The VET Era: Vocational Education and Training in the Digital Economy

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Reeson, Andrew ORCID ID icon; Mason, Claire ORCID ID icon; Sanderson, Todd; Bratanova, Alexandra ORCID ID icon; Hajkowicz, Stefan ORCID ID icon




The Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector is an essential component of the Australian economy, providing millions of workers with the skills for productive employment. However, despite its importance it faces many challenges. Public funding has barely increased in the last decade, even as spending on schools and universities has grown. There have also been a series of regulatory changes which have had a significant impact, particularly on the public sector (TAFE) institutions. The world of work is undergoing a period of rapid change. Technology is impacting jobs, both directly, through automating some tasks and creating new ones, and indirectly, through disrupting business and employment models. The education sector itself is far from immune from this disruption, offering new opportunities and threats. There has also been a dramatic increase in life expectancy, which means most people are likely to have longer working lives. The objective of this report is to assess the implications of such trends on the VET sector in general, and TAFE Queensland in particular. It considers both how training needs will evolve in the digital economy, and how VET providers will need to change their business models in a more connected and competitive world. Our approach combines theory, from the academic literature, with statistical analyses of trends in employment data and expert insights drawn from a diverse range of stakeholders. The demand for education is rising strongly, and will continue to do so. Employment growth is highest among highly skilled jobs, though most workers are still employed at lower skill levels. The increasing importance of technology in the workplace means that computer, maths and technology skills are likely to be in particularly high demand. Workers will need to be able to use technology fluently and be comfortable with the information (often in the form of numbers) it generates. However, there is far more to the future workforce than technology. As routine tasks become automated, human workers will increasingly need to work in teams to address more complex problems, placing a premium on higher level interpersonal skills such as communication and negotiation. Service orientation is also of growing importance, reflecting the shift from manufacturing towards service industries. Again, as technology takes on more routine tasks, people will add value through their interactions with other people. Education is increasingly moving towards a lifelong learning model, rather than being compressed early in life. VET providers will need to serve a more diverse student population who will demand greater flexibility in how courses are delivered and qualifications are recognised. The sector must also be agile to respond to rapid changes in what employers require of their workers, for example familiarity with different technologies. This market responsiveness, though challenging to achieve, is the great advantage of the VET sector. A large, and growing, proportion of university graduates are subsequently enrolling in VET, suggesting that the sector is strongly positioned. Digital technology will also revolutionise the business of education. Training material will increasingly be delivered online, which offers both lower costs per student and an enhanced experience (through its ability to adapt to individual students’ needs). However, teachers remain an integral part of the system, and will continue to evolve from being information providers to learning facilitators. The upfront costs of creating quality digital content are high; global reach and economies of scale mean that a small number of digital content products will come to dominate particular subject areas. VET providers have the opportunity to reach more students than ever, but so do their competitors. It will be necessary to build partnerships to achieve economies of scale in the development of digital content, while delivering the excellent small group teaching



Labour Economics

16-00407_DATA61_REPORT_VETEra_TAFEQld_draft5_160704.pdf (pdf) (4.33MB)

This report has been placed on the CSIRO repository and may be made available to persons outside of CSIRO for non commercial purposes, in its entirety and without deletion of disclaimers and copyright information.


Client Report (Author)


Reeson, Andrew; Mason, Claire; Sanderson, Todd; Bratanova, Alexandra; Hajkowicz, Stefan. The VET Era: Vocational Education and Training in the Digital Economy. Brisbane: CSIRO; 2016.

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