Could apprenticeships bring VET and higher education together?

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The Commonwealth’s 2017 Budget announced the establishment of the Skilling Australians Fund – a $1.5 billion allocation through to 2020-21 that will require matching funding from the states and territories. The Fund prioritises apprenticeships, traineeships, pre-apprenticeships, higher level apprenticeships, occupations in high demand, and areas with growth potential.

The National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) is urging governments to use the Fund as an opportunity to strike new directions that take full advantage of the apprenticeship model. The title of the NCVER’s paper captures the proposition neatly: A chance to be bold and ambitious: Make apprenticeships the lynchpin to a better integrated tertiary education sector (12 pages).

Marrying the strengths of VET and higher education

Craig Fowler (NCVER’s Managing Director) and John Stanwick (NCVER Senior Research Fellow, Research Operations) argue that the new Fund could take advantage of the apprenticeship model to drive change across tertiary education, and not in VET alone. They invite us to imagine

‘a species of student who has the premium benefit of employment in growth industries plus well facilitated access to a smart blend of exceptional vocational training and academic education, delivered by partnered VET and higher education institutions, fully supported by their employer, with outcomes that give excellent job outcomes and/or further study continuity.’

Over four years, the Skilling Australia Fund is intended to support 300,000 more apprentices, trainees, and others with high level skills. What if, Fowler and Stanwick ask, 100,000 of the 300,000 places were specifically designated to ‘explore the feasibility of creating a blended VET/higher education apprenticeship that meets future workforce needs.’ They ask:

‘Could this be driven by requiring that some of the approved sub-bachelor demand-driven places to be accessed by universities must be connected with apprenticeships? Would this drive cross-sectoral engagement? Could it leverage the capabilities of some of the reported 17 ‘dual sector’ universities and 12 ‘dual sector’ TAFE institutions?’

The apprenticeship genie is out of the bottle

It is a bold and ambitious idea. But it isn’t a bolt from the blue. The scene is set with the alternative delivery pilots for apprenticeship training already funded by the Commonwealth. The pilots, as Fowler and Stanwick note, include Siemens Ltd and Swinburne University of Technology, collaborating in the delivery of a new Diploma and Associate Degree in Applied Technologies that is grounded in the apprenticeship model.

The NCVER’s challenge is another step in an unfolding journey that is scouting out new territory for apprenticeships. Earlier articles in the VDC Newsletter have captured a range of views about the ways in which adapting the apprenticeship model holds substantial promise for both students and industry. (See, for example: Growing focus on apprenticeship reforms, 7 December 2016, and The apprenticeship model has a lot to teach us, 12 April 2017.)

The Commonwealth and state/territory governments are yet to map out how the Skilling Australia Fund will operate. It’s not clear whether the negotiations will deliver innovative change to the delivery of apprenticeships and traineeships. Fowler and Stanwick have offered a vision of what innovation could look like if we grasp the opportunity.

Could apprenticeships bring VET and higher education together? | VDC