School of Education

RAVE recent research

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 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

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

The findings of a project designed as a pilot for this study can be found on the Service Skills Australia website. The project led to two submissions to the VET reform task force:

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 website.

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.