Landmarks in the development of the VET workforce: an overview

Author: Roger Harris, Emeritus Professor, University of South Australia



The Australian vocational education and training (VET) workforce is an enigma. Despite its significance and in contrast to other elements in VET, it remains – arguably – one of the least known and invisible areas. Chameleon-like in its structure and character, it has changed as the socio-political winds blow from different directions in different eras. Particularly when compared with the university and school workforces, its size has been difficult to determine, its composition problematic to profile, its credentialling difficult to agree upon and its issues awkward to resolve. Why is it so? Is it because the VET sector itself is an alphabet soup, and 'W' for workforce resides near the end of the alphabet when writers' pens have run dry after sketching other important and earlier alphabetical topics such as: access and equity, apprenticeships, architecture, competencies, enrolments, funding, governance, providers and regulation? Surely its neglect as a topic cannot be merely alphabetical!

The VOCEDplus VET Knowledge Bank 'landmark documents collection'1 identified four documents2 related to the sector's workforce – the Tregillis (1969), Kangan (1974), Fleming (1978) and Williams (1979) reports. That they are all pre-1980 publications is indeed revealing about how much, and when, attention has been given to this topic, and when 'VET' was almost exclusively 'TAFE'.

This paper provides a broad, thematic overview of the Australian VET workforce from the Tregillis report in 1969 to the present. It draws on the landmark documents and refers also to others3 that, while not classified as landmark, have nevertheless helped to provide further perspectives on the VET workforce in the years since then. Following a summary of the key focus and significance of each of the four landmark reports, the paper analyses some potential reasons for the relative dearth of information about the VET workforce, and then concentrates on three main questions that arise from these reasons: what is known about the VET workforce, what capabilities does it require to carry out its roles effectively, and how can it be most appropriately prepared and developed?

Focus and significance of the four landmark reports

The Tregillis report (1969), based on a Tripartite Mission to 17 European countries, investigated methods for training skilled workers in European countries, particularly in relation to the engineering and electrical trades. The report's focus, under Ministerial direction, was that it was to be a basis for revising the criteria for the selection overseas, and recognition in Australia, of migrant workers arriving within the scope of the Tradesmen's Rights Regulation Act. It was noteworthy in emphasising that of all advanced industrialised nations, Australia was the only one at that time with no general coordination of training on a national basis to ensure uniformity in training methods and standards and a common acceptance of qualifications. The Tregillis report was also noteworthy in providing a serious critique of the training system at that time, including: the lack of uniformity in both content and methods of training, lack of upfront off-the-job training, no 'measuring-rod' to determine an apprentice's standard, little attention given by training authorities to the workshop training aspects of apprenticeship, lack of uniform detailed syllabi and training manuals on a national basis, and insufficient funds for industrial training. Like the landmark reports that followed, it clearly indicated and therefore laid the firm foundation for the realisation that a successful vocational training system depends on an adequate supply of properly trained vocational teachers and workshop instructors (pp.65, 87). The Tregillis report was the first major plea for the need for more highly qualified vocational teachers. It led to increased Commonwealth involvement in the funding of technical education and recommended that technical teacher training should be given greater attention. However, while an important contribution to training policy, raising awareness of the need for industry to train and not depend on migration to alleviate skilled labour shortages, it provided details relating more to training the general workforce than to the VET workforce per se. Consequently, it was the Kangan and Fleming reports a few years later that were to highlight more explicitly the importance of the VET workforce and its preparation.

The Kangan report (1974) was a critical turning point in the reform of VET. As Keating, then Prime Minister, reflected twenty years later:

It will become increasingly difficult for TAFE students in the 1990s and beyond to imagine how bad things often were before Kangan. The ramshackle accommodation, the lack of such basic facilities as libraries, the chronic lack of funding for 'extras' such as teacher training, student counselling and curriculum development, and the absence of any form of national co-ordination all resulted from and contributed to the low status of the 'techs'.
(Kearns & Hall 1994, p.i)

The significance of the Kangan report has been respectfully depicted over the years in various ways: as 'a milestone of great and enduring significance in the development of technical and further education in Australia' (Kearns & Hall 1994, p.1), 'the major landmark in the struggle of vocational education to establish a distinctive role and identity within the overall Australian education system' (Chappell, Gonczi & Hagar, in Kearns & Hall 1994, p.183), 'a watershed in the history of TAFE [that] heralded a sustained period of expansion and modernisation' (Fooks et al. 1997, p.1) and 'a seminal moment in the history of vocational and post-compulsory education in Australia' (Shreeve & Palser 2018, p.4). Kangan gave this education a new image – which he coined TAFE (Technical and Further Education)4 – a new status, and clear definition as to its charter and philosophy.5 It provided the catalyst for the growth of TAFE through capital infrastructure funds to develop student services including libraries, first aid and health services, canteens and counselling services; advocacy that TAFE was more than just training – it was vocational education deserving parity of esteem with other educational sectors; a national focus on curriculum and credentials; and clarity as to the primary focus of TAFE – that of meeting the needs of individual students within the context of the skill requirements of industry. Of relevance to this paper, it contributed to the professional recognition of TAFE teachers6, recommending a special inquiry into the preparation of TAFE teachers and underscoring, as did the other landmark reports, that the 'objectives and intentions of TAFE cannot be achieved without trained, efficient teaching staff' (p.19).

The Kangan recommendation for a special inquiry into TAFE teacher education led via the Committee on Technical Teacher Education inquiry7 to the Fleming report (1978).8 The Fleming Committee commenced its inquiry into TAFE teacher education with 'the firm conviction that the preparation of fulltime TAFE teachers [was] vital to the balanced and coordinated development of the provision of TAFE in Australia' (p.103), and recommended inter alia a minimum, two-year preparation program for all beginning TAFE teachers (more on this later). The TAFE Council accepted the report as a statement of desirable policy objectives, drawing attention especially to 'the need for the development of adequate numbers of high-quality academic staff responsible for preparing TAFE teachers and other teachers of adults and the provision of a career structure for these teacher educators', and to the importance of 'study release for teachers undergoing preparation programs'. These recommendations arose from the Council's view that 'the quality of its teachers will be central to TAFE's success in responding to the wider demands being placed upon it' (TEC 1979, Foreword).

The focus of the Williams report (1979) was advice on: (a) the provision of education facilities and services, and (b) the relationship between the educational system and the labour market. This Committee was to concentrate on the Government's objectives including widening educational opportunity, expanding educational and occupational choice, developing quality, and excellence in education and encouraging community participation in educational and training matters (p.3). While it is clear from the terms of reference that there were doubts about whether the education system was functioning well and whether it had the capacity to respond to new problems, the Committee nevertheless could demonstrate that 'the TAFE sector [had] responded quickly and creatively to new demands on it and to opportunities provided by more adequate funds' (p.30), these funds arising from the recommendations of the Kangan and Fleming reports. The Williams report noted that since the Kangan Committee had named its report TAFE in Australia, the acronym TAFE had become firmly established as the name for one of the three sectors of post-secondary education (p.283). TAFE was also expanding its contribution to Australian education, growing to be substantially larger than the other two post-secondary sectors (Table 1).

Table 1   Statistics on the three sectors of post-secondary education, 1977 (data from Williams report)

 UniversitiesColleges of Advanced EducationTAFE
Institutions1973194 major colleges, with 874 branches, annexes or centres
Students (FTE)130 656112 603203 900
Teachers (FTE)11 797957431 338 in major TAFE authorities, of whom 9524 were full-time in TAFE Departments

In the Williams report there is little detail on the nature of the VET (then TAFE) workforce, beyond such numbers. However, it did reinforce the conclusions of the previous reports on staff preparation. Recognising that 'the basic quality and effectiveness of any teaching organisation is largely determined by the quality of its teachers' (p.311), the report acknowledged that such expansion would require a vigorous program of staff development. Technical knowledge and skill in their subject field, professional competence as teachers and personal development as individuals with a breadth of view, and some administrative capacity, were considered essential. Deliberate action was seen to be needed to broaden the experience and range of contacts, especially of trade teachers, and help them acquire the operating skills of administration.

The Williams report stressed the need for increased resources for general staff development in TAFE and in particular to update the technical skills of full-time trade teachers and their awareness of technical changes and their impact on society, to improve the teaching competence of part-time teachers, and to stimulate interest in and a capacity to improve the processes of teaching and learning (pp.311-312). The Committee found that staff development was concentrated in only some areas, initial preparation for part-time teachers was not widespread and induction courses for non-teaching staff were limited – what efforts were being made were largely confined to counselling staff, librarians and laboratory technicians (p.312). It also concluded that some TAFE colleges were not yet adequate in the application of modern techniques to teaching. Therefore, in addition to recommending overarching strategies to broaden access to technical and further education and to expand provision for pre-employment training, the Williams report also made recommendations designed to improve the content and techniques of teaching, and for TAFE authorities to extend programs of action to provide learning resource centres in the technical colleges, and courses for staff and students in the effective use of the resource centres, as well as adequate support staff for these activities.

In summary, these four landmark reports provided firm foundations for continuing work on the VET workforce and its preparation, particularly teachers and trainers, though notably silent on leaders and managers. Until then, technical education had remained 'consistently under-valued and under-resourced, [its development characterised by] periods of rapid change followed by much longer periods of neglect' (Goozee 2001, p.8). Collectively, therefore, these reports laid the groundwork in highlighting the significance of this workforce in preparing workers for the national economy, in underscoring the need for its more adequate initial preparation and ongoing education, and in pinpointing how little was known about its size and nature.

