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Rethinking vocational education and training - Business School Researchers win major award

15 May 2013

Groundbreaking research by the University of Sydney Business School's Workplace Research Centre (WRC) has been recognised with a major Australian Vocational Education and Training Research Association (AVETRA) award.

The WRC's Ms Serena Yu and Dr Tanya Bretherton are currently engaged in a three year program funded by the National Centre of Vocational Education and Research looking at the relevance of education and training to career paths in a number of different sectors.

Their paper, 'Defining Vocational Streams; Insights from Engineering, Agriculture, Financial Services and Healthcare and Community Services', was named during AVETRA's recent National Conference in Fremantle as the Early Career Researcher Paper of the Year.

Ms Yu and Dr Bretherton believe that their research may ultimately alter the way that people are prepared for working life and the way that they view career paths. 

"We have found that there is a very strong link between education and career paths in some sectors, for example the trades and health professions, while the link in some sectors such as financial services and agriculture is very weak," said Ms Yu. 

"An electrician, or an electrical engineer, have very clear educational and registration or accreditation requirements, and move into well defined occupations," Ms Yu said. "People in financial services, on the other hand, often have only vaguely related qualifications and are given more relevant training on the job. This is the case with most occupations."

The WRC research suggests that there is a need for "a new way of looking at education, training and career paths" to "better equip individuals to deal with changing skills needs in a range of related occupations", and to foster an economy that has the capacity to deal with skills shortages.

"We've raised the question of what capabilities an individual needs to work within what we call a vocation, or a field of practice, which embraces a range of related occupations." Ms Yu said. "For example, in community services, individuals could be training to work across aged care, mental health care or disability care." 

"Ultimately, educators, employers and all stakeholders must ask the question; what do people need in order to be prepared for a working life across a broad field of practice?" Ms Yu said. "How do we produce adaptive, autonomous individuals? The project seeks to define these fields of practice, and the education and training programs to support them."

"In the current labour market, workers are being asked to adapt to rapidly changing environments, while proactively managing and planning their careers," add Dr  Bretherton. "Research of this kind will help workplaces and workers to better understand the terrain of the labour market and this will lead to more meaningful decisions about further training and job or occupational change." 

"Workplace managers will ultimately be able to design jobs and supporting professional development structures that are responsive to changing industry needs and wider labour market conditions," Dr Bretherton concluded.