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The Challenges of being Workforce Ready and the Ensuing Opportunities for VET

Being ‘Workforce Ready’ can represent a different meaning to different groups of participants within the labour market. For younger generations it can mean having a prosperous sense of employability within the enrolment market, taking their first stab within the world of work fresh from a university degree or apprenticeship scheme. For others it can mean a new venture and a need to upskill, maybe a second, third or even fourth stab at a gratifying career path and re-entering working life; potentially after a failed attempt, absence or simple change of ambition. Being ‘Workforce Ready’ is to bestow ‘Employability’; ‘A set of attributes, skills and knowledge that all labour market participants should possess to ensure they have the capability of being effective in the workplace – to the benefit of themselves, their employer and the wider economy’ (Confederation of British Industry, 2009).

A ‘No Frills’ report recently released by the National Centre for Vocation Education Research discusses the challenges posed to individuals within the current market, whether first-timers or well-seasoned members of the working world, and how these challenges pose opportunity and create demand for VET which increases employability and workforce readiness.

It is no secret that one of the biggest challenges individuals are facing in regard to their employability at present, is the effects of COVID-19 on many industries and day-to-day life. It can be argued that the definition of ‘Employability’ has changed in the face of COVID-19, as employees and jobseeker’s capabilities of being effective in the workplace are compromised. Individuals, companies and even entire industries face the unfamiliar and intimidating challenges of across-the-board trade pauses, budget cuts, unemployment and liquidation. The world has had to shift and evolve to keep an income through the door, in turn creating a huge demand for upskilling and extra Vocational Education Training to increase employability in a now much more saturated and altered labour market. The younger generations are likely to be especially affected as overrepresented in industries hit the hardest by the pandemic, such as the arts, sports, recreation, hospitality and retail and many will be forced to explore VET as a link to re-entering the job market from a different angle.

‘There is an expectation that an individual’s skills will need to evolve, and that their knowledge will grow in response to changing work requirements over their working life. People will need to continually upskill, especially because of technological change.’ (National Centre for Vocation Education Research, 2020). The report has a particular focus on the importance and benefits that VET poses for an individual and how it can take someone to a more attractive level of workforce readiness. VET not only adds to an individual's general job-readiness-skills such as problem-solving, communication and self-management but also occupation specific skills and techniques required to fulfill a particular position.

As admitted by the Australian Government, it has been voiced and discussed that the VET sector has suffered from lack of attention and consideration in recent years; it was underfunded and it was unclear where their reputed budget was utilized. There were also certain grievances regarding the slow qualification development and an improvement in responsiveness was considerably overdue.

Interestingly, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst in bringing these issues to the forefront of concern, as the government and organisations from around the world have been forced to take immediate action and give important attention to many aspects of society, responsively including all levels of education and therefore all Vocational Education and Training systems. 

In Australia’s after-school education sector, the actions taken include:

  • Varying support provided by a number of institutions, including further funding from the government for VET systems to support job seekers and those in apprenticeships to have the opportunity to embark and continue in upskilling and training for the jobs of the future post-pandemic. Offerings include government funding of courses, meaning that training is either free or low cost for training placements in areas of identified need
  • A huge shift to online education to provide safe learning in all education sectors
  • The new eventuality of a sub-committee of the Australian Industry and Skills Committee (AISC) to drive forward and support the development of training packages during the pandemic
  • The provision of heavily subsidised short online higher education courses in national priority areas
  • Wage subsidies for apprentices and trainees
  • Launch of the apprentice and trainee re-engagement register
  • Relaxation of international student nurse visa conditions

These actions are good example of how the challenges faced by the VET have spurred opportunity in the face of adversity. Being work-force ready and increasing employability means ‘no longer are we developing qualifications for a world where your entry qualification is designed to set you up for the remainder of your working life’ (Australian Industry Group 2020, p.1). There is now a clearer vision that an individual’s skills will need to be able to adapt, evolve and grow with time and within the present and future climate over their working life. The opportunity for upskilling will become ever more sought after and more in demand, especially as a result of technological and sociological change; and in order to do this people within society need to welcome the notion of life-long learning and growth as they advance onward along their career journey.

Witten by Sophie Cunningham; 28th August 2020

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