Vocational education and training
Examining the health of social science programs in Vocational Education and Training (VET).
What we’re doing well, where we’re falling behind, and priorities for the near future.
Why social science in VET?
Australia’s Vocational Education and Training (VET) system equips people with knowledge and skills for employment in a broad range of careers. VET qualifications at Apprenticeship, Traineeship, Certificate or Diploma level can be gained for initial entry into the workforce, as well as for upskilling, retraining or re-entering the workforce.
The VET areas that directly incorporate social science skills and content include Business, Commerce, Management, Accounting, Education, Community Services and Tourism. In 2020, 46% of Australia’s VET enrolments were in social science programs, or 1.2 million enrolments.
VET graduates in these areas are employed in many industries and play a particularly prominent role in the provision of government and community services. Social science VET graduates can be found at the frontline in childcare, aged care, education and training, justice, health, community, and housing services, among others.
In Australia, the VET sector comprises:
- Industry groups, responsible for designing training packages or guiding documents that establish the skills and knowledge needed by learners to perform a job.
- Australian governments. The Commonwealth Government is responsible for regulation of the national training system, and States and Territories for their delivery and operation.
- VET providers, including TAFEs, community education providers, private training providers, industry skills centres, and some schools and universities. Providers educate and assess VET students according to the skills and knowledge identified in training packages.
As of 2021, the VET system is preparing for significant reform. This reform process provides the broader social science sector with a significant opportunity to engage.
Vocational Education and Training (VET) scorecard
Quality and relevance of social science qualifications
High levels of student satisfaction with social science VET courses.
Design of Training Packages (led by industry) does not sufficiently involve VET teachers and other education specialists.
Missed opportunities to elevate industry practices, through critical application of social science knowledge.
- Identify opportunities to better integrate social science knowledge and skills in VET courses, leveraging the current Skills Reform.
- Advocate for greater participation of VET trainers and education specialists in the design of VET training packages.
Teaching workforce and infrastructure
Education delivery model highly vulnerable to workplace disruptions, as evidenced throughout the pandemic.
Accessibility, diversity and fairness
Fulfilling one of its purposes as a bridge into higher education: as many as 9% of Australian university enrolments come through VET streams.
Planned reforms to the VET qualification structure could lead to the elimination of Certificates I to III which serve as highly accessible entry points into the tertiary sector.
- Ensure that VET qualification restructures do not create unintended impacts on student access to tertiary education.
Social science VET graduates report consistently high levels of satisfaction with the quality of their training; 83-90% in 2020.
However, stakeholders expressed concern that, over the years, industry’s well-intended efforts to augment the practical skills delivered through VET have sometimes led to the design of overly prescriptive training packages, for example, packages that require the demonstration of competency in specific skills over more general capabilities.
In order to meet the complicated training package requirements, VET educators frequently have to omit more general and formative components of the training, such as the broader social science knowledge and skills that provide context and meaning to an occupation, as well as higher-level skills in communication or management which could benefit students in and beyond any specific job. In their own words: “We’ve just got so hooked up on describing the tasks needed for the job, that the underpinning stuff which really enables and enlivens that has been completely disregarded”.
Sector stakeholders have long been advocating for greater involvement of VET educators in the design of the training packages, with little or no success to date. The current Skills Reform process presents a new opportunity for social science stakeholders to advocate for any desired improvements in the VET sector. Opportunities available through this reform process for increased engagement with the social sciences are further explored in Bringing social science to the fore in VET.
Social science as a proportion of all VET enrolments, 2016-20
Field of education
Management and commerce
Society and culture
Stakeholders participating in the consultation did not point to any ongoing capability issues specific to social science VET programs.
At the time of consultation, however, the COVID Pandemic was presenting the VET sector with significant challenges; particularly in those areas that required hands-on training and assessment. Restrictions in aged care and childcare facilities, for example, resulted in long delays in the delivery of workplace-based study units.
Looking ahead and considering the possibility of similar scenarios in the future, some stakeholders suggested that diversifying digital assessment and delivery options for VET (e.g., simulated work environments), may increase the capacity of the sector to manage similar disruptions in the future.
One of the key roles of VET, alongside training in job- and industry-specific competencies, is to provide students with an accessible entry point to education from which they can build. This is particularly relevant for students interested in degree-level programs who do not achieve the necessary school grades, and as many as 9% of Australian university enrolments come through VET streams.
However, some stakeholders raised concerns that reforms to the structure of VET qualifications could potentially impact student accessibility if lower-level qualifications such as Certificates I to III were to be discontinued.
Priorities for action
Identify opportunities to better integrate social science knowledge and skills in VET courses
Leveraging the current Skills Reform. The effort should extend to both social science VET programs, and any other VET qualifications that could benefit from higher-level social science skills, such as communication, negotiation, or collegiality, to name a few.
Advocate for greater participation of VET trainers and education specialists in the design of VET training packages
Led by industry
Ensure that reforms implemented on the VET qualifications’ structure (also part of the current Skills Reform) do not create unintended impacts on student access to tertiary education
Student enrolments in social science and other VET programs from: NCVER (2020) Total VET students and courses 2020: program enrolments, Research and Statistics, Data Builder, https://www.ncver.edu.au/research-and-statistics/data/databuilder.
VET student satisfaction with quality of the training from: NCVER (2020) VET student outcomes 2020, Research and Statistics, Data Builder, https://www.ncver.edu.au/research-and-statistics/data/databuilder.
Percentage of employers who used the VET training system from: NCVER (2021) Employers’ use and views of the VET system 2021: data tables, https://www.ncver.edu.au/research-and-statistics/data/all-data/employers-use-and-views-of-the-vet-system-2021-data-tables.