Looking back and looking forward: The story of VET practitioner education and professional development

Centre for Vocational and Educational Policy public seminar

Appropriate qualifications and professional development opportunities for vocational education and training (VET) teachers, trainers and assessors - VET’s practitioners -  have been, and remain, key to the VET sector’s success in meeting both industry and individual learner needs. This presentation, which will be based on a qualitative analysis of research on the development of teacher capability, and my lived professional experiences, examines the main issues and approaches in the training and development of VET practitioners in Australia in the past, and into the future. It describes the nature of the VET teaching workforce, documents the history of VET teacher preparation and development, highlights key dilemmas confronting VET teacher education and professional development now, draws conclusions and provides some suggestions for potential ways forward.

The presentation contends that, while the Australian VET system is highly regarded internationally, most of the issues relating to VET teacher development since the 1970s have been exacerbated by sectoral change processes and remain unresolved. Important and consistent messages from past and current research and reports on the issue continue to be ignored or not actioned. Yet the lesson learned is that ‘one size can’t fit all’ and that, given the diversity and complexity of the VET sector, the dual status of its practitioners (being both industry experts with ‘currency’ and high quality educators and trainers) and nature of their employment creates significant issues for their required qualifications, experiences and professional development. The presentation will contend that only a wide variety of well-supported preparation and ongoing development approaches can be the way forward. One significant issue is that comprehensive solutions will not be found because key stakeholders are incapable of addressing this issue in any comprehensive way. As Jim Hacker, of 'Yes Prime Minister 'fame once noted:

In government, many people have the power to stop things happening but almost nobody has the power to make things happen. The system has the engine of a lawn mower and the brakes of a Rolls Royce. 

The sad fact is that this is true of practitioner development in Australian VET.

Hugh Guthrie

Hugh Guthrie has over 30 years’ experience as a practitioner and researcher in the VET sector. He started his career as a university academic teaching biology at Flinders University and then in 1981 became the Research Officer in the Education Unit at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and where he was, for a time, Head of their Curriculum Development Group. In 1987 he joined the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) and worked there in a variety of positions until moving to Victoria University in late 2011. During his time at NCVER he undertook and managed a range of significant research and development projects. He also ran the National VET Research and Evaluation (NVETRE) program. Hugh is a founding member of AVETRA and served as a member of its executive for many years. He received the Berwyn Clayton award for services to AVETRA in 2013. He has also been an executive member of HERDSA, AUSTAFE, AITD and VISTA. Hugh is currently Honorary Senior Fellow at the Centre for Vocational and Educational Policy.