SkillingNow Podcast: Episode 3 - Transcript

SkillingNow Podcast: Episode 3 - Transcript

  • Anna Zongollowicz: I am Anna Zongollowicz, the Network’s Project Director. I am here with Gary Workman, the Executive Director of Australia’s Apprenticeship Employment Network, and Dean Luciani, the Chair of the Apprenticeship Employment Network and Chief Executive Officer of Westvic Staffing Solutions based in Victoria. We are talking about their recent visit to Switzerland to learn about the Swiss apprenticeship model and the challenges and opportunities to lifelong learning in Australia.

  • Gary has over 20 years of experience in the Vocational Education and Training sector and has worked on numerous government and industry projects including in the areas of workforce development and apprenticeships. He’s a member of the Victorian Government Apprenticeships Taskforce through the Victorian Skills Commission Office. 

  • Dean Luciani has over 20 years of experience within the Vocational Education and Training sector in both metropolitan and regional areas, and he’s a strong believer in adherence to governance underpinned by quality systems.

  • Dean, Gary, welcome to the GAN offices here in Geneva, Switzerland.

  • Dean Luciani: Thank you, it’s an absolute pleasure to be here Anna.

  • Gary Workman: Yes, welcome.

  • AZ: So let me begin by asking what motivated your visit to Switzerland.

  • DL: Well, firstly we’re absolutely delighted to be a member of the Global Apprenticeship Network. I understand that we are the fifteenth member to come on-board, which is wonderful. Australia has a relatively strong history in apprenticeship, and we see our membership of the Global Apprenticeship Network as a terrific opportunity to learn from best practice and certainly so far our visit has delivered in spades.

  • GW: Certainly from an Australian perspective we see that the Swiss model is very strong with very high participation rates and very strong completion rates. And these are two areas that have been declining strongly in Australia, so we are keen to understand how the system here works so well for so long.

  • AZ: And what have been your key takeaways so far?

  • GW: I think looking at how you engage with your youth in the early secondary school years. 12 to 15-year-olds are given a lot of responsibility to understand the career options that are available and are given the opportunity to explore. We heard the term “sniffing” this week. It’s a new term for us, but we like the model where students take a little more responsibility early on for their career choices. The Swiss model is very flexible, people have the opportunity to go through a VET pathway and then on to university. Or from a baccalaureate perspective, into VET then onto university. So your system is very flexible and engaging people at a younger age. We think this is something that we certainly will take back to Australia.

  • DL: I think that the status and the positive attitude towards VET in Switzerland is just absolutely tremendous. We’ve heard a lot of business and case stakeholders talk about apprenticeship being in the DNA of the country and I think it’s wonderful how all these stakeholder work so closely and collaboratively together, and also how strong parental support for VET as a genuine pathway is in this country.

  • GW: You certainly have a lot stronger connections to the employment opportunities. So employers are taking on apprentices at a young age and they can see a pathway for their employment needs and their skill needs. In Australia, we have 2/3 of our youth go to university and then they finally after maybe 4 or 5 years they understand what they want to do in life. It’s a lot later in their life compared to Switzerland. So these are some of the strengths of your system.

  • DL: It’s important to note that we support university pathways, but it’s also important to understand that there is more than one pathway to a higher education. Being able to establish a lifelong learning experience through VET that may then lead to higher education we think adds even more value to skills for the future.

  • AZ: Maybe on this note that you’ve already touched upon Gary, what are the biggest challenges that accompany the school to work transition in Australia?

  • GW: Giving young people the chance in Australia to explore the options that are available; understand the job opportunities. We tend to have a very strong curriculum that focuses on getting a good academic score at the end of your year 12. We have 6 years of secondary school instead of 3. Our system is very focused on getting a good score and then you make your decision based on the score: whereas here it’s more about the exploration of career, the opportunities and what you’re good at, and then you follow that pathway. It’s not necessarily based on your academic score.

  • DL: I have to agree with Gary. I think there’s a terrific opportunity for us to learn and perhaps improve on some of the mechanisms that we’re using in the Australian system. I must say that we think that the Australian system is very strong and robust, but we need to take every opportunity to do two things: one is to learn from good practice and we believe we are witnessing good practice in Switzerland; but also where we can actually impart some of our knowledge, some of our experiences and some of the strengths of the Australian system, we are very keen to share that as well.

