Trade TAFE for high school


8 August 2019

Sarah Gates, La Trobe University

Australia’s schools are experiencing a critical shortage of trades, design and technology teachers.

Secondary schools around Victoria and Australia are struggling to recruit and hold staff qualified to teach a range of Vocational Education and Training (VET) certificates for senior students. Trades, design and technologies subjects the hardest hit. ‘It’s beyond breaking point,’ reports Raffaela Galati-Brown OAM, Principal of Northern College of the Arts and Technology (NCAT).

When you think of jobs of the future, you might imagine drone traffic optimisers or genetic modification designers. But tomorrow’s generations will still need people who can make and fix things: plumbers, mechanics, carpenters, electricians and engineers. Those driverless cars will need maintenance and drone docking stations will need to be built.

VET in Schools (VETiS) plays an important role in preparing Year 11 and 12 students for the transition to the workforce or further study and provides a pathway for hands-on learners who might otherwise reject school. These programs allow senior students to gain credit towards their VCE and ATAR, or towards their VCAL, familiarise themselves with trades and technical jobs and workplaces, and obtain a qualification at the Certificate II or III (in non-trades areas) level to kickstart their progress towards an apprenticeship or further study.

For an economy facing a shortage of tradespeople, the VETiS program leads to a valuable increase in completion of apprenticeships. In a recent four-year review, NCAT found that over 80% of its students who go from VETiS to an apprenticeship finish their training, compared to the national average of around 50%.

Specialist and non-specialist schools are willing to invest in trades, design and technologies, especially with the rise of STEM. NCAT has invested $12 million in a trades training centre and another $5 million in technology and equipment. But what use is state-of-the-art education infrastructure with no one to teach in it?

There has been an explosion of VETiS since 2000, but no accompanying recruitment and education for specialised teachers. There are simply not enough trades, design and technologies qualified teachers to fill current vacancies, which threatens the existence of these programs and could put teachers and students at risk—certainly in the case of non-specialist teachers being asked to demonstrate or supervise the use of complex and dangerous equipment.

While principals and groups like the Design and Technology Teachers’ Association (DATTA) lobby the government for added support for training, La Trobe University has designed the Bachelor of Technology Education to help mature age students from a trades or other technology background take their years of experience and expertise into the classroom.

Catered to experienced adults currently working in trades or technology, The Bachelor of Technology Education degree is different from your average education qualification. Prior work experience is recognised and classes are held on weekends, meaning that students can hold down their existing jobs while studying towards a teaching career. Graduates are equipped to teach Years 7-12 design and technology.

Many students enrolled in the La Trobe degree are already working as TAFE teachers—and they have an added advantage. Because VET teachers already have a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, they are ideally placed to step into La Trobe’s degree and into VET programs in specialist and non-specialist schools.

This course provides another career avenue for TAFE teachers. Teachers can become managers, principals, consultants and policy advisors. Last year, a former VET carpentry and landscaping teacher at NCAT, who moved from industry to teaching, became principal of a secondary college.

Forty-three-year-old Jeannette Valencia found a pathway back to school with La Trobe’s Bachelor of Technology Education. Over her career, she has been a chef, cook, kitchen manager and, for the past 11 years, a TAFE teacher.

She has been able to fit study around her current work schedule Now in her third year part-time, graduation is in sight and Ms Valencia is glad she made the leap.

Teaching young people is incredibly rewarding. Design, trades and technologies and VET in Schools teachers can be a positive driving force in young people’s lives when it really matters. VETiS is an exciting and valuable option for many secondary students, and they need the right teachers to mentor them.

Australian trades and technical sectors need young people to develop vital industry expertise into the future and, to do this, we need suitably qualified and talented teachers right now.

This article originally appears in The Australian TAFE Teacher Winter 2019.