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What’s the point of Victorian TAFEs? Surely not to cultivate a productive, compliant robotic workforce!

During these times of lockdown, self-isolation and forced working from home, many of us are using our time to contemplate, assess and reflect on our lives.

What am I doing? What do I want? Where am I going? Why am I here?

For me, I’ve gone way beyond navel-gazing and have started looking at a much, much, much bigger question … What’s the point of TAFEs? A very important question, I’m sure you’ll agree.

It’s strange that I’m asking this question now, though, since I’ve been working at a Victorian TAFE for 15 years already and never thought to ask before. Why haven’t I asked? Dunno. Other things to do, I guess … People to meet, lessons to plan, forms to fill out …

Anyway … What’s the point of TAFEs in Victoria?

If you had asked me last week, I would have answered something like, “To provide learners with the skills and knowledge to do a job”. And I’m guessing that’s the view of a lot of people, right?

Why wouldn’t I think this way? So much around me at work points to this one outcome. Look at training packages, for example. These are what TAFEs get paid to deliver, and if you look at their definition on the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) website, you’ll see the same description …

 [Training packages] define the skills and knowledge needed by learners to perform a job.1

It’s pretty much the same as my answer to why TAFEs exist, isn’t it? (And yes, I did come up with my answer before I visited the ASQA website!)

Then, if you go down to the state level, the Victorian government’s Department of Education and Training reinforces this strong focus on jobs on its Skills First webpage, stating their Skills First training and TAFE sector reforms …

ensure that Victoria’s training and TAFE system delivers high quality training that leads learners to real jobs.2

In fact, this webpage links TAFEs and jobs so strongly that the word ‘industry’ appears no less than 48 times! (And that’s just one webpage, not even the whole website!)

There is a valid reason, in my humble opinion, to explore the argument that training for jobs is so pervasive in government that TAFEs are even dominated by industry, where TAFEs have little say in what gets taught, only how it gets taught.

As an example, let’s go back to the ASQA website, which says

– …SSOs [Skills Service Organisations] develop training packages when they identify an industry need for training not already covered by a current training package.

The SSOs then develop the training packages and certify them through extensive research and consultation with industry stakeholders.

The Australian Government and state and territory governments then endorse the training packages, approving them for use throughout Australia.

Do Victorian TAFEs have much of a role in determining what gets taught? Maybe, maybe not, but I digress. That’s probably a question for another journal entry.

This post is more about answering  … What’s the purpose of TAFEs? In other words … are TAFEs just about churning out competent and productive wage earners for the benefit of industry profits, lowering the annual JobSeeker bill and increasing national GDP?

Well, actually, it would seem Victorian TAFEs do have a wider purpose, a much wider purpose, in fact.

Deep in the Victorian government’s Skills First webpage, the one that includes the word ‘industry’ 48 times, is a little sparkle, a brilliantly coloured gem amongst monochrome rocks.

Under the heading The distinct role of TAFEs, this section states …

TAFEs have a distinct role as public providers to:
lead the training system in excellence and innovation
provide essential life skills and support services
help disadvantaged students and communities.

Look … interestingly … there is no reference to industry or jobs at all. I guess that’s because it’s talking about what separates TAFEs from private RTOs, why they are different, as both of these provide education services focused on jobs – it’s not only TAFEs domain.

I interpret these three points as meaning TAFEs have these unique obligations…

  • TAFEs have to implement and develop best practice in training
  • TAFEs have to teach learners essential skills to use throughout their lives, throughout all aspects of their lives
  • TAFEs have to support all learners, including making learning opportunities accessible to people that have more difficult social, economic and health circumstances than others
  • TAFEs have to assist the communities they operate in

From this, what stares me in the face are these three words: individuals, community and research.

Of course training learners for jobs is a very important role of TAFEs, but we can now see that that’s not the only role, at least for Victorian TAFEs.

So, from now on, I’m going to say there are four purposes of TAFEs in Victoria. Not that I’m saying these are what I personally think, though, they are just my interpretation of what the Victorian government says … and these four purposes are:

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  • To teach and support learners for life, for social interactions and for work
  • To assist and strengthen local communities in which they operate
  • To provide industry with up-to-date work-ready graduates that match current and future needs
  • To research, develop and implement best practice in all aspects of training, and communicate findings to all stakeholders

***

Well, there you have it. What do you think?

I’m a genius, right? I mean, who else would have thought through all of this?

Actually, … wait a minute. Guess what. Victorian TAFEs themselves … have already.

Want proof?

Here’s the statement of purpose as written in Wodonga Institute of TAFEs 2018 annual report3. (2018?? Man, I’m so far behind!)

As the educational provider of choice servicing Victoria’s Hume region, Wodonga Institute of TAFE plays a critical role in supporting the region’s continued growth. With a mission to strengthen our communities and industries through accessible and innovative learning, Wodonga Institute of TAFE’s success is underpinned by an uncompromising commitment to driving student success, helping build our communities through education, working in partnership with all industry, inspiring futures through innovative and future focused practices, as well as, empowering and supporting our people so they too can have productive and fulfilling careers. We are a thriving community that facilitates positive and productive interactions between students, staff, industry, and the community, to share knowledge, support one another, and work together to ensure the future prosperity of the region.

