RAVE recent research

Unfunded research

VET teachers’ motivations for entering and remaining in the VET workforce

RAVE researchers: Erica Smith and Annette Foley. Other researcher: Daryl South, Charles Sturt University

There is a public debate on a shortage of teachers and trainers in and for the vocational education and training (VET) sector in Australia, and also internationally, and on possible reasons for the shortage. But there has been almost no research into this topic.

In response, Federation University and Charles Sturt University undertook a project about why people become VET teachers/trainers and what makes them stay in the occupation. We carried out the research with VET teacher-education students at both universities, who were already working as VET teachers/trainers while studying part-time for a higher-level qualification.

The project had two main research questions:

  1. What are the barriers, facilitators and motivators to entry into the VET teaching profession?
  2. What factors affects decisions to remain in the profession?

The project consisted of an online survey of all 2023 VET teacher-training students, and those who finished their studies in 2021 and 2022. The data has been used to inform the Commonwealth government’s current initiatives on the VET workforce.

The survey collected nuanced data on reasons for becoming VET teachers, on comparative pay rates between relevant industry occupations and VET teaching, and what might encourage others to join the VET teaching workforce and stay in it. The survey used and adapted questions and concepts from prior reports in Australian and overseas, as well as the researchers’ knowledge of the VET teaching workforce through their lengthy involvement in VET teacher-education.

The survey questions may be viewed here (PDF, 274 KB). If you would like to use the survey questions for research purposes, please contact us as indicated on the document.

The survey was administered between June and August 2023, and 146 valid responses were received. The respondents were well distributed across teachers’ age ranges, length of service, and the industry/discipline areas into which they teach. Most respondents were from TAFE. The teachers were highly engaged with the survey, and have provided lengthy qualitative responses which are currently being analysed.

A document with the quantitative results of the survey can be seen here. A presentation on the results about reasons for entering VET teaching was given at the ACDEVEG conference in 2023 https://www.acde.edu.au/acdeveg-conference-2023/

Please address any enquiries to Emeritus Professor Erica Smith at e.smith@federation.edu.au

VET teachers and COVID

RAVE researcher: Erica Smith.  Other: Daryl South (Charles Sturt University)

The research was carried out with VET teacher-education students at two universities, who worked as VET teachers. All 2020 and 2021 students who had been working as VET teachers in March 2020, for TAFE or other Registered Training Organisations (not schools), were invited to participate. The online survey was administered in August 2021, with 73 responses; the response rate of 18% was almost certainly affected by the new lockdowns at that time.

The project had two research questions: (1) How did Australian VET teachers’ work change during 2020 as a result of COVID-19 - including, but not limited to, moving to on-line learning?; and (2) What did teachers learn from this experience, and how might practices change in the future?

We asked the teachers and trainers about what happened to them during the move to online teaching, the online platforms and methods they used, and how their students coped with the change. Nearly three quarters had moved from on-campus teaching to online teaching. Only a few reported no change to their teaching. As the teachers worked in a wide range of industry areas, many interesting and varied accounts emerged.

The data are still being analysed, but summaries were presented at the ACDEVEG conference in 2021 https://www.acde.edu.au/networks-and-partnerships/acde-vocational-group/ and the NCVER conference in 2022 https://www.voced.edu.au/content/ngv%3A94329

Learning to be safer: Learning during the COVID-19 pandemic

Researchers: Erica Smith and Morgan Wise

The ‘Learning to be Safer’ research project aimed to find out the ways in which Australians were learning about matters to do with four aspects of COVID-19 during mid-2020: health information, restrictions on movement, the worldwide progress of the pandemic and financial provisions. There was at that time no published literature on this topic. This project used an on-line survey, similar to the successful ‘Learning to be Greener’ research project carried out by RAVE researchers Erica Smith, Morgan Wise and Annette Foley in 2019.

A follow-up survey ‘Learning to be safer in 2021’ added two new items to the research: vaccination and international travel. Just over 100 responses were received to this survey, and the two sets of data are being analysed together.

View the Federation University Newsroom item on the first 50 responses.

An overview of the findings of the first survey has been published in ‘Research Today’ October 2020, pages 7-9.

View the first survey (docx, 93kb)

View the second survey

Funded research

Careers in everyday industries: Potential benefits of increased visibility

Project funded by a National Careers Institute Partnership Grant ($151,679).

RAVE researchers: Erica Smith (project leader) and Andy Smith. Other researchers: Richard Robinson, Victor Callan (University of Queensland), Darryn Snell (RMIT), Antonella Sterrantino (Skills IQ), Silvia Munoz (Skills IQ).