  • AZ: So, on that note, what are the strengths of the Australian system?

  • DL: Certainly in the traditional technical areas, we have a very high level of competence and high level of training within the Australian system. We are certainly very well regulated from a contract of training, from the appropriateness of employers and from an occupational health and safety point of view, which is very important. We have some very robust mechanisms that hold that together.

  • AZ: I’d like to pick up on something you said earlier about the focus in Australia on academic scores at the end of high school education. And I think we’ve discussed this before, also stigma when it comes to vocational training. Would you say that this focus on high scores at the end of high school education contributes to the stigma associated maybe with vocational training that requires lower scores?

  • GW: I think that’s right. Also coupled with parents’ aspirations for their youth. In Australia, we are a fairly wealthy country. Parents like to have good intentions for their children, so aspirationally university seems to be a better paying job, more prestigious, but in reality, that’s not the way that it works. People who graduate from VET qualifications normally have less debt from a student loan, have great skills, are very employable and attract a very good wage. But parents are stuck probably thinking like one or two generations earlier, how they were in Australia. I think the tide is turning back, there’s certainly more interest in how do we support unemployed youth and how do we engage with young people to look at the skill shortages we have in a lot of the technical areas. You can earn a very good wage if you’re skilled in a VET space in Australia. I think parents are just now starting to realise that there’s opportunities at all levels.

  • DL: I have to agree, Gary. I think that it is important for us to work a lot harder with parents in Australia, so that they perhaps can understand just how important and how genuine a VET pathway is. And just because you chose VET straight out of school it does not mean that you don’t have opportunities to do further study and in fact it can be a wonderful pathway. I myself started life as an apprentice and then went on to do some further study after that. I am a product of the Australian apprenticeship system and I think that if you look around the world, you’ll see thousands of very successful people that started off through this wonderful pathway.

  • AZ: And what was that experience like? Can you tell us a little bit about your apprenticeship?

  • DL: Absolutely! My apprenticeship was in engineering. And in Australia we do six years of secondary school. Certainly after that I had enough of school for a while and I was very ‘hands on’ focused. So I went into an engineering apprenticeship and really enjoyed that, and was able to really enhance my learning experience through the VET pathway and then moved to further study from there. I thin that if I’d have gone straight to university it might not have been as productive an experience.

  • AZ: As many youths might discover or are discovering… I think in my own family we had an example of that as well. University, which was maybe a chosen path for my parents, but not necessarily what my sister wanted to do with her life. So we saw first-hand the struggle that accompanies parents’ ambition and the actual young person’s desires.

  • DL: That’s a really good point and parents do want the best for their children, but I do think they can be overly involved in the career-making decisions at times. There’s probably work for us to do to just really lift and continue to work on the credibility around VET.

  • GW: I think that just trying to get young people follow their passion more than an academic score. We have a lot of opportunities for young people to try music and sport and a whole range of arts and different areas, but then the school curriculum brings them back to an academic score. I think that’s probably where we’re failing a little bit. If we could say “Follow your passion a little bit harder and see where that leads and understand the pathways into what careers that would look like” and I think then we would get far better completion rates, a lot more engagement with our youth and hopefully that would attract more employers back to the system as well.

  • AZ: Are there any discussions at the moment in Australia when it comes to the educational sector, any reform going on?

  • DL: There’s a number of reviews going in the education system at every level. I think that moving forward it will be important that we actually look at a holistic solution. What impressed immensely and what has impressed us during this visit is the cohesiveness between the education system, industry and the regulators of your apprenticeship system. Whilst I think we do have that to a certain degree, I think that there could be a lot stronger connections with our stakeholders. That’s certainly a learning that we’re keen to take back to Australia. I would have to say we’ve also been very impressed with the early engagement model and how heavily that’s being supported by the Education Department. I think that is an area that we have put some mechanisms in place in Australia, but this visit will probably really give us the catalyst to improve that, Gary?

