National Centre for Vocational Education and Research 2011 Conference, North Coast TAFE, Coffs Harbour

I haven’t missed many NCVER conferences over the years and I’m glad that I attended the 20th No Frills Conference in Coffs Harbour this week as it gave me an opportunity to take some time out to think of new initiatives and identify ideas to explore with others.

Hosted by North Coast TAFE, I spent 12-13 July 2011 working with the Institute on building their capability in workforce development which turned out to be a great lead into the conference.

At the welcome reception I met Samantha Connor, Access and Equity Officer from C.Y. O’Connor Institute who I knew via Facebook as well as many Australian VET Leaders from the LinkedIn group I manage – it was great to meet and catch up with people, like a reunion really and being greeted with a hug plus smiles from colleagues is lovely.

The first keynote was Elizabeth McGregor, Institute Director of North Coast TAFE talking from the thoughtful perspective of a user of research, leader, educator on Aiming high …how can research accelerate the shift from inputs to impacts?  Elizabeth answered what does quality VET do? by showing the overarching interconnection of workforce development with circles of individual development, community development and enterprise development all resulting in regional development.  What value do quality providers create? was her next Q and A demonstrated by an overarching ‘skills in use’ concept with circles of workforce participation, social inclusion and productivity resulting in regional competitive advantage.

Introducing a spectrum of moving from inputs through to outputs helped Elizabeth to ask the research community, are we telling our story?, do we need to tell it [as in VET specific/sector]? or has the time passed? (and by that I think she meant, it’s not about us, it’s about our clients stories), and is our research working towards solutions, rather than being a historical account or internally focussed on things that don’t matter as much? {as the plot line of inputs to impacts from our client’s perspective}.  Fresh ideas for research were the message here.

Concurrent sessions for the morning took me from Professional obsolescence or technical currency in VET? With Australian VET leader Regan Harding (TAFENSW – North Coast Institute), to IS Australia taking mainstream VET services to all Australians no matter where they live by good friend Lesley Wemyss from Crestfern working for this Darwin based private provider has introduced an innovative approach to taking industry standard skills training to regional and remote Australia.  A truly impressive model with a modular, mobile campus for construction, mining, energy and resources, transport and logistics, that can be deployed via road train, sea or rail across Australia.  Modules include state of the art industry workshops, accommodation units for trainers and high tech classrooms.  IS Australia are demonstrating that industry skills development in communities is so doable with great individual, community and employment outcomes.

Pecha Kucha is a presentation methodology in which 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each, and this was the format of the next series of 6 minutes and 40 seconds sessions (glad I was presenting in those and felt for the presenters (they did a great job) on ‘practice’.  Wasn’t sure what to expect and got an eclectic but also related series of presentations on Compassionate leadership practice by Mary Tehan from Ultimacy who presented a Compassionate Leadership model based upon LISTEN and then RESPOND; Completing for success at SWSI with Rosemary Lasaro and Jane Kelly providing practical examples of ways to increase completion rates; Dis/engaged you/th: connections and disconnections between practitioners and youth (as I was typing I just got the significance of the title – clever!)  by Melanie Worrall from the Australian Flexible Learning Framework; and What knowledge, what boundaries, what borders by Anne Bowden from TAFENSW – New England Institute (happy to have been your referee for your NCVER Community of Practice application too).

Taking an evidence based approach to workforce and client demand was my contribution to the conference with a session that demonstrated regional case studies (Kangaroo Island and Clare Valley/Yorke Peninsula) and ways to connect up various data sets and information from the ABS, NCVER (using the Public Atlas of VET and VOCSTATS), DEEWR (particularly labour market and Employment Services Area info), local regional profiles, major projects and local council plans to identify current and future workforce demand.  This coupled together with qualitative and quantitative data from local businesses and industry with a regional skills profile all mapped to units of competency from National Training packages and qualifications identified strengths and development needs – the basis for a regional workforce plan and great intelligence for VET and employment service providers.

Enabling electronic verification of VET learner records presented by the ever positive and passionate (which is exactly what we need!) Allison Miller, a South Australian colleague from the Australian Flexible Learning Framework.  Allison identified emerging work around the ‘how to’ and reminded me of comments by colleague David Morgan from The Work Lab that we need to have a go, try it out and use the experience to inform our approach to all the barriers people put forward about why a central and national learner records system plus electronic verification of records won’t be possible (NB> this is exactly what Australia is heading towards).

The conference dinner at Bonville Golf Resort saw us have drinks and finger food on the lawns overlooking the stunning golf course where conference goers had a chance to win a prize by chipping a golf ball over a couple of mounds, past a sand trap and as close to a hole in one as they could get.  Not being a golfer I passed on the opportunity and it was great to see Berwyn Clayton, Lesley Weymess and Pat Lange give it a go. 

Keynote for the second day was Peter Coolbear, Ako Aotearoa, National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence, New Zealand on Vocational education research in New Zealand: old issues and emerging opportunities from a funder’s perspective.  Peter talked about use-inspired research based projects and the application of Pasteur’s Quadrant

Over skilling and job satisfaction in the Australian labour force, by Kostas Mavromaras from NILS, Flinders University presented interesting figures on the economic value of over skilling or over educating or over skilling + over educating.  Most strikingly was the difference in pay/week via gender with the main message for me being related to skills utilisation, wage expectations and match of skills to job roles.

Industry engagement models: matching expectations of industry and RTOs presented by fellow Australian VET Leader, Rebecca Hall from International Education Resources Group, and Greg McMillan from ProVoc Australia Pty Ltd proved very popular.  Greg presented models from a domestic VET perspective with live examples and Rebecca outlined approaches for international student and partner engagement.  Let’s do the skills and competency map to the models as industry engagement capability is an identified gap (will follow you both up later).

As my flight was at 1.00 pm from Coffs Harbour to Sydney and then home to Adelaide, I missed the afternoon sessions.  Please feel free to post links on info with your comments and parts that you enjoyed and follow me up or join the Australian VET Leaders group.

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