The low status of retail and hospitality industries and their constituent occupations discourages people from imagining long-term careers in the industries. This factor restricts the view of young people and mature people alike of available careers, discouraging uptake of those careers that are in fact most attainable for people. The project (2021-2022) is mapping career paths that exist, investigating reasons for the low status of careers in the industries, and finding  strategies that might correct the problem. View the project web page for more information.

Learning to be greener

Research team: Erica Smith, Annette Foley and Morgan Wise

The ‘Learning to be greener’ project has been studying the way in which Australian adults are learning about specific changes in recycling and waste practices. During 2018, Australians’ daily lives changed quite a lot due to changes affecting plastic shopping bags and recycling practices. We are interested in how people learned about these changes and how people changed their behaviour.

This small pilot project is a sequel to the RAVE research group’s 2009 project ‘Learning to be drier,’ led by Barry Golding, which examined how people living in the Wimmera-Mallee region of Victoria learned how to manage with drier conditions and how they changed their behaviour.

The research comprised an initial focus group and expert interview, examination of publicly-available educational materials on these two matters, and an on-line survey carried out with a population of 1500 adults working at a number of campuses of a regional university.The project has now concluded.

A paper was presented on the initial findings of the project at the SCUTREA conference in the UK in 2019. View the paper on pages 97-106.

Young futures project

Erica Smith and Annette Foley completed a major research project: ‘Young futures: Education, training and employment decision-making in non-metropolitan areas in 2018-2019’. The project was funded by the Department of Education and Training (DET) Victoria as a Strategic Research Seed Funding Pilot 2018-19.  The study examined the processes that young people in rural, regional and peri-urban areas go through as they make choices about their post-school trajectories, and developed good practice models for communities, employers and education providers to support them.

The project set out to answer the following questions:

  1. How do young people navigate decisions related to post-school education, training and work and what decisions do they make?
  2. Who and what are the influencers and how do they affect the decisions?
  3. What could change to provide better post-school outcomes for a larger proportion of young people?

The project, carried out in six communities in Victoria, developed ten key findings and twelve suggestions for improved post-school outcomes for more young people. The report concludes with a series of recommendations, derived from the key findings and the participant suggestions, for the following stakeholder groups: schools, community organisations including employers, tertiary education providers, young people and their families, and governments. Full details of the research and its findings can be found on the project web page.

Pedagogies to engage: VET teacher practices and pedagogies that engage early school leavers

Researcher: Annette Foley

This small project was funded by the Australian Council of Deans of Education Vocational Education Group https://www.acde.edu.au/networks-and-partnerships/acde-vocational-group/

The study examined how adult pedagogies and practices were used to engage early school leavers at an early school leaver program at a Regional TAFE Institute. The project was designed to provide an enhanced understanding of young people’s experiences in the early school leaving program and explored the young person’s plans and aspirations after completing their TAFE program. The research questions were:

  1. What teaching strategies do VET teachers employ to engage young learners who have left school early?
  2. What are the pedagogies used in pathways programs?
  3. What other teaching strategies are employed to engage students who have left school early?
  4. What are the aspirations and plans of young people?

Rationale: School retention rates for students in regional Victoria are lower than metropolitan areas. Out-of-school programs and TAFE programs that cater for early school leavers play an important role in engaging and reengaging students back into schooling, education and training and employment.

Method: A qualitative single case study was employed in an early school leaving program at a TAFE institute in regional Victoria. Data were collected via semi structured face to face interviews with seven TAFE teachers teaching young people in the early school leavers program, and two focus groups of 8 and 10 students.

Partners and men’s sheds: The broader benefits

Research Team: Annette Foley, Barry Golding and Helen Weadon

The study examines the partners (and carers) of men participating in men’s sheds to better understand what benefits they gained from the men close to them attending a shed. The research was interested in exploring the benefits, including health benefits, for partners in relation to the men’s attendance at the shed, how the sheds were perceived by the partners, and had the relationship changed since the men started to attend the shed. The research questions were:

  1. What are the benefits for the partners of men when the men attend men’s sheds?
  2. Had the relationship changed since your partner went to the shed?
  3. Are there health benefits for partners, and for the men?
  4. What are the social benefits for the partners, and for the men?
  5. What do the sheds mean for the partners in relation to opportunities to learn and socialise?
  6. What impacts are there on partners now that men have a social network away from the partner?

