Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Juggling Priorities: Balancing Economic and Social Drivers to Address the Language, Literacy and Numeracy Needs of Students in the VET Sector

Academic journal article International Journal of Training Research

Juggling Priorities: Balancing Economic and Social Drivers to Address the Language, Literacy and Numeracy Needs of Students in the VET Sector

Article excerpt


The Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector occupies an important place in Australian education. VET has long been linked to the dual concerns of economic and skill development, as well as optimising the social benefits of accessible and inclusive education and training. Increasingly, economic and social transformations have changed the literacy practices and demand for skills of individuals and workplaces. Rapid innovation in information communication and technologies, growth in global service markets and requirement for structural adjustment across a range of industries have led to increasing demand for employees who can be quickly trained with productivity-enhancing skills. VET is a key part of Australia's economy (both nationally and internationally) and there is a direct relationship between the VET sector and employment and economic policy. Currently, VET policy is a shared responsibility between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories, wherein investment policies attempt to find a balance between:

(1) cultivating funding arrangements to deliver economic success via competition and demand-driven contestable models (Commonwealth of Australia, 2014); and

(2) ensuring people currently excluded or marginally attached to work and learning are given the training and support to gain the skills they need (National VET Equity Advisory Council, 2011, p. 3).

This paper begins by outlining the policy context in which this study was undertaken. It then discusses different approaches to supporting language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) development in VET contexts, and specifically, the LLN requirements of a Diploma of Nursing course in Queensland. A socio-cultural view of inclusive learning is used to describe and analyse the approaches to LLN support. Finally, the paper considers the implications of this study for achieving VET priorities.

Queensland government investment plan

The National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform (NPASR) developed by Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2012, along with Queensland's Higher Skills Program Policy 2014-15, targeted investment and initiatives to redress the foundational skills deficits that affect employment and productivity across the workforce. To maximise funding from NPASR, the Queensland Government agreed to develop a contestable training market approach.

As the publicly-funded VET provider, TAFE (Technical and Further Education) provides a significantly high share in the delivery of social benefits for students who have the most difficulty accessing opportunities to improve their life, education and employment prospects, and in providing training for skills in areas of shortage (Stone, 2012). The Queensland Government's five-year action plan 'Great skills. Real opportunities', released in June 2013, featured a significant reform programme for TAFE with a focus on improving efficiency and responsiveness in the VET sector.

Changes to how the Queensland Government invested in training was intended to establish 'for the first time ... fully contestable [funding arrangements] ... with a focus on courses and qualifications that are most likely to lead to employment for graduates' (Queensland Government, 2013, p. 4). However amid Queensland's traditionally low investment in VET by national standards (Noonan, Burke, Wade, & Pilcher, 2014) and the relatively high cost of training delivery, ensuring equity of access and meeting the 'high skill-high participation' workforce remit may prove to be a metaphorical juggling act.

Critical concerns have been raised about the new, demand-driven, contestable training market approach and also balancing broader social equity issues and benefits provided by the VET sector and, more specifically, TAFE. Most state and territory TAFE public providers are required to deliver a disproportionate number of programmes with a higher cost in an open market, while they also have a community service obligation to provide free or low-cost courses for disadvantaged students (Ball, 2005). …

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