Employer training in a changed environment

Research team:
Erica Smith (Federation University Australia)
Victor Callan (Callan Consulting Group)
Jackie Tuck (Federation University Australia)
Andy Smith (Federation University Australia)

Funding Source: National Centre for Vocational Education Research

Research Period: 2014-15

Project aims
This project provides an understanding of why and how employers train their workers in a dynamic policy and economic context. It clarifies their reasons for choosing to engage or not to engage with the formal vocational education and training (VET) system for this purpose, through the delivery of qualifications and skill sets. As part of this, the project examines the employer-RTO (Registered Training Organisation) relationship from the training provider viewpoint, and provides a basis from which we will explore the likely next steps in the employer-RTO relationship as it continues to evolve.

The project addresses the lack of comprehensive research relating to the current state of employer training; much major work in this area is 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.

Concomitantly there have been major changes in the VET system relating to government funding, the reorganisation of State TAFE systems, and incentives for training providers to work more closely with employers. In these changed environments, the relationship between providers and employers must be re-examined.


The overall research question is: What factors affect employer decisions about the extent and nature of training and other learning opportunities they offer to their workers, and how do such decisions impact on training providers?

Sub-questions are:

1. Why do employers train, and what are the effects of variables such as firm size, industry area, and traditions of training?

2. What types of training are utilised and in what circumstances (e.g. nationally-recognised training, in-company training, informal learning, use of competency standards for non-training purposes)?

3. What are the effects, on the provision and nature of training, of the availability of government funding, including employment incentives, and other VET policy changes?

4. What are other major enablers of, and barriers to, training in organisations?

5. How do training providers engage with employers to train their workers?

6. What major changes have taken place in aspects of employer training and in the employer-RTO relationship in the past decade?

7. What changes do employers seek as their workplaces and industries change?

Project phases

Phase 1:

Establishment of a project reference group; and a review of recent literature and other documentation.

Phase 2:

An online employer survey, of a sample of employers that reflects current industry structure and includes companies of different sizes, to find out the nature and types of training that employers provide or purchase for their workers, and examine their experiences in partnering with training providers.

To enable comparison of data over time, we are using adapted and updated versions of previous surveys of employers carried out by members of the project team in national research projects in 2002 and 2003.

Phase 3:

An online survey of a sample of Registered Training Organisations (public and private) to ask about their experiences partnering with enterprises. Again to enable comparison over time, we are using an adapted and updated version of a 2002 survey of RTOs (Callan & Ashworth, 2004)

Phase 4:

'Matched-pair' interviews asking employers and RTOs about partnerships. The interviews focus on the nature of the partnerships and factors facilitating their success, and for the employers the opportunity is taken to seek out more information about their training practices. This phase uses an adapted and updated version of a 2002 set of 'matched-pair' interview protocols (Callan & Ashworth, 2004).

Phase 5:

Additional employer interviews with 10 employers who do not have significant partnerships with training providers. These interviews are adapted from the Phase 4 questions and are carried out with employers in the same industry areas and of approximately the same size as those in Phase 4. This phase enables some insights to be obtained into why some employers engage with the formal VET system and others do not.

Quantitative data analysis: The employer and RTO survey data are analysed initially using descriptive statistics and tabulations. Relationships between variables of interest are explored, e.g. relationships between perceptions of the availability of government funding and other VET policy changes on partnerships. Qualitative data analysis: Interview transcripts are analysed thematically for each matched pair, and then in a cross-case analysis. A meta-analysis will bring together data from the qualitative and quantitative phases.

Phase 6:

This dissemination phase includes meetings with industry and training provider stakeholders, and international validation.

Project progress
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.

For further information about the research, please contact Professor Erica Smith on 03 5327 9665 or e.smith@federation.edu.au