Transcript of Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on VET

13 December 2022

Vocational Voices: Season 7 Episode 4

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on VET

Jenny Dodd (00:04)

I think COVID was a factor in what we are seeing as rising incidents of people exhibiting poor mental health and struggling with resilience. I think we have to be careful to not assume it is the only factor though.

Steve Davis (00:20)

Hello and welcome to Vocational Voices, the official podcast of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research or NCVER for short. I'm Steve Davis and today's topic is the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on VET. Our Vocational Voices today are Simon Walker, Managing Director NCVER, Jenny Dodd, Chief Executive Officer, TAFE Directors Australia, and Brian Rungie, Chief Executive Officer of PEER. Welcome all of you to the podcast.

The impact of COVID-19 on VET could best be described as a patchwork one. With some sectors and cohorts faring well, while others were adversely affected. But as we'll uncover in this conversation, some of the impact of the restrictions and disruptions brought about by the pandemic weren't new. Rather, the force changes in operations exacerbated problems that were already lurking in the system.

In this episode, we'll be discussing findings from an NCVER research project underway, which explores the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the VET sector, compared with the pre-pandemic period. It's due to be released in 2023. And many of these insights have arisen from semi-structured interviews conducted with 24 RTOs, including six TAFEs, six community colleges, five enterprise RTOs, and seven private RTOs.

So  let's start by highlighting some of the overarching insights into the impact of COVID-19. Firstly, by provider type and secondly by jurisdiction. Simon, can I turn to you first to walk us through the general patterns from the perspective of provider type.

Simon Walker (02:07)

Thanks, Steve. I think I'll start by saying there were some universal impacts for all RTOs. And the ones that really stood up was the switch to online delivery, that was quite dramatic and has continued. The challenges with mandatory work placements, obviously with apprenticeships and traineeships, but there are many other courses that require mandatory workplace experience as part of the training and assessment and that was universal across all RTOs who are delivering in those areas.

In terms of the specific provider types, we found that the TAFEs and no surprises really, the enterprise RTOs were more able to reorganize their businesses and whilst I wouldn't say they weren't impacted, they were less impacted than compared to private providers and community providers. Probably the ones that they were most impacted were the community providers, particularly when they had their outreach for disadvantaged students and in regional areas. They don't have the scale to be able to manage their business operations quickly. So  they were very severely impacted throughout that. And unsurprisingly, enterprise RTOs who are delivering to their own staff could manage the swings and roundabouts a little easier than most.

There were some differences within the TAFEs depending on the nature of the business and the diversity of their offerings and whether they're regional or metro. And I'm sure Jenny can offer a few insights into that.

Steve Davis (03:32)

Well, I'd like to turn to Jenny now because I'm hoping Jenny, you'd help us look at some of the general patterns during COVID based on jurisdiction. I want you to have a look at this because coincidentally two of the three RTOs least affected are in two jurisdictions where you've held senior positions with TAFE, namely Tasmania and Queensland. I don't know what the relevance of that is, but I thought it was quite curious. So  from a general perspective on jurisdiction, what have we seen?

Jenny Dodd (04:07)

I certainly think that we have to single out Victoria because the scale of the impact for Victoria was,  especially metropolitan Victoria, was absolutely humongous. The extent of their lockdowns and the extent of the fact that their students were unable to access not only some of their place-based learning environments, but most importantly work placement, actually had a huge impact on Victoria. Even as we ... and of course, we're not through the pandemic, but we are at a different point in the way in which we're now managing it. As we entered this year 2022, their backlogs were enormous in terms of being able to qualify students. So  I think we do have to single out Victoria in that regard.

In terms of the two jurisdictions that you mentioned, of course for Tasmania, they went into a fairly strong isolation environment fairly quickly and therefore we were able to see in the first year of the pandemic, which is when I was in Tasmania, we were able to work with smaller cohorts of students to be able to give them some of the practical learning experiences which is so much a part of the general students experiences at TAFE. And in that regard, we highlighted the critical industry and of course they were for the state -  electrotechnology, plumbing, construction and then some of our health industries. So  it was those industries that we highlighted as very important in terms of students' ability to get practical onsite learning experiences. That also blended, of course, with the work that we were doing in terms of transitioning to online.