From 1979 to today: potential reasons for the lack of information on the VET workforce

Since the Williams report however, there has been a dearth of research or policy directed toward the VET workforce. This is significant as it has formed a major obstacle to effective VET policy-making and workforce planning at all levels. It hinders efforts to improve the capacity and capability of the workforce, makes it difficult to investigate links between workforce characteristics and quality of training output, and clouds views of future risks and opportunities facing the VET workforce's contribution to Australia's human capital and skills development (ANTA 2004, NCVER 2004, Productivity Commission 2011, Guthrie & Jones 2018). Thus, the two key studies that have specifically focused on the VET workforce – Profiling the national vocational education and training workforce (NCVER 2004) and Vocational education and training workforce (Productivity Commission 2011) – have both strongly recommended improvements in the quality of workforce data.

There are undoubtedly many reasons for this dearth of information. Here, six are suggested. First, the VET workforce is extremely diverse and complex, making it difficult to define and therefore to portray. The Tregillis report referred generally to vocational teachers and workshop instructors, and the Fleming report to full-time TAFE teachers (under direction from the Tertiary Education Commission). The Kangan Committee in its survey asked for numbers of full-time TAFE teachers (those teaching or organising the teaching, including heads of departments or institutions and head office staffs), part-time TAFE teachers, full-time and part-time non-teaching staff including technical and laboratory staff, librarians and library support staff, staff in educational services and student services, clerical and administrative staff, and other staff such as those in building maintenance. Since then, the changing VET environment has even further broadened the scope of the workforce to include such roles as adult and community educators, language, literacy and numeracy educators, workplace trainers and assessors, managers and administrators, quality and compliance staff, curriculum developers and researchers.9

Apart from worker types, the field itself has also widened considerably and is reflected in provider size, location, learner types, scope and mode of delivery, governance, internal structures, markets and jurisdictions within which providers operate. The field incorporates now both public and private sectors, dual-sector providers, enterprises, VET in schools, VET in universities, online and community settings, work-based learning, and accredited and non-accredited training. Moreover, the context, which is increasingly commercial and competitive, demands very different roles for not only those delivering but also those leading and managing. The situation of VET practitioners as 'dual professionals', deploying both industry and education skills delivered in schools, VET only, dual sector and industry settings, is unique among education sectors, and leads to challenges in attracting and retaining staff. All these factors contribute to the diversity, making it increasingly difficult to analyse the workforce.

Second, the VET workforce is very transitory. Once, studies could simply report on the numbers of fulltime teachers in TAFE – as, for example, the Fleming report (1978, p.11) – but with sectoral diversification and employment modes continually changing from full-time through part-time and contractual to increasingly casual, it again becomes very difficult to profile the sector. VET is very closely tied to the economy. It is therefore subject to the political changes of federal and state governments, such as the development of new training programs, the introduction of VET in schools, the marketisation and broadening of VET to include private providers or the spasmodic announcements on boosting skills training. Any snapshot can therefore only be that: an approximation at one point in time that changes daily.

Third, and perhaps a consequence of the first two reasons, few reliable research data exist at a national level on the VET workforce. There is in fact no shortage of data. The problem is that they have not been collected in a uniform way using agreed definitions/descriptors and been held in the human resource management systems of individual training organisations and vary considerably in detail and sophistication (NCVER 2004, p.37; ANTA 2004, p.39). Report after report has lamented this dearth of national data (e.g. Fleming 1978, VEETAC 1992, ANTA 2004, Productivity Commission 2011, Skills Australia 2011, Guthrie & Every 2013, Braithwaite 2018). The Productivity Commission acknowledged that little was known about the VET workforce and that what is known is 'incomplete, disparate and not widely used or disseminated… [with] key information … either inconsistent or missing entirely' (Productivity Commission 2011, p.xlviii). Recently, Guthrie and Jones (2018) reiterated that still one of the serious issues for the sector was 'the lack of comprehensive and consistent workforce planning data' required 'to enable reasoned decisions to be made to assist workforce planning at national, jurisdictional and individual RTO levels', while the Braithwaite Review (2018, p.75) recommended that the legislative framework be amended to increase the frequency of data provision to the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) to quarterly for all registered training organisations (RTOs).

Fourth, there continues to be lack of agreement about how, where, by whom and to what level the VET workforce is to be most appropriately prepared and further developed for its various roles. This has been a contentious and long-standing debate, aired by Hermann et al. (1972), then prominently brought into the open by the Fleming report (1978) and subsequent national conferences10 in 1980 and 1981, and remaining to this day (see Harris 2017).

Fifth and more subtly, there are often traditional assumptions at play given Australia's long-standing approach to VET staff recruitment. One is that industry experience trumps other prerequisites such as teaching expertise (akin to subject knowledge and research capability traditionally being the prime criteria for university lecturers), and that such matters as pedagogy, learning psychology, VET context understanding, translation of competency standards into learning activities, and assessment techniques, are considered less important than industrial skills. Even the (former) Prime Minister Keating (in Kearns & Hall 1994, p.i) referred to these being considered as 'extras' when citing 'the chronic lack of funding for "extras" such as teacher training, student counselling and curriculum development'. A second is an undervaluing of the VET teachers' and managers' roles as significant players in the learning of the next generation of Australian workers, despite each of the landmark reports reinforcing its importance. In contrast to much research in general education acknowledging the critical role of teachers in others' learning (e.g. Hattie 2003), there have been many attempts over the years to 'education-proof' VET. Some examples include: the composition of the National Board of Employment Education and Training, which came into effect mid-1988, while having adequate representation from the higher education and schools sectors, did not include one TAFE representative on the board, meaning that TAFE no longer had any direct input to the major national advisory process (Goozee 2001, p.65); the influential Australian Conference of TAFE Directors11 was abolished in 1990 and TAFE chief executives lost most of their national influence with no providers on the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) Board from 1992 (Goozee 2001, p.80; Shreeve & Palser 2018, p.4); and VET teachers were excluded from processes of competency standards and training package development in the 1990s in 'a rather clumsy attempt to have industry "own" the process' (Smith 2010, p.57), thus widening the separation between those determining outcomes of training and those delivering training (ANTA 2002, p.54; Hodge & Guthrie 2019, p.2) and decreasing the input and influence of the educational sector in the determination of the parameters and outcomes of VET (ANTA 2002, p.49; Down 2003, pp.5-6).

Sixth, and arguably most fundamentally, there is the ongoing battle between what Schofield (1992) termed the education and training tribes, which, depending on who is in the ascendancy, significantly influences the size and nature of the VET workforce. Murray-Smith (1966, Summary) had drawn attention to this battle around the time of Federation, when the 'hey day of technical education in Australia … between 1880 and 1900' as a means of liberating the democratic person became after 1900 a more narrow and rigorous view of individual function and by 1914 conceived as being subservient to the objects of a modern industrial society. This dramatic reversal was repeated 70 years later, when the Kangan era emphasising the education and learner-centred side of the equation was in the later 1980s shifted markedly to the training and industry-focused side. Ryan (2019) has labelled this ongoing struggle 'the perennially unresolved "training or educational" dichotomy' (p.7), juxtaposing the two value systems as 'one narrow and instrumental, the other broader, focused on social justice and individual self-development' (p.1). Until resolved, Ryan contends, this issue will never allow answers to the big questions such as what the role and purpose of VET is and how a coherent future direction can be charted. With effects on the VET workforce, we can witness this tribal struggle in such issues as whether VET should be positioned in government departments of education or employment, whether VET practitioners are to be referred to as educators or trainers, and what types and levels of preparation and ongoing professional development are most appropriate.

Emerging from these reasons, then, are three significant questions: What is known about the VET workforce? What capabilities does it require to carry out its roles effectively? and How can it be most appropriately prepared and developed? The following sections now focus on these questions.

What is known about the VET workforce?

The Productivity Commission in 2011 had highlighted that 'there is no agreed standard or national system of data collection for the VET workforce' (pp.38, 158) and recommended such a standard be developed and a data collection be made to assist workforce development and other planning decisions (p.LVII). So, it was with some relief that finally in April 2020, given there was still 'no consistent, regular collection of data on the VET workforce', Australia's first survey of the VET workforce was published to present 'a clearer picture' of the size and nature of that workforce (Knight, White & Granfield 2020).

A 'clearer picture' than what? There had previously been various attempts at providing a profile of the VET workforce. A baseline was established in the Kangan Report, where it was calculated that in 1973 there were 9406 equivalent full-time TAFE teachers in Australia, 55 per cent employed full-time and the rest part-time (Volume 2, pp.151-6). About 40 per cent of the teaching effort in technical colleges was concentrated on apprenticeship enrolments which constituted only one-quarter of all enrolments. The teachers were predominantly male (82 per cent), and most (80 per cent) had either completed or were completing a pre-service pedagogical course. More than half were in a salary range with maximum increments reaching between $8000 and $9000 per annum. Only 20 per cent of full-time teachers, including Principals and other head office teaching service administrators, were on scales which terminated at $9000 per annum or more. Support services to the teaching effort in TAFE were being provided by 4500 administrative staff, technicians and other specialist personnel, meaning that there was nearly one support officer for every two equivalent teachers. In the year 1972-73, recurrent expenditure on TAFE throughout Australia amounted to $94.2 million12, of which two-thirds was spent on the salaries of teaching staff and one-fifth more on other salaries. The budgeted recurrent expenditure for 1973-74 was $114.8 million, up 22 per cent on actual expenditure in 1972-73 with essentially the same distribution between major categories.

