Social science to the fore in VET


Future-proofing VET

The employment landscape is changing rapidly, and social science skills have a crucial role in future-proofing Australia’s VET sector.

The upheaval caused by the global pandemic has made it clear that VET graduates need to be adaptable, and to understand the importance of the changing social context in which industry operates. A social science curriculum can provide students with critical skills in this area: from developing an understanding of the social and economic context in which their industry operates, to managing human resources, to communicating effectively with colleagues and customers. In the words of a VET sector leader: “Social science skills are great at those generic skills needed for work in the 21st century”.

In practice, however, the inclusion of social science components in the VET curriculum is heavily contested, due to the limited scope of training packages (which tend to be strictly developed around job-specific technical skills), available funding, and insufficient academic staff training in the social sciences.

Identifying linkages, building alliances

“We need to identify the linkages between particular training packages, occupations, job roles, and their social science foundations”, said one VET sector leader. This is not a simple task, and will require cooperation across sectors, such as VET alliances with universities, industry and government.

Stakeholders identified early childhood education, aged care provision, youth workers, and domestic violence response workers, as immediate priorities for enrichment.

Leveraging the Skills Reform

The current Skills Reform process (2020-24) presents an opportunity for social science stakeholders to engage more closely with the VET sector. The process will involve:

  • Industry Engagement Reform, including the design of VET training packages.
  • Qualifications Reform–the type and number available VET pathways, and their relationship to various skills.
  • Quality Reform–the redefinition of standards for Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) and the VET teaching workforce.

Important milestones taking place during 2022 will include:

  • Selection of new industry clusters, or industry-specific groups responsible for the design of the VET training packages.
  • Development of a capabilities framework and workforce plan, to govern the selection and development of the VET trainer workforce.
  • Evaluation of new qualification pathways, tested during 2021. The tests included new forms of qualifications for data analysts and personal care workers.

At a time when all education sectors are reorienting, it is important that the social sciences are part of the conversation around the future of VET in Australia.

Many of our teachers in social work, nursing, early childhood, and so on, are unaware they are already teaching social science. Every time they share good-practice advice with their students, about how to treat an elderly person or their family respectfully, for example, or how to communicate with children’s families… that’s social science. Imagine how much better we could do, if VET staff were even more empowered.

VET  sector leader.

The government often turns to vocational education and says, solve the youth unemployment problem, the migration problem, the English…, solve this, solve that. And many of those problems are, at heart, challenging social science phenomena.

VET  sector leader.