this should be reflected in vocational training. According to the World Tourism Organization (2004), tourism development is crucial to the economic development of the Asia Pacific region:

   Human capital is considered to be one of the
   pillars on which the development of tourism rests
   . …