By the time of the Fleming report (pp.5, 6, 11) the number of full-time TAFE teachers in June 1977 was 9645 and by June 1978 was 10 993. The report characterised the workforce at that time as mature in age (average age 41 years, and on recruitment 33 years, with 59 per cent of beginning teachers being 30 years or more) and 'the most diverse sector of post-school education': spread across all six streams13 of teaching, but most in professional/para-professional (34 per cent) and apprenticeship trades (46 per cent); relatively experienced in employment before becoming teachers; 88 per cent holding appropriate non-teaching qualifications; 67 per cent holding recognised teacher education qualifications; about 69 per cent were undertaking no formal study at the time of the inquiry. Almost half of these staff were outside the major urban areas, making TAFE the most accessible form of post-secondary education in Australia. The number of teachers was corroborated in the subsequent Williams report (1979, p.13) which estimated that in 1977 there were 9524 full-time teachers among the 31 338 teachers in the major TAFE authorities. The recommendations in the Williams report on both broadening access to technical and further education and expanding pre-employment training would have affected the size and composition of the future TAFE workforce.

By 1992, the Vocational Education, Employment and Training Advisory Committee (VEETAC, p.45) reported that there were 240 TAFE colleges employing approximately 18 000 tenured and 32 000 non-tenured (equivalent to 10 600 full-time employees) staff and employed at an annual national salary cost of $1 billion. In this report, of relevance to this topic was its identification of significant staffing factors that enhanced or inhibited TAFE's ability to carry out its functions (Table 2). These factors provide helpful pointers as to the cultural context of that time, and to the positioning of TAFE and its teacher education and staff development finding themselves increasingly in the throes of a competitive training market.

Table 2   Staffing factors which enhance or restrict TAFE

Staffing factors which enhance TAFEStaffing factors which restrict TAFE

Demonstrated best practice in education and training

Workforce with extensive industrial/life experience and appropriate academic qualifications

Opportunity to recruit part-time/sessional/contract teachers and to enter into secondment arrangements

Flexible statements of staff duties

Constructive relationship with clients

Right of private practice

Industrial agreements which allow for flexibility in management of staff use

Industrial awards/agreements:

  • TAFE's industrial identity unclear
  • industrial awards not adequately recognising different employment modes
  • lack of incentives/rewards/recognition for staff

Recruitment/employment mode:

  • need to reform recruitment policies - impact of short-sighted recruitment policies of 1970s and 1980s
  • recruitment of specialist staff who are subsequently trained to teach
  • difficulty in employing an appropriate mix of staff

Induction/teacher training/staff development:

  • initial teacher training not geared to TAFE's needs
  • non-tenured teachers receiving inadequate methodology training
  • inadequate commitment to staff development
  • lack of direction and recognition for staff development

People management:

  • inflexibilities because of limitations on staff availability
  • central 'control' of staff arrangements
  • culture encouraging conformity - reflected in rewards for administrative compliance rather than leadership competence
  • inappropriate measures of staff performance
  • para-professional and support staff not adequately recognised
  • existing demarcations within and between colleges

Source: VEETAC 1992, pp.9-17, 63-76

Some 30 years after the Williams report, having clarity around who gets counted as part of the VET workforce was still proving difficult. In 2008, using the ABS Survey of Education and Training data, the NCVER estimated that the total number of VET workers (TAFE and non-TAFE) was about one million (Mlotkowski & Guthrie 2008). The Productivity Commission however, in its major study on the VET workforce in 2011, defined the VET workforce more narrowly than the 2008 NCVER study as all employees of RTOs in three main categories: VET teachers, trainers and assessors; other VET professionals; and general staff. About 73 400 were TAFE employees: for every two trainers and assessors, there was one other worker employed in a supportive role as an 'other VET professional' or 'general staff member'. Another 150 000 workers were in the non-TAFE sector: for every assessor or trainer, there was one worker employed as an 'other VET professional' or 'general staff member' (p.31). The Productivity Commission settled on a total VET workforce of about 223 000 (p.37) based on Census and TAFE administrative datasets.14 Therefore, its estimate contrasted with the 2008 estimate from the NCVER. The Productivity Commission's report, like the Fleming report, again reiterated that little was known about the size and characteristics of the VET workforce and that what was known was 'incomplete, disparate and not widely used or disseminated' (p.xlviii). Acknowledging the impact of this on effective VET policy-making, the report recommended improvements in the quality of workforce data (p.lvii).

In addition to size, the Productivity Commission report also provided a more detailed profile than previously of the VET workforce and compared it with the general workforce (2011, pp.31-56). In summary, the VET workforce was described as:

  • having a predominance of dual professionals, with both vocational and educational skills;
  • being older than the wider labour force (average age in TAFE of 49 years and in the non-TAFE sector as 44 years, compared with the overall workforce being 40 years), given that most VET workers have gained industry experience before joining the sector later in their working life;
  • having a higher share of female workers (nearly 60 per cent in both sectors, compared with 46 per cent in the general workforce); and
  • having high rates of non-permanent employment than the general workforce. In the TAFE sector, about 35 per cent of trainers and assessors were employed on a full-time basis, 10 per cent on a part-time basis and the remainder on a casual basis. In the non-TAFE sector, about one third of trainers and assessors working in VET as their main job were employed on a part-time rather than full-time basis. The Productivity Commission found that the proportion of VET staff working part-time or as casuals was higher than for the whole workforce, when staff cuts to funding tend to promote the use of part time or casual staff who cost less than full-time ongoing staff (Burke 2018, p.15).
  • being highly mobile, with over 80 per cent changing jobs within the sector during their career and a sizable proportion (about 20 per cent) being multiple-job holders. VET practitioners generally come to the sector in a second or subsequent career as they are normally required to demonstrate industry experience of at least five years on hiring, while many non-permanent VET practitioners would also see their primary employment as outside the sector in industry. Accordingly, Simons and colleagues (2009) found that careers in the VET sector are notable for their diversity with 'progression' often being measured by promotion or changing modes of employment from hourly-paid to contract work to a permanent appointment. Their career paths are significantly more diverse than those of school teachers or university academics (Tyler & Dymock 2017).

Some 40 years post the Williams report, Burke (2018) highlighted that the numbers of teachers, their employment status and qualifications were still not known, and neither was the extent of professional development though 'it [was] believed to be inadequate especially for casual teachers' (p.15). Guthrie and Jones (2018) pleaded for the VET workforce to be acknowledged as a legitimate industry and not treated as a support to the other sectors of the Australian workforce. While recognising there was no simple fix or 'silver bullet', they argued that piecemeal approaches adopted in the past had not and would not bring about substantive improvement, but that sustained, comprehensive and well-supported actions were required.

The most recent estimates of the VET workforce have come from the National VET Workforce Survey (Knight, White & Granfield 2020), a snapshot as at February 2019. This was the most comprehensive survey, as earlier studies had been based on incomplete statistics and even the 2011 Productivity Commission study was limited through having no national information about training beyond government-funded training. Expansion of the National VET Provider Collection in 2014 to embrace total VET activity (TVA) enabled a more complete picture of the entire VET market. Thus these 2019 estimates are the first with a broad coverage for training providers beyond TAFE.

The online survey covered individuals working in RTOs15 that had student enrolments in 2017 and were subject to the legislation that sets out the credential requirements for trainers/assessors. Special features were its comparisons with the findings of the 2011 Productivity Commission report as well as with the general labour market, its focus on qualifications held by trainers and assessors, and the inclusion for the first time of volunteers who play an important role in some RTOs.

The survey estimated that the VET workforce numbered 246 167, of whom 45 628 were in TAFE and 200 539 were in other RTOs. The overall figure was approximate to that reported in 2011 (223 400), though the proportion in non-TAFE providers had risen from 67 per cent to 81.5 per cent (p.11). Key findings from the survey were:

  • The highest numbers of employees worked in school RTOs and private providers (both 29.4 per cent), almost a fifth in TAFE (18.5 per cent) with the remainder in community education providers, universities, enterprises and RTOs exempt from reporting to the National VET Provider Collection (p.11).
  • Twenty-nine percent (71 379) were employed as trainers and assessors (p.12). Of these:
    • 52.6 per cent were full-time and 47.4 per cent part-time (a higher part-time proportion than the general workforce: 31.4 per cent (p.14);
    • while 53.5 per cent were permanent, 13.9 per cent contract or temporary and 32.6 per cent casual or sessional (again, a higher casual proportion than in the general workforce: 22 per cent (p.15);
  • Most RTOs delivered either internal training solely (24.6 per cent of providers) or in combination with another mode of delivery (88.8 per cent (p.19);
  • Almost 20 per cent of RTOs reported having volunteers. The total number of volunteers across those RTOs was estimated at 177 596 with an average of 248 volunteers per RTO (p.20). The proportion of volunteers directly involved in training and/or assessment of VET was 3.9 per cent (6841) (p.21).

