Continuity and change: employers’ training practices and partnerships with training providers

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Continuity and change: employers’ training practices and partnerships with training providers

Erica Smith
Andy Smith

Jacqueline Tuck

Federation University Australia

This document was produced by the author(s) based on their research for the report Continuity and change: Employers’ training practices and partnerships with training providers, and is an added resource for further information. The report is available on NCVER’s Portal: .
The views and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Government, state and territory governments or NCVER. Any errors and omissions are the responsibility of the author(s).

Victor Callan

University of Queensland

© Commonwealth of Australia, 2017

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With the exception of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, the Department’s logo, any material protected by a trade mark and where otherwise noted all material presented in this document is provided under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia licence.

The details of the relevant licence conditions are available on the Creative Commons website (accessible using the links provided) as is the full legal code for the CC BY 3.0 AU licence .

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This document should be attributed as Smith, E, Smith A, Tuck, J & Callan, V 2017, Continuity and change: employers’ training practices and partnerships with training providers — support document, NCVER, Adelaide.

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Extended literature review 5

Introduction 5

Why do employers train? 6

How do employers train? 8

Major barriers to, and enablers of, training 15

Contemporary issues in employer training 16

Conclusion 20

References 21

Detailed research method 24

Procedure and samples 25

Respondent characteristics 26

Data analysis 27

Limitations 28

Detailed findings from the employer survey 30

Nature of the responding organisations 30

Reasons for training 32

Organisations’ training structures and practices 32

Relations with external providers of training 37

Employers who use nationally recognised training and those who do not 40

Conclusion 42

Detailed findings from the survey of registered training organisations (RTOs) 45

Characteristics of the respondents 45

The nature of the partnerships 46

Partnership drivers 49

Characteristics of successful partnerships 51

Partnership performance 53

Government funding for partnerships 58

Summary 61

Detailed findings from the interviews 62

Nature of the partnerships 62

Benefits of partnerships to RTOs 64

Benefit of partnerships to employers 65

Success factors for partnerships 66

Employer survey – selected results by firm size 69

Employer survey qualitative data – selected results by firm size 91

RTO survey – results by organisation type 107

RTO survey qualitative data - by organisation type 116

Comparison between responses to employer survey and to 2003 survey, for selected questions 157

Comparison between responses to RTO survey and to 2002 survey, for selected questions 162

Comparison between TAFE responses to RTO survey and to 2002 survey, for selected questions 169

Extended literature review


There has been a lack of comprehensive research relating to the current state of employer training, with the majority of existing work in this area being between 10 and 20 years old. Since the mid-2000s there have been substantial changes to the Australian 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 nature of employer training and the relationship between providers and employers needs to be re-examined. The lack of research evidence is unfortunate since it is over the past decade that Commonwealth and State governments substantially increased their direct investment in employers’ use of VET.

It is commonly accepted that continued industry and organisational change is producing flatter, more flexible and responsive organisations with work cultures that support employees who need to be more autonomous, innovative and more customer-focused than in the past. Australian workers now require a wider range of capabilities, skills and technical know-how in order to successfully operate in these changed and highly competitive environments. Significantly, as noted by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (2013, 2014), there is a clear link between the provision of quality formal learning and non-certified learning and increased workplace productivity.

Most research attention has focused on formal VET and employers. Numerous reports have commented on the changes that are occurring in the Australian VET sector (Callan et al. 2007; Stanwick 2009; Harris & Simons 2012; Allen Consulting Group 2013; Department of Industry, 2014a). The VET system has undergone a significant and permanent transformation towards being more focused on training for specific employers rather than for the general labour market. This development has created a change in the ways in which institutions are managed and how VET teachers work, including engaging in more marketised and commercially-driven behaviours, and more contextualisation of training. Over the last decade, the quantum of total State government funding for VET has increased, although this is now beginning to reverse. But it is also argued by many, including Burke (2013) that VET is underfunded compared with other sectors of education.

A number of initiatives to promote employer training, specifically using nationally-recognised training, have been implemented over the past decade and are discussed later in this paper. It is important to note that Australia is not alone in implementing new initiatives involving public funding, to promote training by employers. Indeed it could be argued that government-supported apprenticeship systems have been doing this for decades, if not centuries. The role of government in supporting training within companies is a long-lived, but also a contested, area, as will be discussed further later in this paper.

While research in Australia on employer training more generally may have suffered something of a hiatus during recent times, international research has continued apace. Such research has examined the often complex relationships between employers, employees, training providers, Governments and the nature of training. These studies often explore how employers and their workplaces are using training to assist them to respond better to skill gaps, as well as the training and retraining required where industry responses to change and restructuring in response to continued globalisation and increased competition.

Given these reasons, now, more than ever, it is an appropriate time to return to fundamental questions such as what makes employers train their workers, what barriers and facilitators exist, what makes them decide to utilise nationally-recognised training and/or other forms of structured training, or more informal means of work-integrated learning as part of their training strategies.

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