So  I do think there was a jurisdictional difference. And I do think in Western Australia, as we all know, you were unable to get in and out. For the Western Australian TAFEs, despite the fact they couldn't get out of Western Australia, and nobody could get in, from what I understand, life for them was pretty normal in terms of the way in which they were able to deliver because the state was isolated but not the TAFEs themselves. So yes, the impact was different, but I think there were some common learnings. And I do think from our TAFE’s point of view, there was a lot of empathy for the extent to which Victoria had experienced what they experienced. All of the rest of the TAFEs also acknowledged and supported in a collaborative way, our Victorian colleagues through some of that process of change. I think the stories of real innovation, often they come across in every jurisdiction, but they are really strong in the Victorian experience.

Steve Davis (07:11)

Jenny, just before I turn to Brian, I'd like to dwell on input from TAFE Director's Australia into this report. Because there was a positive picture that emerged. You see, the peak body noted that there's been a cultural shift in TAFEs towards training and business operations, amid themes of collaboration and unification. Can you elaborate on this? Is there some broader context in which this shift has had its roots?

Jenny Dodd (07:38)

One of the things that TAFEs really did focus on through those first two years of the pandemic was around their own culture and around what change looked like and what transformation change looked like. There's never a right time often for a change process, but this particular circumstance accelerated some of the change that many of the TAFEs were going through.

In terms of TAFE Director's Australia's support for that, we did work with the TAFEs and there was a publication which predated me, which had some shared learnings from the TAFEs that TAFE Directors Australia produced. Then I think in the second part of that time period, of our COVID, we accelerated our collaborative networks and expanded them. So there was a lot of shared learning that the TAFEs were sharing with one another.

At a point in time when I first started, which was the end of August last year, we did have a CEO forum where we spent time with the Victorian TAFEs and dual sector university CEOs as a collective listening to their experiences and that was very informative for the TAFEs in the West and other TAFEs around Australia, in terms of their preparation for change because they were conscious at that time when borders were starting to open, what were they going to experience? And how were they going to react to that? Therefore, there was a lot of shared learning that came across the country on those shared experiences. It wasn't all about Victoria, I might add, because of course Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide, other parts of our TAFE network had all experienced lockdowns. So  there was a lot of shared learning as to what the TAFE had put in place in terms of business process change and in terms of teaching and learning that was shared across the network.

Steve Davis (09:59)

I will be so curious to watch how this persists as we move beyond the intense period of the pandemic. I think we watched that with great interest. But Brian, I'd like to turn to you now. Given that PEER offers employment and training and a range of apprenticeships in South Australia, could you share some observations on issues that arose during COVID-19, relating in particular to the mandatory workplace arrangements? Because much is made of how the aspect of VET was derailed by the fact that business operations were forced to close down.

Brian Rungie (10:36)

Yeah, thank you, Steve. I can channel a lot of what Jenny was just saying and Simon before. PEER is a private training provider and it's also a group training operator. So  we have a complex arrangement when it comes to responding to COVID.

Before I answer that question though, can I just call out all of the amazing trainers, all of the amazing administrative staff, all of the resource developers, all of the leaders across the VET sector, that over the last three years have, and there's some new jargon, pivoted and, what's the other word, adjusted to the complete chaos that COVID has rolled through our sector. They have done an incredible job responding to our student needs as they've needed to, and I think we just need to pause and just acknowledge that because there is a tendency to try to move on quickly from this. But there's been a huge amount of effort and there's a lot of fatigue in the sector at the minute and we can all feel it. So  for all those people who are lucky enough to have a break over Christmas, enjoy it. You've earnt it, come back next year refreshed. Hopefully ‘23 is not quite as impacted as perhaps the last couple of years have been. Let's see how we can take this sector forward from here.

Steve Davis (11:51)

Just before you get back to my question though, I will just note on that, and Charles Mingus, the great jazz composer said, "Making the simple complicated as commonplace, making the complicated simple, that's creativity." And that's been the challenge that people have risen to meet. But back to this mandatory workplace arrangement.