Given the special focus on qualifications and the key characteristic of VET teachers as dual professionals, what was noteworthy about this survey was its estimates of both teaching and industry credentials. The survey found that the majority of trainers and assessors held a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment or higher qualification (93.3 per cent, up from around 60 per cent in 2011 although this 2011 estimate is based on one jurisdiction (p.16-17)); however, most of these (calculated to be around 80 per cent) were likely to be holding an earlier, superseded Certificate IV, indicating the need for considerable gap training to ensure their teaching skills are meeting the required credentials (p.16). Another key indication was that the high rate of casualisation suggests the need for more adequate professional development for casual and other non-permanent employees. The findings also indicate that the teaching qualifications for volunteer trainers and assessors are lower than for employees (p.22). This further highlights the need to ensure the maintenance of trainer and assessor standards and the provision of development opportunities for maintaining teaching quality.

As for industry currency, a similarly high percentage (89.4 per cent) of trainers and assessors held a Certificate III or higher in their teaching content area, including 37.6 per cent having a Diploma or above. Concerning volunteers, very few held formal teaching qualifications (34.6 per cent of those teaching or assessing holding the Certificate IV or higher qualification, far lower than the 93.3 per cent of employees). This finding also highlights the need to ensure the maintenance of trainer and assessor standards and the provision of development opportunities for maintaining teaching quality.

What capabilities does the VET workforce require to carry out its roles effectively?

The diverse, complex and transitory nature of the VET workforce makes it difficult not only to profile it but also to determine and document what its employees do and what capabilities they require. Arguably one of the most succinct definitions of the VET workforce is by Rumsey and Associates (2002, p.6) and ANTA (2004, p.79) – as the combination of VET practitioners (those responsible for the direct delivery of training and/or assessment), VET professionals (those whose primary role is not direct delivery, but provide leadership, management and support for learning), and those in generic roles (such as accountants, marketing, compliance and maintenance staff). Yet the sheer number and diversity of roles defy attempts to clarify the work undertaken. Even taking only deliverers, the nature of the activity varies markedly depending on role and context.

In many respects, the VET workforce is like any other workforce, experiencing as a result of changes in work and workplaces, increasing casualisation and job precariousness, and role expansion, diversification and balance (Harris, Simons & Clayton 2005, pp.66-70). However, their status as dual professionals makes them quite different from most other employees. Indeed, Tyler and Dymock (2017) have noted that earlier demarcations between those who 'teach' and those who 'administer and lead' have become increasingly problematic as roles have expanded and practitioners undertake a wider range of roles.

The four landmark reports provide limited detail on the actual activities of the VET workforce. While recognising that 'the basic quality and effectiveness of any teaching organisation is largely determined by the quality of its teachers' (Williams 1979, p.311), they tended to refer to teachers and non-teachers (and leaders/managers almost not at all) without being specific about what they do. Rather understandably, their concerns at those times were more about systemic inadequacies and establishing TAFE on a firmer footing. Attempts at specificity were to come later.

In this respect, there have been three notable periods where concentrated efforts have been made to document what the VET workforce does: 1990-1994, 2000-2004 and 2010-2014.The first and third focused mainly on teachers and the second mainly on leaders/managers.

First period of concentrated activity: 1990-1994 – a focus on identifying key skills

The first of these periods occurred in the shadow of considerable industry restructuring and the beginning of the competency movement, when the TAFE National Centre for Research and Development (1990) identified the skills and competencies required by full-time TAFE teachers to respond appropriately to the challenges of their work. The Centre reported that the findings would have ramifications for the initial and continuing education of TAFE teachers (p.19). The first part of this work (stage 1) identified 178 broad skills clustered in seven key skill categories: teaching; curriculum development; determining the needs of clients; management/administration; updating own subject; workplace context (e.g. college, TAFE, society); and general relevant personal qualities (e.g. critical thinking, adaptability, problem solving). Stage 2 focused on the development of approaches for TAFE teacher preparation and development, including a possible model for the professional development of existing TAFE teachers (Hall et al. 1991). One of the key findings in this study was the dominant view that universities should continue to be the providers of TAFE teacher education, but that TAFE should provide parts of the program, particularly on-the-job training.

Building on the Centre's work two years later, and within the context of TAFE operating in an increasingly competitive training market, the Vocational Education, Employment and Training Advisory Committee (VEETAC 1992) outlined the key functions of VET staff. In doing so, VEETAC noted that one of the urgent issues needing attention was TAFE's management capability in general and, in particular, its ability to manage change needed to improve (p.5). In acknowledging, as had the landmark reports, that 'TAFE's performance is largely determined by the quality of its staff' (p.9), it also recognised that delivery staff would require a broader range of functions than previously and at a higher level of professional skill, and that TAFE had 'to confront the weaknesses and deficiencies in its staffing arrangements to become a more effective force in the community' (p.18). Accordingly, three broad functions were identified: curriculum design and development, delivery of a wide range of programs and services, and liaison with clients from industry and other educational sectors (pp.53-61). The report's appendix listed 95 more specific functions nominated by the study's case study participants. VEETAC developed strategies for enhancing staff career paths and produced a framework for establishing competency standards for TAFE staff.

With the increasing emphasis on competency-based training, one of the first sets of competency standards developed was for workplace trainers (Competency Standards Body – Assessor and Workplace Trainers, 1994). The purpose for these standards was essentially practical, focusing on assisting those responsible for hiring and training workplace trainers and addressing the needs of trainers located in workplace environments (Garrick & McDonald 1992). Despite not being specifically designed to describe the work of teachers in VET institutions, they have since gradually become the de facto standards for VET teachers. They have subsequently undergone several iterations at certificate IV and diploma levels in attempts to strike an acceptable balance for all the various types of teachers and trainers in their different contexts, a goal that may not be feasible given the diversity of the VET workforce. While these efforts have been undertaken in attempts to make these initial qualifications fit-for-purpose, the revisions remain wedded to the assumption that a unified approach to the initial development of teachers is able to address the diversity of work roles that are filled by those delivering vocational education and training.

Second period of concentrated activity: 2000-2004 – a focus on management and leadership skills

By the time of the second main period, the VET workforce was feeling the effects of the opening of the training market that were adding pressures on providers in terms of competition, regulation and business strategies and leading to significant challenges particularly for VET leaders/managers. Another driver was the ageing of the senior staff in the VET (especially TAFE) sector and the urgent need for succession planning, with the concern that there would be substantial loss of educational management and leadership skills as baby-boomer managers retired. Accordingly, ANTA and the NCVER commissioned several studies on management and leadership in VET, recognising that little research had been undertaken on the nature of their work or the capabilities they needed to develop to be effective in the changed VET environment. Also commissioned in 2004 was a consortium-led research program focused on ways of supporting VET providers to build their capability. Rather than conceptualising professional practice development and organisational capacity building as separate foci, the Consortium viewed these activities as reciprocal and mutually dependent organisational elements, which together built workforce capability and the professional standing of the VET workforce. Its findings were reported widely across Australia and had considerable impact (Harris, Clayton & Chappell 2007; Harris & Clayton 2010). In addition, the TAFE Directors Association (TDA) published its Development of a management model for managers: leadership for VET CEOs: final report in 2003, and ANTA published its Enhancing the capability of VET professionals project: final report in 2004. Much of the attention and investment hitherto had been on tangible assets – new national frameworks, new products such as training packages, systems and processes, new technologies and infrastructure (ANTA 2004, p.13) – and now there was acknowledgement of the need for the focus to be also on people: the VET professionals.

Each of these projects referred to the paucity of research on leadership and management, and each contributed slightly different perspectives on this aspect. Callan (2001) developed and tested a VET manager and leadership capability framework comprising nine core capabilities (and their 73 associated elements): corporate vision and direction; strategic focus; outcome achievement; development and management of resources; leadership change; interpersonal relationships; personal development and mastery; business and entrepreneurial skills; and development and empowerment of people. Many of Callan's elements were identified in other sets of leadership capabilities. Foley and Conole (2003) found that generic capabilities combine with sector-specific, contextual capabilities, while Mulcahy (2003), in identifying the roles and functions of senior and frontline managers in VET, concluded that the overarching element was strategy. Falk and Smith (2003) focused more on the processes of leadership and the characteristics of individual leaders, employing the theory of enabling leadership. Callan's work, as well as other frameworks and feedback, contributed to TDA's (2003) development of a leadership capability framework for VET CEOs and senior managers. This framework identified five key capability areas:

  • shapes vision and provides strategic direction;
  • achieves outcomes;
  • exemplifies personal drive and integrity;
  • communicates effectively with a range of audiences; and
  • develops and empowers people (p.14).

TDA anticipated that the framework would 'prove to be a valuable resource – for recruitment, succession planning, performance management, and personal and professional development – for senior managers and CEOs in TAFE institutions' (p.9-10).

ANTA's report (2004) on VET professionals decried the lack of reliable national data on the VET workforce, recognising it was a challenge to develop a complete picture. However, it stated that future VET professionals, who would be knowledge workers or leaders of knowledge work, would require capabilities that would be a mix of generic, professional and leadership skills. The report recommended a national approach to workforce development, where the governance structure was responsible for establishing and resourcing a national initiative to promote, facilitate and measure good practice, and for the future management of national workforce development programs.