  • GW: It’s certainly one of the areas in Australia that we’re a little frustrated with. There’s been a number of reviews, we’ve had a lot of changing governments and we have a complicated system. So we have a federal review and then seven different state reviews. They never all land at the same point, at the same time and we have different variances of government as well. Sometimes a situation can be politically driven, we’ve seen very little of this here. It’s also probably a little bi more focus on employers needs here compared to Australia. We would say our system is embedded with industry and employers’ needs, but not to the same level that we’ve seen here for the last week.

  • AZ: Picking up on your visit to Switzerland, you’ve had the opportunity also to meet with some apprentices at the companies that you’ve visited. Anything that struck you there?

  • DL: Certainly one of the highlights! We spoke to three apprentices on the very first day of our visit, 19, 18 and 17 years of age. And we were just so impressed with their level of maturity, with the mechanisms that they had employed to make their career choice and also the direction. There was some strong understanding of where they wanted to go with their careers. The young people that we’ve spoken to, and that’s just three, they are just such a credit to this country. We were very impressed.

  • GW: I would have to agree. Their level of confidence, they understood what they were doing, what were the expectations from their employer, and they understood what the pathway was, the opportunities available to them from 15 that is amazing. You provide that opportunity for young people. We probably don’t see the same level of engagement with our youth until they are probably 18-19-20. So they’re four or five years behind, which is one of the vast differences we’ve seen.

  • DL: So a key learning, I think that there’s real scope for us to look at some earlier engagement. Young people all over the world are very clever, and they have the ability to learn, and they have the ability to get information that we didn’t when we were young. I think that sometimes the only thing standing in their way is the old generation. I would love to see us take that as a key learning to Australia and perhaps look into some earlier engagement, and maybe help the education system to enhance their career advice.

  • AZ: You mention the older generation. We’ve already touched upon the issue of parents a little bit. Any ideas on how maybe to engage the parents?

  • DL: I think being a parent myself, I think what’s really important is that we loo at the positives within VET and if that means leveraging some of the work of the Global Apprenticeship Network, if that means being more active in promoting WorldSkills, which is an amazing event that is showcasing all of these wonderful skills; I think a lot of it is promotion, but I think a lot of it in Australia may be generational, may require a generational change. We need to be patient; we need to believe in our young people. I think it is important that we learn from other more advanced apprenticeship systems in other parts of the world. There’s not a quick fix for any of this, but we’re certainly very keen to be a part of a long-term strategy.

  • GW: I agree with Dean. I think a lot of the conversation in Australia is moving towards technology speeding up, we’re part of a global economy. I think parents are starting to realise that kids need better opportunities to understand their career pathways and lifelong learning opportunities and that technology is going to continue to change at a faster rate. Adapting youth with those sorts of skills is probably just as important as a specific skill at a point in time. I think our system is moving to that sort of conversation, but policy’s a bit slow. Government is probably the last to adapt.

  • AZ: Let’s go back into more of a policy discussion. And you’ve already touched upon this, Dean, but how do you see the role of the Australian Government and Australian employers, for example, in contributing to improving the approach to lifelong learning early on in an individual’s career. So we mentioned that here it happens at the age of maybe 15 already, in Australia a little bit later. What would be the role of the Victorian Government versus Victorian employers in promoting this?

  • DL: Victoria being one state of Australia, and it happens to be the state that I live in, I think has been very strong, proactive and supportive of the apprenticeship system. There’s certainly been a number of reforms over the last four years that I think have had a really positive effect on the way that we engage young people in Victoria. The Australian Government system is not a simple one. We have three tiers of Government: there’s a Federal Government, there are State Governments and then there are local governments. In terms of the role that policy can play we need to see a little more consistency and we need to perhaps see more collaboration between governments, so that everybody is pulling in the same direction. I’m not sure whether we can just blame government for everything, but it certainly has a role to play and that’s a leadership role, but I think for us to be able to affect some sort of cultural change, communities need to get together and they need to support the concept of apprenticeships and VET as a genuine pathway. That means businesses supporting and providing jobs, that means schools and intermediaries like the Apprenticeship Employment Network in Victoria working to give really good career advice. There is an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child and I don’t think that here’s a better analogy than that for where we’re headed.