Significance: The project is significant because it has been shown, through earlier RAVE research, that men benefit from attending sheds, through greater community connection, social interactions, sharing skills and through benefits to health and general wellbeing. But there is little research about the impacts on partners or carers.

Method: Data were collected via 17 semi structured face-to-face interviews with partners or carers of men who were attending sheds in Ballarat and surrounding areas.

In addition, several focus groups of men in six sheds in the Ballarat and surrounding areas were conducted

VET teaching workforce in Australia (2020)

Project for Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training (KRIVET)

Researcher: Erica Smith

The project involves researching aspects of the VET teaching workforce in Australia, including the analysis of research data and government policies and reports.  The context is VET for adults and disadvantaged groups, not VET in secondary schools.

The project covers the following topics:

  • Working conditions of vocational training teachers, such as wages and working hours, compared with other occupations;
  • Qualifications and professional development for vocational training teachers;
  • Career development, career guidance, and career management for vocational training teachers.
  • View the final report (docx, 223kb)

International projects on apprenticeship

Erica Smith has been leading several projects on apprenticeship, funded by the International Labour Organization (ILO), during 2017-2018. The ILO is a United Nations agency.

Erica was invited to give a keynote speech at an ILO event in Geneva in July 2018, which drew on much of this research ‘International Conference on Innovations in Apprenticeships: A Skilled Workforce for the Future’

For ILO’s Geneva office, a Discussion Paper on the Role of Intermediaries in Apprenticeship Systems. With the high level of ongoing international and national policy interest in apprenticeships, increasing attention is being paid to the role of third-party or intermediary organisations that undertake different roles and responsibilities in some systems. These types of organisations provide a range of services in apprenticeship systems, often focusing on improving the participation of SMEs and enterprises more broadly. Group Training Organisations in Australia are a prime example. However, there is currently no research that examines the different types of organisations involved, the scope of services they provide and the means by which they are funded. Erica Smith was asked to review literature and current practices, to identify good practices, and to develop a typology of these organisations by type, by the services they provide and by sources of funding. View the final project report 

For ILO’s Jakarta office, Research, Review and Development of a Revised Model of Quality Apprenticeship for Indonesia. This project involved Erica in interviews with stakeholders in and near Jakarta, and collaboration with ILO staff to produce a new model for apprenticeship in Indonesia, which were presented at a tripartite meeting in Jakarta in September 2017.

For ILO’s Bangkok office, 2017 Research and preparation of chapter for publication on Skills and Future of Work: Strategies for Inclusive Growth in Asia and the Pacific. This project has involved research and analysis on the role of apprenticeships in addressing youth unemployment. Erica presented the results at a forum in Bangkok in October 2017: the Regional Skills Meeting on Skills and the Future of Work: Strategies for an Inclusive Growth in Asia and the Pacific’. The forum consisted of international experts and tripartite participants from six countries. Feedback was incorporated into a final version which was disseminated through a book which was published by the ILO.

For ILO’s Geneva office, Erica Smith with the assistance of RAVE member Jackie Tuck, undertook a project Collaboration on ILO survey report of national initiatives to promote quality apprenticeships in G20 countries. This research project was on G20 countries’ policy initiatives on apprenticeships. This project involved the analysis of data from a survey sent by the ILO to three respondents in each country, representing government, labour unions and employer bodies. The context for the project can be seen in the G20 Hangzhou communique (item 40)

View project report

Continuity and change in employer training practices and partnerships

Federation University Australia, together with the Callan Consulting Group, obtained funding in 2014 from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) for a major research project entitled: "Employer training in a changed environment". This project, led by Erica Smith, examined why and how employers train their workers and employers' choice about whether to engage with the formal VET sector or not. The project addressed the lack of comprehensive research relating to the current state of employer training; much major work in this area was between 10 and 20 years old. Since the mid-2000s there have been substantial changes to the economy, including the effects of the Global Financial Crisis, industry restructuring, and increasing globalisation and competition. Recently, there were major changes in the training system relating to government funding, the reorganisation of State TAFE systems, and financial incentives for training providers to work more closely with employers. In these changed environments, the relationship between providers and employers needed to be re-examined.

The project has been completed and the final report is available at https://www.ncver.edu.au/publications/publications/all-publications/continuity-and-change-employers-training-practices-and-partnerships-with-training-providers. A ‘Good Practice Guide’ on partnerships between employers and training providers can also be accessed via the ‘Related items’ link on that page. A webinar organised by the NCVER and including some of the participating employers and training providers, can be accessed at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/8675865107718756354

Recently completed ARC-funded projects

VET teachers: Qualifications and quality

Erica Smith and Jackie Tuck concluded  an Australian Research Council Linkage project in December 2017. The project’s title was:
"Would more highly-qualified teachers and trainers help to address quality problems in the Australian vocational education and training system?" This project brought together researchers from Federation University Australia, the University of Technology, Sydney and the University of South Australia to work with partners from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, the VET Development Centre, the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, TAFE Queensland and Federation Training.