During this period attempts were also made to develop capability frameworks for VET practitioners. The intention was for the frameworks to be used to assist practitioners reflect on the capabilities that apply to their work role, how they have demonstrated these capabilities and the evidence that supports the quality of their work. This information could then be used to help plan their professional development and used in performance reviews. The only national capability framework for Australian VET practitioners was developed by Innovation and Business Skills Australia (IBSA 2013). It contained four domains of work concerned with teaching, assessment, industry and community collaboration and systems and compliance, each of which was broken down into a series of capabilities, and six skill areas or ways of working with three distinct levels reflective of experience and expertise. When IBSA asked VET practitioners how they would like to use this framework, 'they strongly preferred a professional development support approach, rather than the provision of yet more qualifications' (p.5). Two other frameworks were state-based, developed respectively by the Queensland College of Teachers for the Queensland Government and the LH Martin Institute for the Victorian Government, and were more focused than IBSA's on the quality of teaching, learning and assessment.

Third period of concentrated activity: 2010-2014 – a focus on quality

The third key period was when quality became an increasingly important and more highly visible issue in VET and, by implication, quality of teaching and assessment (Harris 2015). Guthrie (2010a) labelled the debate over the quality and nature of VET teacher training 'a hot issue in 2010' (p.13), while Wheelahan and Moodie (2011) wrote about 'an unprecedented level of attention … to VET teaching and teachers and trainers in Australia' (p.13). In 2010, Skills Australia proclaimed that the VET workforce needed to be increasingly flexible, innovative and responsive in order to meet the needs of both industry and individual learners. Again, the National VET Equity Advisory Council (2011) in its Equity Blueprint 2011-2016 provided a comprehensive analysis of the VET system and outlined six areas of reform required in VET, one being 'building the capability of the VET workforce'. Concerning VET practitioners, Guthrie and colleagues generated several significant papers, arguing inter alia that the work they do was not sufficiently well understood or appreciated, more attention and resources needed to be devoted to work design and workforce development, more support and development was required of middle managers, and that a range of qualifications was what was needed to accommodate the increasing variety of roles within the VET sector (Guthrie & Clayton 2010; Guthrie 2010a&b; Guthrie et al. 2011; Guthrie et al. 2013). The Australian College of Educators, too, launched a project on the quality of VET teaching. Through its series of reports (e.g. Moodie & Curtin 2010; Wheelahan & Curtin 2010; Wheelahan & Moodie 2011), this study made many recommendations on the quality of VET teaching, VET teacher preparation and continuing professional development, including establishing a national VET professional body, introducing standards for VET teaching and training, and evaluating the quality of teaching through a national student satisfaction survey.

Around the same time, the Productivity Commission (2011) undertook its study of the VET workforce. While recognising the role the VET workforce played in contributing to social and human capital through skills development, the Productivity Commission acknowledged there were clear deficiencies that needed addressing, such as the need for 'more trainers and assessors with industry skills in demand; greater attention to meeting changing contemporary skills needs; and a wider base of the VET workforce that has at least basic educational capabilities' (p.XXVIII).

Advocacy for a national VET workforce development strategy occurred around this time. Guthrie (2010a, p.16) argued for such a strategy to be comprehensive, national and well-supported, on the grounds that it would encourage and reward individuals for contributing their time and personal resources to developing and enhancing their initial teaching skills. Skills Australia (2011, p.91), too, highlighted as had the earlier landmark reports, that 'the front line of excellence in teaching and learning outcomes is a professional and well-supported VET workforce' and argued the case for a national strategy, yet no such strategy eventuated.

Leadership and management were continuing to be of interest with the growing competitive and regulatory climate and the ever-increasing realisation that leaders made such a critical contribution to learners, industry and society. Coates et al. (2010) found that research and development on their work remained 'under-studied' (p.3) and what insights there were tended to be limited to mostly qualitative studies in public providers (p.3). Given this need to build a general picture of the VET leadership workforce, and because of evidence of 'a looming succession crisis' (p.3), they therefore aimed to paint a picture of what VET leaders do. They concluded that VET leaders were focused on input-side factors such as student numbers and funding, and that there was an urgent need for them to develop a more outcomes-focused orientation centred on effective change implementation, delivery and high-quality graduate outcomes. One study around this time that had focused exclusively on leaders in private VET providers investigated the pressures on them to strike an 'appropriate' balance between educational and business imperatives (Harris & Simons 2012). The findings suggested that, contrary to the popular notion of seeing educational and business leadership as competing priorities, leaders viewed them as complementary domains and that they are therefore better understood as situated practices embedded in specific organisational contexts.

The outcomes and impact of the Karpin report (Industry Australia Task Force 1995), which had earlier provided the most comprehensive insight into the way in which Australia generally prepared its managers for work and leadership, were documented around this time by IBSA (Samson 2011). This report concluded that implementation of the 28 Karpin recommendations had been patchy, indicating that many of the management and leadership challenges identified in 1995 had not yet been fully addressed almost 20 years later and that significant change in the business and global environment since that time had resulted in new leadership and management challenges. In particular, management education was judged to be doing a poor job on leadership development, which therefore remained a valuable and fertile area for future development. While Karpin had recommended study tours, mentoring and education programs for high potential leaders on a national basis, this vision and program had remained unfulfilled.

Toward the end of this concentrated period of activity Brennan Kemmis and Atkins published Teaching in the VET sector in Australia (2014). This book provided an overview of what the authors considered to be the key knowledge needed by Australian VET teachers. What can be noted from its topics is how issues judged important in VET practice had changed since the landmark reports. These include a number of significant language shifts: 'teaching' had become 'delivery'; 'curriculum development' had evolved into 'design'; e-learning had surfaced; assessment and language, literacy and numeracy (LLN) were explicitly named; connections with industry were highlighted; 'reflective practice' was now included; and there was considerably less reference to educational terms and more on policy terms such as competence, client needs and training packages (see Harris 2017). Around this time, too, the issues of what makes a good VET teacher, and whether and how higher-level qualifications for VET teachers would improve quality in the Australian VET system, were starting to be investigated by Smith and colleagues (2015, 2017). The findings of Smith et al., based on views of VET teachers and students, reflected that not only are expected aspects such as professionalism, disciplinary and pedagogical knowledge important, but so also are their relationships with and attitudes towards students. This suggests that many of the key aspects of a good VET teacher are balanced between their intrinsic personal attributes and those derived from their professional qualifications and experiences. It is therefore likely that any set of capabilities will be a useful but inadequate description of what really makes for effective VET practice.

Nevertheless, the quality of VET in general, and the delivery of consistent, high quality teaching/training and assessment in particular, have remained fundamental concerns for government, employers and students. Arguably the most formal approach, the development of national standards for the regulation of VET focusing on issues of quality, was undertaken by the National Skills Standards Council (2013). This Council had found many instances of excellent practice in RTOs but was aware also of growing concern that excellent practice was not systemic across VET, resulting in highly variable delivery of qualification outcomes. It stressed that effective regulation was critical to the sector's reputation, the confidence of industry and employers in the value of qualifications, and individual learners and employees having the skills to effectively perform in the workplace. The standards were later revised in 2015 and comprise eight standards totalling 59 compliance outcomes that an RTO must address in its engagement with the national regulator.

Since 2014

Since the third key period of activity on the work of the VET workforce, concerns about the capability building of the VET workforce have continued to be raised. For example, Rasmussen (2016) advocated for a national strategy for VET teacher capability-building or for continuing professional development, as there was 'no national approach or documented framework that articulates and measures engagement in a teacher's ongoing professional learning against their vocational competency, currency, pedagogical skills and knowledge' (p.i).

The quality of assessment has continued to be a particularly complex issue. The Australian Government (2016, p.4) in its discussion paper raised concerns about the quality of assessment in VET and the capacity of VET teachers and assessors to consistently identify the competency of students, much less deliver performance grading. Despite efforts to encourage VET practitioners to assess holistically, the Government was made aware of concerns that assessment tasks were being seen as too easy and people were being assessed as competent who should not have been. In 2017 the Productivity Commission (pp.93, 95) reported that the VET sector, despite 'its important but complex role', was facing 'a raft of problems' including the need to improve VET teacher capabilities and effectiveness, especially assessment practices. The Productivity Commission recommended strategies to strengthen VET teacher and assessment quality, including investigating how and where graded proficiency could be introduced.

In a similar vein, the Braithwaite Review (2018) was of the view that 'quality training depends on teacher quality, [that] professional teachers and trainers, in effect, regulate the quality of delivery and assessment at the coalface' (p.66). This Review concluded that 'deepening VET professionalisation and the commitment of the teaching workforce to continuous improvement in the quality of teaching and learning [were] imperative' (p.8). In particular, the review referred to four emerging issues (p.58) that were concerns and challenges for the VET sector's future: training quality, teaching professionalism, RTO ethics, and student protection and wellbeing – the first two having direct implications for the VET workforce. It recommended (pp.67-72) that:

  • the legislative framework be revised to require RTOs to assess the quality of its teaching workforce, develop teacher quality improvement actions and annually report their progress to the regulator;
  • the Training and Education Training Package be reviewed with the purpose of creating a career path for teaching excellence; and
  • a role of Master Assessor be created to help raise the standards of teaching and training excellence and professionalism in the sector.