Brian Rungie (12:11)

So  PEER is an organisation focuses on the construction sector. And we were very lucky that within South Australia their shutdowns were relatively minor, or they were very minor compared to Victoria. The construction sector as a sector was identified as a high priority. So therefore, a lot of the isolation and the complexity that came with that wasn't as felt by us as an organisation as perhaps it might have been by others. Having said that, when you reflect back on it, there was a lot of things that we needed to work our way through.

PEER as an organisation had already gone to a blended or a flexible model, so we were able to pivot, to use the language, relatively quickly for that. That means our VET in School programs, for example, when the schools were shut down or put into isolation, we just moved our learners into an online environment, and they were able to continue. So that meant for us, we were able to complete all of our training, so it didn't affect their senior school certificates or anything like that. We had minimal additional training that we had to pull them in for. But we were lucky because we were prepared for that coincidentally.

Within the apprenticeship space, that was much more complicated. We had some employers that required vaccinations, some that didn't. Some employers where the whole site would be shut down because somebody thought they might be sick, others that just decided to push through. So  there was a whole heap of work and safety obligations that we needed to think our way through, as well. Then you layer over the top of that for extended periods of time people were in isolation when they were a close contact to somebody else. Which meant that we went through periods of time where 30% of our apprentices were either sick or in isolation, which as a business has a massive impact. But from an industry perspective, it just meant that their whole labour force was just disappearing at the drop of a hat. It made it very hard for them to plan and to look ahead.

Steve Davis (13:57)

Do we think the VET sector has any room to move in maintaining the aspect of real-world training? Should workplaces go through this disruption again in the future? I'd like to throw into the mix, I mean, is this a solution that needs a metaverse?

Brian Rungie (14:14)

A metaverse, Steve, I don't want to ever think about going through COVID again, if that's all right.

This is a very good question. One of the outcomes that's certainly come from the COVID and more so the government's response to it in particular with the stimulus package around the construction industry, but also things like the BAC funding and all those other types of stimulation, is that apprenticeship numbers now are very strong. We've got more first year apprentices going through the system right now than we've ever had, and that's a fabulous sign. It's a fabulous response to the skill shortage that the sector's been feeling. I think it's one of those positive aspects that's come out of the COVID response, and I think that will actually set us up for the next couple of years.

As far as the role of industry and workplace learning compared to institutional learning, for want of a better word. I'm a strong advocate of the fact that people need to be able to do the tasks that they're being trained to do. There's lots of ways you can do that. I think within the construction space, so much of the learning actually comes from the organic being in that environment and learning from your peers and your supervisors. I suspect that's not going to change. I think what will change is how training providers like PEER actually support that learning. So  one of the things that we're able to do is when students were in isolation, because they were a close contact, we were able to continue to support them through their trade school. So  when they could come out of contact, they actually were nowhere near as far behind as they would've otherwise have been. Having said that, it's now the third year of apprenticeship of COVID. So  there are apprentices out there that their entire apprenticeship has been COVID centric and we're now having to extend those apprenticeships because they just simply can't get done everything they need to get done. I can see that is going to be a problem that's going to cascade over the next 12 months.

Steve Davis (16:01)

Yet another thing to keep an eye on.

Brian Rungie (16:03)

Yet another thing.

Steve Davis (16:04)

Look, I think most of us are still a little weary after three years of enduring the pandemic. But in this report, there's a couple of threads I'd like to reflect on with you all. Firstly, there were some comments from Community Colleges Australia, which highlighted a high level of burnout experience by their members and the dramatic impact COVID restrictions had on disadvantaged students. Secondly, concerns around the mental health and wellbeing for staff and students, especially young people. That formed a major finding in this research with providers reporting a lack of engagement due to the pandemic and difficulty re-engaging with younger cohorts. Before I turn to everyone, Simon, do the LSAY results shed any light on this?

