A new publication via The University of Melbourne on Friday from Anne Jones speaks beautifully to why I still, after 35 years, feel so passionately about vocational education and its reason for being. It is the foundation of adult education and the thing that keeps the fabric of society functional - try needing a plumber on Good Friday as I once did, and you'll know how to really appreciate a tradie!
Ms Jones talks of 'In the context of revolutionary digital technologies, continued globalisation, population ageing and changes to work patterns such as the emergence of the gig and postwork economies, we are failing to repurpose our vocational education resources to develop the twenty-first century capabilities needed by individuals, communities and industries.' and I couldn't agree more. We need to not just be teaching competencies, but immersing people in how they work, how to strategically think about the whole of our lives and plan for the financial gaps when (not if) they happen.
Thinking takes time and is even more effective when we have someone to bounce ideas off and work through. Fast-tracked training or assessment-only routes miss the golden opportunity to help people think things through and learn the skills that contribute to higher-order problem solving and lateral thinking. This is the underpinning thinking behind why I have been developing the training resources found at Vocational Training Materials Australia.
Many RTOs now just buy-in pre-made training materials for students. The scripts are pre-written, activities designed (and often not used) as trainers don't have the time (and maybe the deeper understanding of their value?) to give to them.
Herein lies the value of serious games in the training environment- content learning, assessment opportunities and deeper thinking all wrapped into one activity, with rewards and feedback built in to ensure students stay engaged.
Consider Ms Jones comments (p3):
'We do not know how work and employment opportunities will change in the near future. Predictions range from “forecasts that nearly half of jobs in advanced economies may be automated out of existence” to confidence that high-level vocational skills will be more important than ever in the digital world (Baker of Dorking, 2016; European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, 2015; European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop), 2017; Pfeiffer, 2015). What we do know is that people will need educational breadth as well as occupational depth to adapt and thrive as industries and society change. Researchers who have looked specifically at how vocational education can prepare people for digital disruption emphasise the importance of acquiring broad technical skills that can be adapted and applied in novel contexts, complemented by what have become known as twenty-first century capabilities (Baker of Dorking, 2016; Committee for Economic Development of Australia, 2015; Figel, 2008; Gardner, 2006). '
To assume that everyone has the same skills in thinking and problem-solving would be a mistake. People are unique and bring all kinds of skills to a job, some are highly compliant and quite literal, but others are the dreamers and problem solvers. In the future we will need all of these people, but the jobs that will endure are the ones that artificial intelligence cannot do.
We need to provide adults with the opportunities to learn and practise these skills and the alternate style of training materials required are needed now.