In response, the Australian Government (2018) accepted the first two recommendations and asked its Department of Education and Training to determine the feasibility of implementing them.

Similarly, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA 2019), responsible for regulating 3854 of the 4274 providers registered to deliver VET in Australia (as of 31 March 2019), has recently vowed in its Regulatory Strategy 2019-21 to continue focusing on the capability of the VET workforce. Trainer and assessor capability is one area identified as 'a critical concern for the VET sector', as this is seen as 'directly linked to the quality of teaching and assessment, and therefore, student outcomes, across the entire VET sector' (p.7). A related key concern for ASQA is the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. Some stakeholders informed the regulator that they do not consider the qualification produces quality trainers and assessors, while others considered the requirements of the qualification to be too onerous and thus a deterrent to potential trainers and assessors with relevant skills and industry experience. Thus, the regulator has moved beyond the requirement for the Certificate IV for VET teaching to a broader range of qualifications.16 From 31 March 2019, new standards provide for qualification choices including the latest version of the Certificate IV TAE (TAE16), the former TAE10 with additional units of competency in LLN and assessment, as well as diploma qualifications and above, including postgraduate qualifications in adult education (ASQA 2017).

Further support for the need to develop the capability of the VET workforce to strengthen quality assurance has been documented in the recent reports of the Business Council of Australia (BCA 2018), Parker and colleagues (2018), Dawkins and colleagues (2019) and Joyce (2019).

How can the VET workforce be most appropriately prepared and developed?

The diversity, complex and transitory nature of the VET workforce as well as difficulties in determining what its employees do and the capabilities they need, make it correspondingly problematic to reach agreement on how to prepare and professionally develop its members. Hermann et al. (1972), in discussing significant questions such as what institutional setting is best for technical teacher education programs and what academic qualifications should be given on completion of these programs, had issued an early warning of this difficulty:

Providing a teacher education course for teachers of trade and technician courses that will produce competent practitioners as well as producing teachers with a broad outlook has not proved easy, nor are there likely to be simple solutions to the problems that such courses raise. (p.117)


These were indeed prophetic words, for there have been intense struggles to find answers to these dilemmas ever since.

The Tregillis report (1969) furnished very little information under its topic of teacher training, apart from recording that 'the training of vocational teachers has received insufficient attention' and 'properly organised training courses for workshop instructors are virtually non-existent' (p.88). The focus of the supervision of on-job training in Australia – 'unfortunately', the report records (p.86) – was on industrial aspects, in contrast to Europe where it was on qualified supervisors who ensured that thorough training was being undertaken and could 'advise the employers on their methods of training, point out any apparent deficiencies and assist them by providing guidance in training techniques' (p.86). The Tregillis report concluded that it is 'essential to any properly organised training scheme that there should be adequate initial and refresher courses in pedagogy both for vocational teachers and workshop instructors' (p.88). What was to be the nature of these 'courses of pedagogy' was left to subsequent reports.

It was against this training backdrop that, five years later, Kangan (1974) boldly envisioned a national, coordinated model for technical education and its teachers. Kangan stated that it was 'necessary to capture the enthusiasm of teachers and to provide them with opportunities to gain the background and skills required' and that 'the kind of teacher education and training, both initial and in-service, that is provided will determine how technical and further education develops' (p.24). Submissions to the Committee had indicated that teacher organisations emphatically desired teacher education for all TAFE teachers as the available technical teacher education was inadequate (vol.1, pp.88-89, vol.2, p.285). Other submissions stated that teachers were too concerned with transmitting facts and needed to understand how to teach adults, technical teacher education courses had little recognition and needed to be nationally recognised through a national accrediting authority, and there was need for more full-time teachers to reduce the numbers of part-timers who made planning and coordination difficult (vol.2, pp.285-286). The Committee found no common pattern of initial technical teacher education in the states (p.87), concluding that 'the issue is of great importance to the quality of TAFE' and that it was 'a matter of urgency for a special inquiry to be commenced into the initial preparation of teachers for TAFE' (p.89).

This recommendation led to the Fleming report (1978) via the Committee on Technical Teacher Education (COTTE) inquiry in 1995. Fleming acknowledged the COTTE document as 'the only detailed statement on TAFE teacher education in Australia' (1978, p.45). The report recommended programs of preparation be provided in each state and territory, wherever possible by colleges of advanced education, and that they lead to a suitable award recognised by all Australian teaching authorities for the purpose of employment. These programs were to be designed to develop an awareness of the nature, aims and organisation of TAFE, and incorporate principles, techniques and foundations of teaching, specialist curriculum studies, teaching experience in an internship, and personal development activities. While the most comprehensive statement of the requirements of a TAFE teacher program to that time, no government action eventuated as the normal triennium planning period was deferred. Moreover, the report, hampered by a time constraint and the lack of detailed information, was criticised as too accepting of the status quo and not concerning itself with the content of courses, thus lacking in depth. The Fleming inquiry then assumed the mantle.17

The encouragement in the Tregillis report and the submissions to the Kangan Committee undoubtedly furnish an explanation for the strong emphasis on pedagogical preparation that infused Fleming's work and its advocacy for moving away from school teacher model of teacher education towards one more appropriate for adult learners with quite different needs (Harris 2017). It recommended that:

  • all beginning TAFE teachers should undergo a teacher preparation program,
  • an induction course of at least two weeks' duration with an emphasis on basic teaching skills be implemented,
  • teaching commitments be arranged so that it would be possible to obtain an initial teaching qualification in two years,
  • arrangements for TAFE teacher education be improved, and
  • the provision of Commonwealth support for TAFE teacher education courses should be conditional on such courses being based on an objective assessment of the functions of all categories of TAFE teachers and the knowledge and skills necessary for the efficient performance of these functions.

The Fleming inquiry (1978) was the first systemic effort at improving the quality and standing of TAFE teachers. Its report was a powerful catalyst for a much-needed boost to TAFE teacher education, which to that time had been piecemeal and variable, and provided a conduit for considerable funding for resources, even though that original firm conviction (p.103) has gradually become diluted over subsequent decades to the point where the de facto qualification for VET practitioners is a Certificate IV.

For TAFE teachers, the Williams report (1979) deemed technical knowledge and skill in their subject field, professional competence as teachers and personal development as individuals with a breadth of view, and some administrative capacity, as all important. The report recognised the issues of maintaining the technical currency of full-time teachers, and of trades teachers, given their subject fields are specific, tending to have little professional contact with anyone but others in their field. Thus, it argued for deliberate action to broaden their experience and range of contacts and to help them acquire the operating skills of administration. In advocating the need for increased resources for staff development, explicitly cited were the updating of technical skills of full-time trade teachers and their awareness of technical changes and their impact on society, improvements in the teaching competence of part-time teachers, and the stimulation of interest in and capacity to improve the processes of teaching and learning (pp.312-313).

Thus, the landmark reports, with the one exception, were relatively general on the preparation and continuing development of the VET workforce. The Fleming report set the pattern for TAFE teacher education over the next decade and a half. Two important national conferences involving teacher educators and TAFE representatives were held in 1980 and 1981 where the Fleming model and its recommendations dominated the agenda. Delegates essentially reaffirmed the Fleming recommendations: the higher education diploma qualification was the preferred level, as delegates considered that only awards at this level would enhance the professional status of TAFE teachers; all beginning full-time TAFE teachers to be involved in the same broad program; programs to be primarily concerned with adult teaching and learning; the significance and legitimacy of the in-service mode to be recognised in accreditation; and technical studies not be a required component; and involvement of various parties in VET teacher education. Many of these issues have remained pertinent to today. In these debates, what can readily be seen to be missing are explicit references to the role of industry, competencies and assessment – these notions were to come later.

The main locus for VET teacher education in those earlier decades was higher education. Though Fleming had advocated restricted numbers of providers offering VET teacher preparation to conserve scarce resources, there occurred rapid explosion in numbers. From five CAEs and two state departments with approximately 1857 students in the late '70s, by 2008 these numbers had expanded to 20 universities with approximately 1984 students (Guthrie et al. 2011, p.26), together with, by 2013, 853 VET providers having on scope the Certificate IV TAE (39 295 enrolments) and 97 the Diploma of VET (1491 enrolments) (Guthrie & Every, 2013, pp.11, 15-18). By 2016, however, a notable decline had occurred in the numbers of higher education providers and students involved in VET teacher preparation, as universities tightened budgets and increasing criticism was levelled at the nature and quality of the courses.18 The consequence is that the VET system has largely returned to preparing its own teachers through the Certificate IV, thus leaving minimal numbers venturing into university VET teacher education degree programs.