Simon Walker (16:49)

Oh, well they certainly do. I'm going to start though with an overarching comment because we've done a lot of research around COVID over the last few years. And disentangling all the influences and impacts of COVID and trying to then separate one specific factor over another is almost impossible. So  to give you an example, obviously there are impacts of lockdowns and border closures. But there's also a huge response from government around, and interventions around job keeper, job trainer, apprenticeship, wage subsidies and infection control regulations in the workplaces. They all conspire to give another result. So  to try to pick one out of the hat is very difficult.

To go back to LSAY and I think probably for the benefit of everybody, that stands as another acronym in the VET sector for the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth and attracts students over a 10-year period from around about age of 15 through to 25. And we've been running successive cohorts over the last 20 years or thereabouts. So  we had a starting cohort of 15 year olds in 2003, 2006, 2009, 2015. So  with this particular piece of research, what we were comparing was the transitions between the ages of 19 and 20, which just coincidentally happened to be 2019 and 2020 for the 2015 cohort. And then compared them to previous cohorts and said, "Well are those transitions different as a consequence of COVID compared to other cohorts?"

There was a range of things that came out of the review. But to specifically answer your question, the single, oh by the way, the research looks at employment outcomes, training outcomes, social wellbeing, a whole range of factors that's not just focused on training. The single biggest difference, it was stark, was how they identified about mental health for this latest cohort. The metrics are based on this analysis we did was that for the latest cohort, the ones that were 19 and 20 during the COVID period, nearly a quarter of 20-year-olds met the criteria for probable serious mental illness. If you compare that to the cohort that started in 2014, about 7%, over a threefold increase. There's other research that clearly has identified this is an issue. In terms of the attributes of those that were most impacted, being female, unemployed, not in any form of study or having no forms of social support were the ones that were the most seriously impacted there.

Jenny Dodd (19:29)

A couple of comments on there. I think COVID was a factor in what we’ve seen as rising incidents of people exhibiting poor mental health and struggling with resilience. I think we have to be careful to not assume it is the only factor though. I think that this is a trend that has been emerging in our experience in TAFE with students for a number of years. Now, COVID no doubt exacerbated that and was definitely a factor.

But one of the things that we are very pleased about in the recent Commonwealth government's announcement around fee free TAFE places is the position that we have continued to push. Which is for students who are going to be able to access those fee free TAFE places, they will come from cohorts that are perhaps not being as readily accessing learning and study or accessing into the job market. They will require more support; they will require more wraparound services. Yes, there was a COVID impact on that, but I don't think it's the only impact that we need to consider there. So  I just want to make that comment. But it is absolutely one of the biggest shifts I think in an educational entity such as TAFE that we are seeing in our student cohorts is around the need for higher levels of counselling support and higher levels of individual support to help a student embrace their learning.

Dare I say, I think universities are experiencing exactly the same in conversations that I've been part of and part of the TECSA conference two weeks ago. Similar sorts of experiences exist there. So that's my first comment there. And Steve, I'm going to have to ask you to direct me to where you wanted my second comment.

Steve Davis (21:27)

Well, I'd actually like the second comment to just shift slightly to this second part of my comment about the difficulty of reengaging with younger cohorts. And turn it around to see if there's any thoughts on how you think VET providers might proactively reconnect with the young people. Are there any strategies or tactics that are emerging that we might need to employ?

Jenny Dodd (21:53)

First off, I'll just make the comment that half a case student population is not classified as young people. So  I just want to make that point because we are a very eclectic educational entity and half our students are over 25. So that's important because in any particular cohort, there are a range of ages.

In terms of engaging with young people though, which is the essence of your question, I think some of the support structures that we do have in place in TAFE and indeed in VET more generally, the smaller learning and more supported learning environments, the opportunity to have hands-on practical applied learning experiences, I think they resonate really well for many of our young people. I know Brian's area looks largely at construction, but certainly so do TAFEs. We do a significant amount in construction and do a large percentage of the learning and electrotechnology and plumbing, those sort of learning experiences are very important for young people in that they are working in practical ways with their teachers or their learning guides to do things that produce outcomes. I think that that's an important way of engaging with young people.

