WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF GAINING QUALIFICATIONS THROUGH WORK? Erica Smith & Andy Smith, University of Ballarat, Australia Abstract An important plank in lifelong learning policy in both the UK and Australia has been the opportunity for workers to gain qualifications through work. In Australia this opportunity has often been provided through the traineeship system which is a form of ‘modern apprenticeship’ that has now been in place for twenty years. Two national Australian research projects on the delivery of qualifications through work have been undertaken over a five-year period by the authors and colleagues. Both projects involved research with workers, managers, training providers, industry bodies, and relevant officials at State and national level. The 2003 project surveyed 400 companies that provided qualification-based training at work and also included twelve enterprise case studies. The 2008 project involved six indepth industry case studies, each of which involved interviews with relevant senior stakeholders and two enterprise case studies, as well as in-depth interviews with senior policy officials, employer peak bodies and trade unions. The studies showed that many advantages accrue to workers as well as to employers from the delivery of qualifications through work. However there are also some disadvantages and problematic areas for workers, some of which may become more apparent as the global financial crisis affects employment. In the discussion, some parallels are drawn between the Australian and the UK approach to delivering qualifications to lower-level workers through work.
This paper uses data from two national research projects in Australia to discuss the pros and cons of gaining qualifications through work. The paper is confined to qualifications delivered by the vocational education and training (VET). As Australia enters its third decade of ‘training reform’ (Smith & Keating, 2003), gaining qualifications through work has expanded from being primarily the province of male trade apprentices to being a commonplace activity for hundreds of thousands of workers through traineeships and through other workplace-based programs. Traineeships are a form of apprenticeship that is shorter than the traditional apprenticeship (usually 1-2 years as opposed to 3-4 years), and often in newer or service industries. For example retail is the most commonly delivered traineeship area. They were introduced as a result of the Kirby report (Kirby, 1985) and were intended originally to provide apprenticeship type arrangements for a broader range of workers, including women, and to ameliorate youth unemployment. Since the 1980s, apprenticeships and traineeships alike have been opened up to adults and to part-time workers. While there are many advantages that accrue to workers, companies and the nation from these new developments there are also some problematic areas. Many arguments have been advanced against Australian traineeships (eg Snell & Hart, 2008) and these arguments are generally rooted in the male trade interest groups. The arguments have been buttressed by many examples of poor practice whereby some training providers during the 1990s, through design or ignorance, delivered poor quality training and were seen to abuse the availability of government funding (eg Schofield, 2000). This paper does not address this issue as it has been well-rehearsed in the literature and is often transparently traceable to male trade interest groups wishing to retain government funding for training to their own constituencies rather than spreading it across the broader economy and to a greater variety of workers. The paper focuses rather upon more general pros and cons associated with delivery of qualifications through work.
Background And Literature Review
Three policy developments have facilitated the delivery of VET qualifications through work. While this section focuses on Australia there are many parallel...
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