Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Mentoring the Next Researcher Generation: Reflections on Three Years of Building VET Research Capacity and Infrastructure

Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Mentoring the Next Researcher Generation: Reflections on Three Years of Building VET Research Capacity and Infrastructure

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION - LEARNING THROUGH EXPERIENCING

The aim of this paper is to review the national mentoring programme to find out what actions supported new researcher development, what was their impact, and what we can be learn from the activity The difficulties of being a new researcher are already well documented (Holden and Smith, 2009). This paper is about managing these experiences and about the knowledge that has been gained through those experiences. It is about researching how we develop VET researchers, and specifically the role that experienced researchers can play. It seemed in the midst of the activity that Einstein's quote had never been more apt, 'If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it'? Many research studies trawl retrospectively the experiences of others and then conceptualise the relations of that practice. In this case the proposal, action and reflection have formed a continuous cycle, with participant and researcher roles fluidly interchanging. Indeed, this paper is itself yet another part of that reflection cycle looking back on an as yet incomplete 'action in practice' project that is still swelling the ranks of VET researchers and preparing the next generation.

THE 'GREYING' POPULATION PROBLEM

Building research capacity requires sustained long-term investment. The Australian VET landscape has been subject to revolutionary change over the past two decades as discourses of uniformity, industry competency, workplace learning and market competition swept through the system. The establishment of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) positioned research at the heart of those changes. So when NCVER began the construction of yet another triennial strategic plan for VET research in 2007, they were doing so from a relatively solid platform.

The national centre was building on a succession of strategic plans stretching back more than 15 years, during which time a massive statistical base and an comprehensive library of evidencedbased VET research reports had been accumulated. Nearly two decades of funding relationships had established VET research centres, associations and conferences nationwide. However, it was evident to NCVER that the infrastructure and the body of research that had been established was increasingly dependent upon a group of experienced VET researchers who had grown with these ventures, prospering as government funded the changes to a nationwide competence platform for VET. This was now a greying and diminishing body - a body slipping into retirement, and towards less onerous pursuits. Indeed, NCVER showed perception in recognising their own 'skills crisis' of mature expertise in research, one they shared with many professions (APSC, 2006: Dychtwald et al., 2006).

Without skilled researchers there is no continuity of the quality evidence-base upon which to build VET development. In 2007 national discourses were beginning to resonate with voices indicating a looming skills crisis (Financial Review, 2007), and these voices have continued to grow more vocal over the past three years. There was, and is, little doubt that VET expansion and quality are increasingly visible issues, and strongly linked to national and social productivity and prosperity as recent reports by the Productivity Commission (2011) and Skills Australia demonstrate (2011). There was, and is, therefore a need to ensure that such development would be based on continued quality VET research, research that would need quality researchers. The problem was that VET researcher development was at this stage a random production line. A Higher degree student might choose a VET topic, a VET practitioner might instigate a local research into a burning issue and both groups might find themselves later on presenting their findings at a national conference. Standing on the periphery of the conference and of the research community, their subsequent integration was dependent upon chance interactions. …

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