Opinion: The life-changing role of vocational education and training

The VET sector is front and centre in the public eye and has been for some time now. Industry conferences are increasingly frank in discussing the sector’s challenges and future. Our VET leaders are sharing their insights into themes and trends in VET and senior leadership is demonstrating the same openness in the popular Global Education Insights email.

There’s a good reason this sector attracts attention: skills are the foundation of any society and economy.

At a macro level, education and skills are arguably the critical enabler if Australia is to successfully transition to a knowledge economy; an economy that is able to compete globally and which provides Australians with meaningful jobs and work opportunities.

At a micro level, the development of skills can be life-changing for an individual. Gaining skills can allow a person to gain meaningful work, support their family, achieve their goals, take that next step in their career, or to take their career in a different direction.

It allows the individual to take charge of their own future.

While higher education is important, and holds a critical place in our education and training ecosystem, the value of vocational education and training cannot be overstated. However it’s no longer just about the development of technical skills to be able to perform a particular task.

Young people of today and tomorrow are going to have to be more adaptable, resilient and curious than any other generation before them. As will mature-age workers, who will continue to navigate ever-changing professional landscapes in many different roles throughout their careers.

While traditionally we have looked at education and skill development as being critical to ‘finding a job’, it is now becoming increasingly evident that this is not enough. Gaining skills for the future not only means those skills that will allow you to do a job, but also – for many – the skills that will allow them to create jobs for others.

A recent report by the Foundation for Young Australians analysed 4.2 million online job ads over three years from more than 6,000 sources to ‘uncover what employers want’ from candidates early in their careers.

The study identified a set of skills that they refer to as enterprise skills that are highly sought after by employers.

The report found that employers are increasingly seeking these ‘transferable’, applied knowledge and enterprise skills: problem solving, presentation and communication, financial and digital literacies, critical and creative thinking, teamwork and intercultural skills. These skills are also required in the start-up ventures, and social enterprises.

Work is, and will be complex, multi-faceted and have many inter-relationships. The ability of our graduates to meet these challenges and pursue the opportunities will be reliant on their ability to not only apply field-specific knowledge and technical skills, but also on how creative, agile and innovative they can be.

Our world is increasingly globalised and competitive. Let’s make sure we set Australians up for the best chance of success by developing and valuing their skills through a strong VET sector in this country.

With this in mind, public and private providers need to work with government to ensure the VET sector in Australia is underpinned by quality, transparency, accountability and good governance.

It’s something we at Navitas are committed to, and will continue to strive for.

[A version of this story was also published on navitas.com entitled Celebrating National Skills Week.]