This project examined whether and how higher-level qualifications for vocational education and training (VET) teachers would improve quality in the VET system. Government documents and public commentary indicate that the VET sector suffers from some fairly serious quality problems. This is significant because VET provides training that underpins all Australian industries. Most VET teachers are qualified only to a Certificate IV level, at least in VET teaching. It would be expected that a more highly qualified VET teaching workforce might lead to improvements in quality, along with other factors.  Prior to this project there was no firm evidence to establish this link. The project has provided much-needed evidence to guide policy. Full details of the research and its findings can be found on the project web page.

Recognising the skills in jobs traditionally considered unskilled

This was a three year project (2011-14). There is a project web page with full details. There were three industry partners: Service Skills Australia, Manufacturing Skills Australia, and United Voice (formerly the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union). The project investigated unidentified and undervalued skill in people's jobs through research in nine occupations in service and manufacturing industries. It provided evidence that can be used to improve government policy, qualification-based training for work, companies' management practices that relate to skill, skill levels and the perception of skill. These changes will provide individuals with better life chances and improving self efficacy in the labour market.

FedUni researchers were Erica Smith and Andy Smith, with Ian Hampson and Anne Junor at the University of New South Wales.

Project report and outcomes

A report, other publications from the project, and related submissions to government inquiries can be found on the project web page

How do qualifications delivered by enterprises contribute to improved skill levels and other benefits for companies, workers and the nation?

There is a project web page with full details. This research investigated the role of employer-based qualifications training in developing the skills and prospects of the Australian workforce and the competitive capabilities of companies. It focused on enterprises that are accredited to deliver qualifications to their own workers, providing data to improve and expand this form of training. The researchers were: Erica Smith and Andy Smith (FedUni) and Arlene Walker (Deakin University). The industry partner organisations for this project were the Enterprise Registered Training Organisation Association (ERTOA) and eight of ERTOA's member organisations.

Project report and outcomes

An overview report is available at the project web page.

RAVE research completed 2010 - 2014

Erica Smith and Steven Hodge completed a small research project, together with researchers from three other universities, on student satisfaction with VET teacher-education programs. This project was auspiced by the Australian Council of Deans Education of Vocational Education Group. Preliminary findings were presented at three conferences and one of these presentations, at the AusTAFE Conference 2014. Two of the conference papers are listed below

Smith, E., Hodge, S. & Yasukawa, K. (2015). Australian VET teacher education in Australian universities: Who are the students and what are their views about their courses? Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 20 (4), 419-433.

Smith, E., Yasukawa, K. & Hodge, S. (2015). Australian VET teacher education: What is the benefit of pedagogical studies at university for VET teachers? TVET@Asia, 5, July.

Erica Smith was part of a team led by Hugh Guthrie of Victoria University that undertook a research project entitled 'Review of the effects of funding approaches on Service Skills qualifications and delivery in Victoria'. The project was funded by Service Skills Victoria. The project team consists of: Hugh Guthrie, Berwyn Clayton, Tom Karmel and Erica Smith. The project aimed to

  • Develop a timeline documenting key changes in the approaches and levels of course funding in the Victorian VET system
  • Analyse and document changes in qualification and provider profiles, preceding and during these funding changes
  • Describe changes in the student and enrolment numbers in Service Skill qualifications over the nominated time course
  • Describe any changes in student and qualification outcomes over the time course.
  • Gather, document and report stakeholders' views about the effects that the funding changes have had on the level and nature of training in particular industry areas and by VET providers covered by Service Skills.

Download report (pdf kb)

Erica Smith also completed an unfunded research project: What is the potential for research and scholarship among staff in the non-university tertiary education sector? This project (with Brian Hemmings from Charles Sturt University and Roger Harris from the University of South Australia) examined discipline-based research in non-university higher education providers.