However, the adequacy of this certificate has continued to be the subject of much research and endless debate (e.g. Clayton, Meyers, Bateman & Bluer 2010; Guthrie & Jones 2018, ASQA 2019). Despite the lack of information on the VET workforce, or perhaps because of it, the Productivity Commission (2011) concluded that the Certificate IV Training and Assessment formed an appropriate, entry-level qualification for VET practitioners, with two important caveats: that it was taught well and that it was viewed as the foundation for further capability development. Yet the Productivity Commission also acknowledged that the certificate did not always equip teachers with skills required to deliver VET effectively, did not completely cover the diversity of roles in VET, its delivery required more supervised learning, and concerns about the quality of that delivery were 'long standing, persistent and supported by recent audit evidence' (p.247). Moreover, up to 40 per cent of TAFE trainers and/or assessors (gauged to be higher still in the non-TAFE sector) did not have the necessary minimum educational qualification for VET practitioners (p.44). As only a first level qualification, the Commission recognised that the certificate was not fulfilling its potential as a basis for professional development, and that clear options and pathways for study beyond the Certificate IV needed to be available to the sector. The report lamented, however, that professional development opportunities in the sector were not adequate (p.279) and that:

[t]he Certificate IV in TAA cannot, even in an improved configuration, remedy all of the capability gaps that the Commission has identified as affecting the VET workforce. These include: delivery of higher-level qualifications; assessment of Recognition of Prior Learning and Recognition of Current Competency; information and communication technologies skills; skills in workplace-based delivery; and management and leadership skills. (p.303)


The very fact that this certificate has been changed so frequently reflects the ongoing lack of clarity and the confusion about how the VET workforce should be equipped for its roles.

While it is laudable that considerable endeavour has been directed toward identifying more about the work of VET practitioners and the capabilities they require, and into promoting policy options including more extensive use of continuing professional development and the notions of qualification and career pathways as a means of promoting the development of the VET workforce, there is little encouraging evidence to suggest that their solutions have settled on fertile ground on which to yield results. A number of professional development initiatives, such as CBT in action, Return to industry and National Transition Program, Framing (later Reframing) the future, and even the National Staff Development Committee to promote and fund VET staff development, have come and gone as initiatives to assist VET teachers to deal with waves of reform.

Since the demise of the National Staff Committee in 1996, there has been no national and broad-based approach to VET workforce development, with governments relying on states and territories and individual providers. However, much of this professional development has been characterised by 'information downloading' and more attuned to compliance and regulation, a reflection of the increasing shift away from individual to corporate concerns (Harris et al. 2001, pp.59-61). Moreover, a study on career pathways in VET (Simons et al. 2009) showed that while large numbers participated in professional development, teachers reported less access to formal professional development than did managers. Teachers also expressed lower levels of satisfaction with the encouragement they had been given by their managers to participate in professional development activities and with the quality of professional development they received. If these data are translated across the sector, then a policy direction that rests on lower levels of qualification coupled with professional development as the answer to enhancing the quality of the VET workforce may find it hard to find traction to deliver desired results.

Hermann et al. as far back as 1972 had observed that initial teacher education was only a starting point, and concluded that:

… if teachers are to improve their teaching competence [and] maintain an up-to-date knowledge of their … field, they must have the opportunity to take part in readily available, comprehensive and systematic programmes of in-service development. (p.118)


Subsequently, however, the importance of such professional development has been largely neglected, and by 2011 the Productivity Commission was still lamenting that 'opportunities for PD beyond the Certificate IV in TAA within the sector are not adequate' (p.247). Studies on professional development initiatives over many years have decried them as ad hoc, reactive, unrecognised and not in the best interests of employer and employee (VEETAC 1992, pp.15, 73), not sufficiently appreciated or planned and implemented, and fragmented (Perkins, in ANTA 1997, p.6), with opportunities being inadequate and unevenly distributed (Harris et al. 2001, pp.63, 66; Productivity Commission 2011, p.247). In a recent review, Tyler and Dymock (2017, pp.14, 46) found that professional development is often undertaken to fulfil obligations and meet certification requirements, as distinct from recognising its potential to impact on the quality of practice, often comprises one-off initiatives rather than a long-term approach, and that therefore the 'VET sector has yet to arrive at a point where practitioners and training providers are wholeheartedly committed to continuing professional development' (p.47). As Guthrie and Jones (2018) have concluded: 'Key stakeholders must understand that continuing neglect of initial and continuing professional development of VET's teaching workforce will do further reputational damage to the sector and the quality of the education it offers, and at worst may contribute to its eventual demise' (p.14).

The same conclusion could be made about developmental opportunities for leaders and managers. Mulcahy (2003) found that VET leaders and managers preferred training programs tailored to their specific needs and eschewed the more generic programs available. Recommended strategies for development included informal learning and networking; work-based projects; structured personal support; workshops, seminars and conferences; self-directed learning; as well as formal courses. Callan's (2001) gap analysis indicated areas of training and developmental need, key areas being corporate vision and direction, and achieving outcomes. He recommended a range of strategies for meeting the training and development needs of VET managers, including presentations, hands-on methods and team-building activities.


This paper has provided an overview of the VET workforce since 1969. There have been many encouraging aspects to note in the development of this workforce. These include:

  • its expansion in numbers and diversity to cope with the increasingly broadening VET environment
  • the increasing quantum and quality of research undertaken on it
  • the strengthening acceptance of workplaces as authentic sites for learning and assessment
  • the closer monitoring of training and assessment through trainer preparation and tighter regulation using national standards
  • the increasing comprehensiveness in the various attempts to capture the size and nature of the workforce.

The two main challenges foregrounded in this overview have been the continuing lack of consistent, regular collections of data on the national workforce and, despite a promising start following the landmark reports, the lack of progress in developing the professionalism of the VET teaching workforce via a strategic and systemic program of professional development.

Yet maybe the flurry of recent critiques (e.g. Productivity Commission 2017, Parker et al. 2018, Braithwaite 2018, Dawkins et al. 2019, Joyce 2019, ASQA 2019) generates some ground for optimism that a permanent and reflective lens can be focused on the continuing development of the VET workforce. Given the reinvigoration of interest in the VET workforce appears to have occurred in decade bursts (as in 1974-78, 1990-94, 2000-04 and 2010-14), perhaps another wave is indeed about to happen with the recent NCVER (2020) report on the VET workforce as the start.

The landmark reports are significant as they were the first to draw serious attention to many issues about the technical education (later TAFE, then VET) workforce that most writers today would acknowledge are still to be resolved. These issues include the need for accurate national data, the quality of training and assessment, and the capability of the workforce. Perhaps they never will or can be resolved, certainly not to everyone's satisfaction. The very nature of VET, with its ever-broadening scope and its intimate ties with industry and the economy, means that there have been and always will be a multitude of expectations from many diverse stakeholders. The fundamental issues are therefore likely to remain, hidden under the more visible, structural tip of the VET iceberg, despite the changes that will inevitably continue to be made in the VET environment. Attitudes and perspectives are notoriously difficult to alter, vested interests lurk in relatively unchanging trenches, and resources are always perceived to be insufficient. Clayton and Guthrie (2013, p.8) claimed that the reason why issues in teacher development do not become resolved is that 'no one body or group has the power to make things happen, or to enact comprehensive solutions… attempted solutions have been piecemeal, or have turned into battles between jurisdictions or a variety of interest groups over whom, precisely, has responsibility for carriage of the issue'. Three years later Braithwaite (2016) reached the same conclusion: 'The continuing tussles for dominance between these groups is puzzling because their complaints about the sector are strikingly similar … [yet it is clear there is] less agreement on whose responsibility it is to fix the problem' (p.47). Again, Ryan (2019) has pointed to successive governments having failed to face up to fundamental questions about the role and purpose of the VET sector, resulting in many difficulties which derive from the perennially unresolved 'training or education' dichotomy. The best that can be aimed for is that such issues about the VET workforce continue to be researched, published and debated, and that there remains open dialogue about what is best for the whole nation.


1. The term 'landmark', as defined by the NCVER, refers to documents considered by history and authoritative commentary to have influenced the development of the VET system, providing vision and/or leading to significant reforms or widespread cultural/attitudinal change.

2. This paper will refer to these reports not by their titles but by the names of their committee chairs, which is how Australians most commonly remember them. Their titles can be found in the References.

3. A useful list of resources can be found at:

4. Kangan admitted at the Second National Teacher Education Conference in 1981 that the acronym 'TAFE' had been 'an accident', and that he had deliberately avoided 'technical education' in his report title because of what he labelled its 'low-dive image'.

5. There was a second report in 1975 (ACOTAFE 1975), chaired by E. Richardson, which focused on financial assistance and developed a phased program for the implementation of the philosophies and concepts developed in the Kangan report.

6.For example, the report (ACOTAFE 1975) recommended a specific purpose recurrent expenditure grant of $2.4 million for in-service teaching staff development (p.170).

7. This inquiry will be referred to later.

8. Again, there was a second report in 1979 (TAFE Staff Development Committee 1979), chaired by H. K. Coughlan. which focused on the recommendations, strongly endorsing the initial Fleming report and declaring it was as convinced as its predecessor that 'greater attention must be paid to this field of teacher education if it is to meet adequately the teaching staff development needs of a sector of Australian education on which increasing demands are being made'. (p.2).

9. Wheelahan and Moodie (2011, p.4) use the terms 'teacher' and 'trainer' to include all of the following: teachers; trainers; lecturers; tutors; assessors; workplace assessors and/or trainers; VET practitioners; VET professionals (who teach, train, instruct or assess); VET workplace consultants; vocational educators; sessional, casual, contract and permanent staff; those who develop courses, modules, and learning and assessment materials; and any other term that may be used to describe those engaged in assessing, validating, moderating, training, instructing, and teaching and learning.

10. The First National Conference of Teacher Educators for TAFE was held in Sydney on 10-13 August 1980, the Second National Conference in Melbourne on 16-19 August 1981.