The second part of that though is also how do we support our students in the blended learning environment? That can't be ignored. Although we've all , to use your term pivoted, we've got lots more to do here to keep getting better at that part of our delivery. I think it's a challenge that everybody is up for. We saw really fabulous innovation exhibited, but that innovation hasn't stopped and indeed just at the moment and we're hearing the first week of December having this conversation, I know for a fact in a couple of states, there's huge numbers of students and staff in this final period of the learning war with COVID, we're on another bit of a wave. So being able to make sure that students are not impacted in completing their outcomes for the year is really important. So  getting better at online delivery is, I think, on the strategic direction for every TAFE in Australia.

Steve Davis (24:26)

Thank you, Jenny. I'm mindful of balancing our bleak critiques with some silver linings out there because despite the disruption and challenges, student outcomes, especially satisfaction has remained pretty strong throughout the pandemic. Brian, did you see this in the apprenticeship sphere? Because you were talking about there's a cohort of apprenticeships who have only been going through the system during COVID.

Brian Rungie (24:52)

Yeah, and it is interesting because I was meeting with some of my Victorian colleagues last week or the week before, and there's currently a thousand unplaced apprenticeship opportunities within the electro field alone and that's just in Victoria. So  if you roll that out across the country, the opportunities are just ginormous.

So  I think in that sense, as people are coming out of the COVID thing as some of that pent up demand is there, it's creating employment opportunities all over the place. To pick up on Jenny's comment before, one of the things we have definitely noticed is that students coming out of school now are coming out with a different skill profile, thought of a better word. Two years of COVID affected schooling has meant that they have developed different types of skills. It's not necessarily better or worse, they're just different and we are needing to respond to that.

They're learning preferences are often slightly different. They're much more technically savvy around the use of Teams and Zoom and things like that. Which for my rather age challenged workforce has been an interesting journey for them to work their way through. Often it's the students teaching the trainers how to use Teams and it's great that we have a culture where people are open to that. It is going to be interesting how that then flows through into the workplace. Some employers are really struggling with making that change and they're expecting it to be the way that it was. Others are grabbing it and they're just running with it and they're going to do very, very well out of it.

Steve Davis (26:24)

Yes, for some employers and managers, it's going to be like a country changing its native language as an official policy as they interact with a cohort of people with different modalities. I also noticed that the research showed the addition of some short courses and micro-credentials helped providers boost student numbers and maintain revenue during this time. Simon, regular listeners know that we expect this not to surprise you, the word micro-credentials is being used. Did that surprise you or not?

Simon Walker (26:56)

No, not at all. There are probably a few factors at play here. And the first one, I think, that we all need to understand is that there's been a concerted policy focus on micro-credentials for a while now, for the last few years and it preceded the pandemic. And there's been a whole bunch of investment by governments in this, including I might add into the higher education sector with the introduction of undergraduate certificates, I think they call them. So that's one thing.

Secondly, governments mandated that workers undertake training in certain hygiene and infection control micro-credentials in a number of customer facing industries like hospitality, for example as a condition for businesses to operate during the pandemic. In one of our interviews with a provider for the current study, there was a phenomenal amount of enrolments in those infection control skillsets. So  I think that had an impact during that period.

I suppose thirdly, as a result of the pandemic, some training providers reported that cohorts of students started to reconsider their careers and micro-credentials offer an avenue to upskill and make a career change and as it happens, with the lockdowns and the work down time periods, there was an opportunity for them to study where they may not otherwise have had that opportunity and complete their courses quicker. So  a number of things conspired to put micro-credentials front and centre.

Steve Davis (28:17)

I want to turn to Jenny, though. From the TAFE perspective, were there any strategies you're aware of that enabled institutions to maintain student numbers during this time?

Jenny Dodd (28:29)

A couple of callouts. Of course, vocational education and training has always done skill sets, so that was easy for us to introduce those. One of the areas that we did when I was in Tasmania and was very highly subscribed were some skill sets in digital literacy. Because students had to be able to get better skills at being able to learn online and they were in hot demand. I also agree with Simon, the whole infection control rollout was very important in terms of the importance of being able to have a short stand-up learning context for a particular reason and purpose which COVID gave us.