  • GW: Australia has a very strong lifelong learning culture already. Probably about 40% of all our participants in VET are existing workers, so there’s plenty of opportunity for people to be reskilled and retrained. I think the problem is that we don’t spend enough time with the youth at a younger age to give hem the opportunity to explore what the benefits and the pathways are.

  • AZ: That’s a very interesting point, because we work in countries around the globe and we are now beginning to notice that actually it’s the older generations that are struggling. There’s so much focus on the youth and getting people into jobs. For example, we receive some feedback on our social media: What about the 40+? What about the people who have lost their jobs later in life? What are they to do? Especially in jobs lost to technology. So it’s interesting to see how in various countries these problems are also dependent on the demographics.

  • DL: Which can vary markedly. Australia is a very large country and there are lots of regional areas that have a whole set of challenges over and above those of the Metropolitan Area. I’ve done work in regional Australia and I think that is where it’s important to pull a sense of community together. There are a few cases with solid community leadership, good solid community engagement has been really positive. And that’s happened quite independently from Government and Government policy.

  • GW: We’ve had some very good examples where the automotive manufacturing sector in Australia has closed down. We had Ford, Holden and Toyota. There was a lot of noise in the media about older workers losing their jobs. There was a lot of retraining done. Most of those workers had two options: they retired on a fairly good package, or they had the skills to transition into other areas. The government spent a lot of time in that space, but one of the unintended consequences was that a lot of people thought that because we weren’t making any more cars, that there was no more apprenticeships in the servicing sector of the cars. So one of the hardest areas for us to attract a young person or an older person is in automotive servicing, mechanic. They’re probably one of the sectors that are going to be most affected by technology: we’ve got autonomous cars, 3D printing, we’ve got all this really exciting technology and the young people are told “Don’t go into that industry, because we don’t make cars anymore”. It’s interesting how perceptions can sometimes be a long way away from what the reality is going to be over the next five or 10 years. I think in Australia we’ve good a really good system set up, it’s just how we send some of those messages to young people.

  • AZ: I remember my first car was one of those 1979 models, in which you could just open the hood and do things to it and it would run again. I remember my father buying a new car some years ago and saying that you can’t do that anymore. You open the hood and you have no idea what’s going on.

  • DL: It’s a technical trade. It’s very high-end technology. I guess that’s one of the points we’re making. Apprenticeship and the skills required are high-end, so we should value them. I always have an old saying that is: I’d rather be represented by an unqualified lawyer, than to have an unqualified electrician wire my house.

  • AZ: Yes, the consequences can be dire in a different way. Maybe just a last question again following up on your visit here in Switzerland. How does being in an apprenticeship improve learning at work, in your opinion, compared with non-apprentice models?

  • GW: I think they’re a great opportunity for people in the workplace to learn from each other and also the young people providing different skills and understanding that older workers in the same workplace will pick up on them. I think that inter-generational sharing of knowledge and information is certainly a way that the organisation can benefit from older workers and young people in one place.

  • DL: Well said, Gary. Albert Einstein said: “The only true expert is experience”. And I think one of the wonderful things about apprenticeship is that we can pass on experience and knowledge from one generation to another. It’s really important and I think that it’s a tradition that we need to protect.

  • AZ: You mentioned Holden and the car industry. I remember there was a lot of, I guess, heartache about what happened as well in Australia. Do you know of any prospection studies in Australia, are we looking at what industries are growing in the future, what skills will be needed? Is there any of that thinking going on and any planning in line with that thinking?

  • GW: Australia does a lot of work on forecasting industry needs. The health sector is probably our biggest employment opportunity going forward. It’s one area where we have strong university pathways, but very few apprenticeship or traineeship opportunities at the moment. Building and construction, IT, service sector are probably the three biggest.

  • AZ: Dean, Gary, thank you very much for sharing what you’ve learnt here in Switzerland but also about the situation in Australia and your ideas going forward. I’m pretty sure our listeners will be happy to hear about the Australian example. I know from colleagues around the world that they were very interested in Australia. Thank you very much. I wish you all the best with your work going forward. And stay tuned!

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