Could Active Citizenship Be the Missing Piece in Australian VET?

The place of VET within the Australian industrial landscape seems fairly robust, but compared to the global landscape, it could be lacking in one key element: active citizenship.

VET in Australia

Vocational Education and Training (VET) equips people will skills and knowledge to perform in jobs. People who have learned these working capacities can go into jobs and help to improve businesses. Businesses make money and they pay taxes, when they do well then Australia receives more revenue to be put back into community-building programs that improve the standard of living.

It is no wonder why VET is highly responsive to industry needs. In fact, learning outcomes and benchmarks are derived from skills and knowledge required by businesses and the industries they occupy. Industries and businesses write the book on learning benchmarks.

In support, the Australian Council of Governments (COAG) focuses on programs to systematise VET so industries can be fuelled with a highly competent workforce. Programs implemented are based on four priorities (, 2018):

  1. Industry responsiveness
  2. Quality and regulation
  3. Funding and governance
  4. Data and consumer information

The reality, however, is that Australian industry does not exist in isolation.  We exist as part of a global economy, and that means it is probably a good idea to consider how Australia takes part in the global community.

What does the world think of the Australian VET system?

In 2015 there was a meeting conducted by the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) with the express intention of determining the most important factors for educating functional and socially contributing adults. The meeting concluded there are five key factors (Milana et al., 2017):

  • Factor One:  Basic skills
  • Factor Two:  Vocational skills
  • Factor Three: Active citizenship
  • Factor Four:  Health and well-being
  • Factor Five:  Environmental sustainability

At first, it appears the Australian VET system only achieves vocational skills (Factor Two). The system, however, is open so many programs can operate to make the whole. From environmental protection laws (Factor Five), health & safety (Factor Four) and adult development defined by core skills (Factor Two), the Australian VET system is strong.

And yet it is lacking in one key area: active citizenship (Factor Three).

Active citizenship is about people making genuine connections and undertaking activity with communities they are within. UNESCO tells that we cannot rely on government-funded programs to do that for us because it is too expensive.

COAG can help but in a limited way through funded programs, law and regulation. The trouble with law and regulation is the temptation is to follow them to the minimum required, leading often to compliance at the expense of performance, rather than performance that is compliant. Yet, some of the most successful educational organisations in the world are active citizens that do not have access to vast sums of capital.

South African vocational education modelling active citizenship

South African vocational education centres were studied by Celestin Mayombe (2017) who determined active citizenship affected learning and income-earning outcomes. A government-funded and managed organisation (A) and a privately funded and managed organisation (B) formed part of the study.

Organisation A achieved learning outcomes, but graduates found difficulty in finding employment due to minimal after-study support.

Organisation B, with fewer funds available, developed active connections with national and local organisations for which on-the-job training could be conducted. Graduates from organisation B had similar employment struggles but they were more likely to start their own income-generating businesses that also stimulated growth in the local communities.

Time will reveal how initiatives like that will contribute to improving South Africa’s 26.7% unemployment (Writer, 2018). Post-school priorities in South Africa include active citizenship activities as part of its vision to “strengthen the foundations for good governance by enabling citizens to participate meaningfully in the social, economic and political like of the country” (Republic of South Africa, 2012).

What can we do to be Active Citizens in VET?

Successfully developing a world-class workforce, and having access to it, requires businesses to be active citizens that apply for their own supportive programs, and to:

  1. Find ways to build mutually advantageous connections between students, training providers and industry organisations.
  2. Find a way for students to be involved in real-world work experiences.

Training providers know they need to meet ‘industry engagement’ regulatory obligations. Most do this well but can be guilty of only doing it to be minimally compliant; to check the box that needs to be checked.

The purpose of the regulatory requirement, however, is to promote relevance and active citizenship within industry communities.

Only when businesses and training providers reach out to each other and become actively involved with each other will Australian VET and industry organisations join together to become world-class leaders.

About the author:  Christopher Ward is Trainer/Assessor with Fortress Learning.  He has a keen interest in the broader VET landscape.

References (2018). Government Priorities for Vocational Education and Training. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Jul. 2018].

Mayombe, C. (2017). Integrated non-formal education and training programs and centre linkages for adult employment in South Africa. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 57(1), pp.105-125.

Milana, M., Holford, J., Hodge, S., Waller, R. and Webb, S. (2017). Adult education and learning: endorsing its contribution to the 2030 Agenda. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 36(6), pp.625-628.

Republic of South Africa. (2012). National Development Plan 2030 Our Future-make it work. Pretoria: National Planning Commission, p.316.

Writer, S. (2018). Good news as South Africa’s unemployment rate drops. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Jul. 2018].

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