Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Student Voice in 'Skills for Sustainability': A Missing Component from the Demand Side of Australian Vocational Education and Training

Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Student Voice in 'Skills for Sustainability': A Missing Component from the Demand Side of Australian Vocational Education and Training

Article excerpt


Education for sustainability has an ongoing and vital role to play in the Vocational Edu- cation and Training (VET) sector. Research by Goldney, Murphy, Fien and Kent (2007) provides an overview and a foundation for 'sustainability and VET in Australia' confirming that society is becoming more aware of environmental concerns and is looking to VET programs to provide a means for promoting sustainability within work- places, amongst employees and employers. The final key message from this research explained, 'if they are taught sustainability skills throughout their education, learners can develop the ability to promote these concepts in the workplace, devise and encourage sustainable work practices, and develop strategies for negotiating and justifying desirable changes with colleagues and managers' (p. 7). Moreover, Goldney et al. recognised the ongoing value of education in underpinning fur- ther and longer-term change.

The Climate Commission, which was estab- lished to provide all Australians with an inde- pendent and reliable source of information on climate change, has consistently argued that 'this decade is critical' to incorporating sustainability into economic, social and political practice (Cli- mate Commission, 2011a, p. 2). Such impera- tives drive the call for society to transition to a low carbon economy (Garnaut, 2011; Stern, 2007). These calls for change are premised on the argument that the longer we wait, the more diffi- cult and costly sustainable development becomes (Climate Commission, 2011b). In September 2013, the incoming federal government disman- tled the Climate Commission. Yet just a week later it was successfully re-launched as an inde- pendent non-profit organisation called the Cli- mate Council, to be fully funded by public donation. That funding this new Council by public donation is even possible indicates that many Australians care very deeply about climate change and the environment.

A high priority amongst the strategic responses to climate change is the setting of targets for low- ering carbon and pollution emissions and for increasing the use of alternative and renewable energy sources. The setting of future-orientated targets has significant implications for young peo- ple because they will be the immediate future generation to inherit the legacies of past and pres- ent industrialisation. Therefore, we argue that young people should be included in conversations concerning climate change and sustainability so that they understand their future responsibilities to achieve these targets.

In an effort to consolidate current understand- ings and perceptions about skills for sustainabil- ity, this article brings together the data sets from three different research studies on how young Australians (either currently studying within a VET program or having recently graduated from a VET program) perceive the development of green skills following in the wake of the Green Skills Agreement (COAG, 2010). The analysis of these three data sets presents the beginnings of a coherent view of what young people, current stu- dents and recent graduates of the VET sector think about 'skills for sustainability'.

For his part, Sack has analysed initial, longitu- dinal, survey data from the Dusseldorp Skills Forum 'Gen Green' surveys of 2008 and 2011. The first data set is the result of the two Gen Green surveys and the comparison study. The sec- ond data set derives from research Rodd under- took in 2010 at a metropolitan TAFE institute in Victoria, a key component of which involved a Sustainability Skills Awareness survey of 400 (then) current TAFE students. The third data set results from focus group interviews conducted by Brown with 20 VET students, including a recent 2010 graduate. These interviews/focus groups solicited the subjects' perceptions of current and future job opportunities, and their experiences of training, in relation to the perceived importance of green skills. …

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