Foresight Contributions

Will public policy makers respond to the pandemic’s pressure testing of the value of PTET?

Dr. Don Zoellner, University Fellow, Charles Darwin University

UNESCO reports that Anglosphere countries generally demonstrate that a market with multiple ‘private and public training VET providers of greatly varying quality reduces the value and recognition’ of the sector’s qualifications.[1] For example, Australian researchers report that primary and secondary school students hold negative views of VET that strengthen in the latter years of schooling in preference to higher education. [2] English studies have shown that many thousands of PTET qualifications have ‘little value’ for young persons and employers in the labour market. [3] And it has been shown that in lower income countries that ‘donor agencies have [historically] not valued and invested in vocational education’ contributing to further disadvantage. [4] Globally, vocational education has a relatively low status ‘particularly when compared to academic routes leading to higher education’.[5]

The results of a recent set of international surveys by the OECD [6] into the current pandemic’s implications for Vocational Education and Training (VET) show that professional technical education and training (PTET) provides the cornerstone of youth transition into the labour market. In addition, health-related responses to the COVID-19 crisis by various governments have ‘revealed how much the jobs for which vocational education and training prepare are the backbone of our economies’.

As this Foresight Article is being written, Australia’s largest city (Sydney) is subject to a raft of restrictions intended to reduce the mobility of residents in an effort to limit the spread of the COVID-19 Delta Variant. The intention is for all residents to stay at home except to exercise alone, get medical treatment including vaccination, to acquire basic necessities such as food and toilet paper or to attend work if they are designated as authorised workers.

The New South Wales State Government [7] has published a list of these authorised workers who are allowed, indeed, encouraged to attend work in order to keep critical sections of the economy operating in order to provide the population with essential goods and services. Presumably, these industry sectors and their qualified workers are, as suggested by the OECD, the backbone of the Sydney economy. This list of authorised workers has been analysed to determine how many occupations are listed and then separated into two groups, those requiring a higher education qualification for entry and those who are most likely to hold a PTET qualification in order to do the job.

Ten critical industry sectors have been identified by the state that require authorised workers despite population-wide stay at home orders. These (and the number of specific jobs in each) include:

  • Administrative and support services (1)
  • Agriculture (1)
  • Education (2)
  • Electricity, gas, water and waste services (6)
  • Health care and social assistance (10)
  • Information media and telecommunications (4)
  • Manufacturing (6)
  • Public administration and safety (10)
  • Retail trade (23)
  • Transport, postal and warehousing (15)

These 78 jobs in the ten industry sectors can be divided into the 73 whose main certification comes from PTET and the remaining 6 that require higher education qualifications. This much smaller group includes some teachers (where their schools are open to look after the children of essential workers), some legal system workers, doctors/nurses/pharmacists and information technology specialists. Clearly in this period of pandemic-induced crisis, the New South Wales Government has confirmed that the state’s economic spine is constructed from workers that are trained through the VET system. However, the most recent review of this state’s training system found that many students ‘believe that VET is not accorded equal status [to higher education]’ and they ‘do not attach much value to VET’ credentials undertaken at school. [8]

In more normal times, the sorts of jobs (and the PTET qualifications leading to them) that are being performed by these authorised workers are undervalued and considered to be of lower status than those occupations that require a university degree. However, this simple analysis of the types of workers that are required to keep the economy and society operating at a base line level in an emergency produces a very different assessment of esteem and value. Let us hope that for those who make and implement public policy lessons from this pandemic that there is an acknowledgement that these crucial roles have an equally, and numerically more, important role than the formal professions and that PTET qualified occupations should be publicly and programmatically recognised and encouraged. The pressure testing example used here produces clear results that should be used to appropriately recognise and value a nation’s socially and economically vital skills system.

[1] Toner, Phillip. 2011. Workforce skills and innovation: an overview of major themes in the literature. Paris: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry. P. 51.

[2] Hargreaves, Jo, and Kristen Osborne. 2017. Choosing VET: aspirations, intentions and choice. Adelaide: National Centre for Vocational Eucation Research. P. 2.

[3] The Independent Panel on Technical Education. 2016. Report of the Independent Panel on Technical Education (the Sainsbury Review). London: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. P. 8.

[4] Wheelahan, Leesa, and Gavin Moodie. 2016. Global trends in TVET: a framework for social justice. Brussels: Education International. P. 37.

[5] Ibid, P. 15.

[6] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 2021. Implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for vocational education and training. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. P. 4.

[7]New South Wales Government. 2021. “Authorised workers.” New South Wales Government. Accessed 23 July 2021.

[8] Gonski, David, and Peter Shergold. 2021. In the same sentence: bringing higher and vocational education together. Sydney: New South Wales Government. Pages 6 and 28