In terms of maintaining students, I think it's a bit of a double-edged component to this. During COVID we maintained students really well and a lot of that came down to leadership. And it came down to leadership, and Brian has said this, right through the cohort of teachers, through the senior leaders. There was a much more authentic, if you like, way in which I think whole teams in TAFEs worked together to deliver the outcome to the students. Because they were very conscious, as every training provider, was that the students needed their experience and we maintained that.

But I don't want to make it all rosy because it's not all rosy. There has actually been, in particular at the start of this year, 2022, very soft demand from students in certain critical industries such as the care industries. That could well be a reflection of what people saw on the media and what people experienced in the health industries through COVID with high levels of worker burnout, exhaustion, fatigue, etc. We have never experienced intake where TAFE does two-thirds of all the training in enrolled nursing, for example, across the country. We've never experienced such soft demand as we experienced this year.

So  I think there are two parts to that story and it is important to look at where we have high demand and aged care is another one, and early childhood. There are a whole lot of other factors at play that are causing some of that soft demand, which is not just COVID. And we know that through the Jobs and Skills Summit and the conversations around women-based professions, equity of pay, etc. These are very important aspects to also keep in mind.

Steve Davis (31:01)

A couple of short questions to draw us towards an end though. I want to pick up on a bit of nuance in what you just said there, Jenny, I'll put this to both you and Brian. Did you notice an influx of students trying something new? Now apart from the things that were mandated, was there a curiosity led set of enrolments of people taking the opportunity to shift course?

Jenny Dodd (31:25)

You are painting that, Steve, as curiosity. I actually think price had a big factor in that, as well. There was a lot of opportunity both supported by individual states and, of course TAFEs are state owned organisations in individual states and territories where there was free fee offerings and price affected where students started to play quite significantly. Then I think there was a deliberate marketing campaign into areas and I mentioned before, skillsets and digital literacy, into some of these areas where we were conscious that students would need some skills.

In terms of students playing with curiosity, that is not something that's being presented to me as something that has probably driven the student demand for courses. I reflect that at the end of 2020, people were not sure what our economy was going to look like. And we sit here two years later with the tightest labour market we've had since the 1970s. I'm not sure we could have predicted that around about September 2020, that was going to be the outcome two years later. Now Brian said it, there was a lot of stimulus funding floating around as well in terms of job trainer and so on. So  I think that there was a range of economic factors that have led to where we see enrollments and there is also a range of economic factors and COVID impacted as well, where we are seeing soft enrolments. So  here's a big broad brush look at that, not just the student demand piece. It's much bigger than that.

Steve Davis (33:12)

Thank you, Jenny. Brian, to try something new factor.

Brian Rungie (33:16)

I think the great resignation that is following the great COVID is really being driven by a whole heap of people that have been forced to sit around at home and not do very much and just reflect upon what's important to them. I don't think there's a sector that's better at retooling people than the VET space. I think we do it exceptionally well. So  in that sense, I'm not sure if curiosity is the right thing, as much as it is people are choosing to change the direction of their lives and they're using the VET sector as the instrument to achieve that. I think that's exactly why we're here and that's one of the main focuses of the system.

What we've seen anecdotally is a whole heap of people that have been quite successful in their trades and in their industry that are now coming to us wanting to go into trade training and if you go back two years ago, it was really hard to find those people. They're still not TAE qualified and that will be the bane of my existence. But at least they're now actually interested. So  there's now a surge in people that are looking to change the direction of what they're wanting to do. So I think that's going to be one of the big positive outcomes that's going to come from COVID is that people are going to be able to sit back and they don't necessarily want to just keep doing what they were doing before. It's something perhaps different.

Steve Davis (34:32)

All right, I'd like to finish by having us reflect on one quadrant of the Eisenhower Matrix, which Stephen Covey made famous. Things that are important but not urgent in relation to innovation. Because one of the peak body representatives, Community Colleges Australia, they argued that innovation has to be fostered within VET environments before crises rather than what we saw of innovation being something that emerges because of a crisis. Do you all agree? And if So  how does VET foster space for innovation and creativity within itself so that it can be better equipped for future crises? Brian, do you want to start on that one? While I give Jenny the benefit of some thinking time.