Carolyn Johnstone has completed a project on 'The changing relationship between the Australian Army and national systems for Vocational Education and Training'. Funded by a 2014/15 Army History Research Grant, this research in the area of military social history extended knowledge and understanding of the links between Australian Army training and wider national VET. The project examined documentary sources and a third generation cultural-historical activity theory model of two interacting activity systems was used to analyse the Army – national VET relationship. At some points, the Army's training fed into the national system; at other times, Army drew from the wider civilian organisation; and, joint development of training also occurred. The extent to which Army and national VET have a shared purpose for their endeavours ultimately determines the strength of the relationship. As Australia continues to evolve a national system for VET, large employers (similarly to the Army) might be viewed as interacting activity systems. In this way, they can negotiate the outputs of their technical and vocational training as a common purpose and adopt some or all of the national components of the system.

Katrina Kavanagh completed an NCVER-funded community of practice project. The title of the project was 'To examine the use of video mediated technology to promote engagement and completion in the flexible delivery of an associate degree program.' The aim of this project was to investigate the usefulness of connecting using video conferencing, to what extent it enhances the quality of learning and to what it extent it promotes teacher to learner, learner to learner and learner to content engagement.

Barry Golding completed, with Dr Annette Foley, Prof Lawrie Angus and Dr Peter Lavender (from the UK) a major national study of Learner Voice in Australia for NVEAC (National VET Equity Advisory Council).

Barry Golding and Annette Foley edited a book now published by NIACE (National Institute of Adult Continuing Education) called 'Men Learning through Life'

Erica Smith has completed the following project, funded by the Delhi offices of the International Labour Organization and the World Bank: 'Possible futures for the Indian Apprenticeships system'. This was completed at the end of 2012. The purpose of the study was to review international good practice in apprenticeships and workplace learning and recommend options for future development of the Indian apprenticeship system. A presentation of the options in New Delhi elicited feedback from senior stakeholders in the Indian system. India has a population of 1.2 billion but a very small apprenticeship system, and is looking to expand its system to underpin its rapid economic and social development. The project was managed by Professor Erica Smith, with assistance from Associate Professor Ros Brennan Kemmis at Charles Sturt University. The project harnessed the skills and experiences of an international team of researchers, all experts in the field of apprenticeship. As part of the project, the experts wrote country case studies for Australia, Canada, Egypt, England, France, India, Indonesia, Germany, South Africa, Turkey and United States.

Erica Smith with colleagues Ros Brennan Kemmis and Arlene Walker completed a project in 2010 on the psychological contract in apprenticeships and traineeships. The report has been published by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research.

This research examined the psychological contract in apprenticeships and traineeships – the unwritten but powerful aspects of the employment relationship that affect people's expectations and satisfaction. The project found that employers and apprentices/trainees had similar views of each other's obligations and that the most important perceived obligation of employers was to provide good training. While expectations were generally well met on both sides, more mature apprentices/trainees were generally less satisfied than younger ones. Making expectations explicit led to greater satisfaction. The project found a number of case studies of good practice in management systems to provide good training, but noted that a range of people throughout a company needed to be committed.

Erica Smith was part of a team, led by Steven Hodge formerly at the University of Ballarat and now at Griffith University, undertaking 'Modelling Learning & Development Practitioner Needs', a small project funded by the Australian Institute of Training & Development (AITD). The project developed a model of practitioner needs across the learning and development (L&D) industry. The project employed expert advice and literature review to draft an L&D industry practitioner needs segmentation model.

RAVE research prior to 2010

Adult learning in informal and community settings. In 2009 RAVE members undertook three major research projects in many sites across Australia:

  • 'Older Men's Learning in Community Settings' in Tasmania, South Australia and New South Wales. Our aim was to study senior men (age 50+) participating in community-based organisations in urban, rural and remote contexts in Australia. Funded by National Seniors Australia. National Seniors Australia - Research into learning by older men in Australia (pdf, 873kb)
  • 'Men's Learning in Community Contexts'. We are also facilitating several international comparative studies of men's learning. Funded by Western Australia Department of Education and TrainingLink. Research into learning by men through community based organisations in Western Australia (pdf, 887kb)
  • 'Learning To Be Drier?', examining how four communities in the southern Murray Darling Basin learn about changes in water availability and how they learn to adapt. This research was undertaken with colleagues at Deakin University, and Dr Mike Brown of Latrobe University, and funded by the University of Ballarat-Deakin University Collaboration fund. The findings from this project were published in a special edition of the Australian Journal of Adult Learning, Vol 49 Ed 3 (2009).

Snapshot of recent research into men's learning: Many men in our research have reported negative experiences and attitudes toward formal learning. Some of these negative experiences can be debilitating and adversely affect men's lives, and in many cases become inter-generational. Our interest goes beyond learning for learning's sake. We are seeking evidence of relationships between men's positive experiences towards learning, their well-being and the community.