11. The Australian Conference of TAFE Directors (ACTD) had its origins in the Second World War meetings of State officers who met to co-ordinate the Technical Training Scheme. Following the Kangan report and the growth of the State TAFE systems, it had developed as a strong, co-operative and influential group. Its achievements had been 'very important steps in the development of a national TAFE system and the strengthening of links between the separate TAFE authorities. ACTD was extremely successful in replacing eight discrete TAFE systems with a more integrated set of national policies and more co-ordinated national statistical, curriculum and qualification arrangements' (Goozee 2001, pp.61). The 'exclusion of TAFE from the national advisory mechanism did not help national and State relationships' (Goozee 2001, p.65).

12. $94.2 million in 1972 equates, using the Research Bank of Australia inflation calculator, to $986 million in 2019, while the $114.8 million in 1973-74 equates to $1.2 billion in 2019.

13. The six teaching streams used in those years were: 1. Professional; 2. Para-professional; 3. Apprenticeship trades; 4. Other skilled; 5. Preparatory; and 6. Adult education.

14. For detailed statistics on the VET workforce and explanations for how these figures were derived, see Productivity Commission 2011, pp.345-387. See also ANTA 2004, pp.54-69.

15. Knight, White & Granfield (2020) report that the response rate was 40 per cent (1471 out of 3635 RTOs) (p.33), judged to be 'reasonable' given the survey was voluntary, online, had issues with contact details and was undertaken without any expectation of regular repeats of the survey, and compared favourably with other national workforce surveys (p.34). All figures were weighted estimates of headcount (p.10).

16. It is to be noted that, from the beginning of 2016, the mandated qualifications for VET teachers were broadened to include the Certificate IV or Diploma or higher-level qualifications in adult education, these latter to include language, literacy and numeracy. Also, the Victorian TAFE Teaching Staff Agreement 2018 now requires Diploma or higher qualifications for most levels of TAFE teaching staff, viewed 6 May 2020,

17. This inquiry involved study visits to each State to discuss issues with stakeholders, a survey of fulltime TAFE teachers (59 per cent response rate from 9645) to obtain a basic database, and visits by a UK expert, Eric Twigg from Huddersfield University, to each existing program to undertake detailed analyses of curricula.

18. For a more comprehensive analysis, see Guthrie (2010), Harris (2017), Guthrie & Harris (2018) and Guthrie & Jones (2018).


Landmark reports

Committee of Inquiry into Education and Training 1979, Education, training and employment: report of the Committee of Inquiry into Education and Training [Williams report], Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Committee on Technical and Further Education 1974, TAFE in Australia: report on needs in technical and further education, April 1974 [Kangan report], Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Technical and Further Education Council Staff Development Advisory Committee 1978, Formal preparation of TAFE teachers in Australia: a report to the Council by the Staff Development Advisory Committee [Fleming report], Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Tregillis, B 1969, Thee training of skilled workers in Europe: report of Australian Tripartite Mission 1968-69 [Tregillis report], Department of Labour and National Service, Canberra.

Other references

Australian Committee on Technical and Further Education (ACOTAFE) 1975, TAFE in Australia: second report on needs in technical and further education, May 1975, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Australian Government 2018, All eyes on quality: review of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011: Australian Government response, Department of Education and Training, Canberra.

Australian Skills Quality Authority 2017, Users' guide to the Standards for Registered Training Organisations 2015, Version 2.0., ASQA, Melbourne, viewed 6 May 2020, <>

——2019, Regulatory strategy 2019-21, ASQA, [Melbourne].

Australian National Training Authority 1994, Towards a skilled Australia: A national strategy for vocational education and training, ANTA, Brisbane.

——1997, Research reports into professional development, ANTA, Brisbane.

——2004, Enhancing the capability of VET professionals project: final report, ANTA, Brisbane.

Australian National Training Authority & RMIT 2002, Qualitative impact of training packages on vocational education and training clients, ANTA, Melbourne.

Braithwaite, V 2016, 'Marketisation and regulation of vocational education and training' in P Smyth, E Malbon & G Carey (eds) The power to persuade: social service futures and the Productivity Commission, UNSW Canberra, Canberra.

——2018, All eyes on quality: review of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011 report [Braithwaite review], Australian Government, Canberra.

Brennan Kemmis, R & Atkins, E 2014, Teaching in the VET sector in Australia, David Barlow Publishing, Macksville, NSW.

Burke, G 2018, Changes in funding in Australian vocational education and their effects, Vocational education for the 21st Century: a series of policy discussion papers, LH Martin Institute, University of Melbourne, Melbourne.

Business Council of Australia 2018, Future-proof: Australia's future post-secondary education and skills system, BCA, Melbourne.

Callan, V 2001, What are the essential capabilities for those who manage training organisations?, NCVER, Adelaide.

Clayton, B & Guthrie, H 2013, 'Tell me the old, old story or new messages? Five decades of inquiry into VET teacher development', paper presented at the 16th Annual Conference of AVETRA, 2013, Fremantle, Western Australia, 3-5 April 2013.

Clayton, B, Meyers, D, Bateman, A & Bluer, R 2010, Practitioner expectations and experiences with the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAA40104), NCVER, Adelaide.

Coates, H, Meek, L, Brown, J, Friedman, T, Noonan, P & Mitchell, J 2010, VET leadership for the future: contexts, characteristics and capabilities, L.H. Martin Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Management and the Australian Council of Education Research, Melbourne.

Competency Standards Body - Assessor and Workplace Trainers 1994, Workplace assessor competency standards, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Dawkins, P, Hurley, P & Noonan, P 2019, Rethinking and revitalising tertiary education in Australia, Mitchell Institute, Melbourne.

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Goozee, G 2001, The development of TAFE in Australia, NCVER, Adelaide.

Guthrie, H 2010a, A short history of initial VET teacher training, NCVER, Adelaide.

——2010b, Professional development in the vocational education and training workforce, NCVER, Adelaide.

Guthrie, H, & Callan, V 2002, 'Management and leadership in VET providers: the research and the capabilities that make for good managers' in World Federation of Associations of Colleges and Polytechnics (ed.) Second World Congress of Colleges and Polytechnics: papers, World Congress of Colleges and Polytechnics, Melbourne.

Guthrie, H & Clayton, B 2010, Building capability in vocational education and training providers: the TAFE cut, NCVER, Adelaide.

Guthrie, H & Harris, R 2018, 'VET practitioner education in Australia: issues and approaches' in S McGrath, M Mulder, J Papier & R Suart (eds) Handbook of vocational education and training: developments in the changing world of work, Springer Nature Switzerland AG, Cham.

Guthrie, H, & Every, P 2013, VET teacher, trainer and assessor capabilities, qualifications and development: issues and options, National Skills Standards Council, Melbourne.

Guthrie, H, & Jones, A 2018, How can VET teacher education and development be improved?, Vocational education for the 21st Century: a series of policy discussion papers, LH Martin Institute, University of Melbourne, Melbourne.

Guthrie, H, McNaughton, A & Gamlin, T 2011, Initial training for VET teachers: a portrait within a larger canvas, NCVER, Adelaide.

Hall, WC, Dean, S, Guthrie, H, Hayton, G, Mageean, P & Scarfe, J 1991, National review of TAFE teacher preparation and development: stage 2: models, TAFE National Centre for Research and Development, Adelaide.

Harris, R 2015, 'Quality in the Australian VET sector: what has been happening?', International Journal of Training Research, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 16-34.

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Harris, R, & Clayton, B 2010, 'Impact in vocational education and training research: the case of the Australian VET Research Consortium', International Journal of Training Research, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 6-24.

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Harris, R, Simons, M, Hill, D, Smith, E, Pearce, R, Blakeley, J, Choy, S & Snewin, D 2001, The changing role of staff development for teachers and trainers in vocational education and training, NCVER, Adelaide.

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L. H. Martin Institute 2018, Vocational education for the 21st century: a series of policy discussion papers, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, viewed 6 May 2020, <>.

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NCVER 2003, 'Getting the measure of the VET workforce', Insight, issue 12, November 2003.

——2004, Profiling the national vocational education and training workforce, NCVER, Adelaide.

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——2017, Shifting the dial: five-year productivity review, Productivity Commission inquiry report, no. 84, Productivity Commission, Canberra.

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Roger HarrisAbout Roger Harris

PhD, BA (Hons), DipEd, DipT (Technical), Grad Cert TESOL, Fellow of the Australian College of Educators, Emeritus Professor, University of South Australia

Roger Harris is an adjunct member of the Research in Educational and Social Inclusion Group in UniSA Education Futures, University of South Australia. He has over 40 years' experience and expertise in vocational and adult education research: Australian training reform, workplace learning, inter-sectoral movement of students, and professional and workforce development. Roger was editor of the Australian Journal of Adult Learning for 22 years and is currently co-editor of the International Journal of Training Research. Roger's work has been recognised by three inaugural awards: VET Researcher of the Year, Federal Government National Training Awards (2008); Ray Barker Award for Distinguished Service to VET Research (2006); and Distinguished Scholar, UniSA Division of EASS Research Awards (2006). View Roger's work in VOCEDplus.

How to cite this overview

Harris, R 2020, Landmarks in the development of the VET workforce: an overview, VET Knowledge Bank, NCVER, Adelaide, <>.

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