Well, well, well … I couldn’t have written it better myself!

Want more proof? Read the end of this journal entry to see purpose, mission and vision statements I scrapped from the annual reports of all Victorian TAFEs and dual-sector providers. (Yes, I do have a bit too much spare time on my hands over this Easter break!)

So … where does this lead me? Well, since I work in foundation skills support, I’m wondering how these four TAFE purposes apply to my field. How do I (and others in my field) help TAFEs achieve these four purposes?

More specifically …

  1. How do foundation skills support services teach and support learners for life, for social interactions and for work?
  2. How do foundation skills support services assist and strengthen local communities in which they operate?
  3. How do foundation skills support services provide industry with up-to-date work-ready graduates that match current and future needs?
  4. How do foundation skills support services research, develop and implement best practice in training and communicate findings to all stakeholders?

Oh man, I started this journal entry trying to answer one question. Now I have to go off and answer four more!!!

Like this self-isolation that I’m in, are these questions ever going to stop??!!

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References

1. Australian Skills Quality Authority. (n.d.). Training Packages. Retrieved from https://www.asqa.gov.au/about/vet-sector/training-packages

2. Department of Education and Training. (2019). Skills First. Retrieved from https://www.education.vic.gov.au/training/providers/funding/Pages/skillsfirst.aspx

3  Wodonga Institute of TAFE. (2018). Annual Report. Retrieved from https://www.wodongatafe.edu.au/Portals/0/Annual%20Report%202018_final-high%20res-for%20printing.pdf

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List of purpose, mission and vision statements of Victorian TAFEs and dual-sector providers (from 2018 annual reports)

Bendigo Kangan Institute

  • Equipping people with employable skills and pathways to life-long career success
  • Partnering with industry to build a productive workforce to meet today’s challenges and create tomorrow’s opportunities
  • Inspiring each other to deliver outstanding client experiences and a sustainable future
  • Working with our partners and community to enable learning for all.

Box Hill Institute

To support community prosperity and industry growth by delivering learning experiences that meet society’s future needs.

Chisholm Institute

Chisholm Institute excels in education and training and is respected
and valued for enhancing the social and economic futures of individuals, industry and communities.

Federation Training

We provide accessible quality education and training that inspires individuals to achieve and, in partnership, promote industry and community development.

Federation University Australia

Our purpose is to transform lives and enhance communities.

GOTAGE

Enabling people to realise their potential and enhance their communities

Holmesglen Institute

  • We provide education and training to enable our learners to be work ready, life ready and world ready.
  • We have an integral role in the community supporting social inclusion and cohesion.
  • We work with businesses to develop the workforce of today and tomorrow.

Melbourne Polytechnic

Developing the capabilities of students and industry to thrive in a rapidly changing world

RMIT University

To help shape the world through research, innovation, quality teaching and engagement, and to create transformative experiences for students, getting them ready for life and work.

South West TAFE

What we do: We deliver a modern and fresh approach to helping generations develop the skills they need for the futures they aspire to.
Who we do it for: For the communities and industries of South West Victoria and beyond… in new and emerging markets.
How we do it: Collaboratively, cleverly, creatively and courageously.

SuniTAFE

A leading regional training provider building community capacity through collaboration.

Swinburne University of Technology

A world-class university creating social and economic impact, through science, technology and innovation.

The Gordon

The Gordon is committed to::

  • Providing an enriching student experience that promotes pathways for further study and employment;
  • Leading the skilling of industries and communities; and
  • Ensuring institute success through sound financial management, strategic partnerships and commercial innovation.

Victoria University Polytechnic

We will achieve [our] vision by:

  • Education – Providing high quality, engaging career-based tertiary education at all levels of vocational and higher education with flexible entry and exit points, appropriate pathways, contemporary curriculum and delivery; while maintaining rigorous standards and ensuring that all students are supported to meet those standards.
  • Research and engagement – Undertaking high quality and innovative applied and translational research which results in healthier, smarter and sustainable communities in the west of Melbourne and beyond, and connecting deeply with industry and the community, in turn enhancing the quality of teaching and learning.

William Angliss Institute

To deliver the highest quality specialist vocational and higher education programs to inspire and empower our students while adding value to our industry and community.

Wodonda Institute of TAFE

As the educational provider of choice servicing Victoria’s Hume region, Wodonga Institute of TAFE plays a critical role in supporting the region’s continued growth. With a mission to strengthen our communities and industries through accessible and innovative learning, Wodonga Institute of TAFE’s success is underpinned by an uncompromising commitment to driving student success, helping build our communities through education, working in partnership with all industry, inspiring futures through innovative and future focused practices, as well as, empowering and supporting our people so they too can have productive and fulfilling careers. We are a thriving community that facilitates positive and productive interactions between students, staff, industry, and the community, to share knowledge, support one another, and work together to ensure the future prosperity of the region.