Brian Rungie (35:20)

Thank you very much. I think PEER as an organisation was able to ride through the COVID storm much better than some because we had already shifted or on a pathway to shift to a blended delivery model. If we had had been forced to react in the same way as some of our local colleagues who were having to deal with COVID and deal with the transition to a digitally enhanced model, it would've been so much more difficult.

Again, I have just got to call out my people. They did an amazing job responding under incredible pressure, where every day you'd walk in and you weren't quite sure what was going to happen in that same day. So  it was a very destructive time, but we had the underpinning foundation there already. So in that sense, what was driving that for us was industry feedback that they wanted flexibility in what we were doing and they wanted us to do it in a different way. So that gave us an advantage.

Innovation with purpose is the term that I use that innovation for its own sake is great, but it's a bit academic. What are you actually trying to achieve? What is the problem that you're trying to solve? I think COVID is going to drive or has driven a lot of change. What will be interesting is how much of that actually sticks. That will come back to whether or not the students and industry more broadly actually sees value in that and whether or not that value can actually be recognised and then used as a rudder in the water.

Steve Davis (36:48)

I love that you met my Stephen Covey's with another, begin with the end in mind. That's good. Yes, Jenny, your thoughts on this proactive approach to embracing innovation before necessity pushes for it.

Jenny Dodd (37:05)

Brian identified that it was already there and I think it was already there, as well. I was involved in the Australian Flexible Learning Framework, which was the driver for innovation in particular, in terms of blended learning which started its work in 2000 and went right through for a decade. That was broad brush for all training providers, and we therefore were leading some of that change process.

What COVID did was accelerate it. So  some of the change that we had been leading, which was slow if you like, but was there, the foundations were there,  COVID brought it to a head and forced an outcome. We got teams within our TAFEs doing things that they wouldn't have done without that direct impetus to do it. Like Brian, I call out and congratulate all the teaching teams. But alSo  all the support teams that sat around those teaching teams, from the learning design teams and in Tasmania, that team of ours that were supporting teachers to get online, which was a small team, they worked 24 hours a day virtually during those early months to enable the teachers to be able to get online.

AlSo  the administrative functions had to change because students couldn't come on campus. So that was a really big shift, as well, in terms of how we got students enrolled and how we made sure they were in classes. So it was a whole of organisation efforts. So I do think that a lot of the seeds were absolutely there in most training providers. What we did through COVID was a momentous shift in a short period of time to mainstream that across organisations.

Steve Davis (38:54)

Thank you again, Jenny, for highlighting the nuance in my broad-brush approach to my questions. Simon, final word to you.

Simon Walker (39:02)

Well, I agree with Jenny, it really accelerated the sort of innovations that were already occurring. I suppose I tend to take a different view. There is a phrase, necessity is the mother of invention, and I think that will always be the case. Where I think there can be some push on innovation is around the policy settings. So we have a system that's governed quite tightly in some areas around policy. I know this will be something dear to Jenny's heart, and probably Brian's as well. So we have training packages and all the design and specifications over that. There is an enduring question around the nature of and the specification levels. Now, is there not an opportunity to respond to what certainly providers are saying and allow more flexibility within that construct for providers to innovate?

Steve Davis (39:51)

On that note, for those of you gathering in innovation meetings, less tolerance for, let's address this again next month. And more, let's actually nut it out now. Thank you very much for joining us on Vocational Voices. Firstly, Jenny Dodd, thank you.

Jenny Dodd (40:08)

Thank you. It's been a pleasure. And can I add weight to Simon's last comments? We have to take away some of the restrictions that prevent innovation. That is so important and that's in the product construct. So thank you for raising that, Simon.

Steve Davis (40:24)

And Brian Rungie.

Brian Rungie (40:25)

Thank you very much and here here.

Steve Davis (40:27)

And Simon Walker, of course.

Simon Walker (40:28)

Yeah, thank you.

Steve Davis (40:29)

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