‘Lifelong learning’ is a phrase that comes in and out of fashion but is a concept that underpins many elements of our system:  a qualifications framework with a common currency of credits and a lifelong record of achievement; a school-leaver qualification that supports multiple pathways, credit transfer with industry qualifications, and can be completed in multiple settings; and an industry training system in which industry itself plays the central role to determine and develop the skills of the existing and future workforce. As Fred Dagg once told us, we don’t know how lucky we are.

But ‘lifelong learning’ means more than ‘all ages’. In vocational education, it is increasingly about anywhere, anytime. People learn in workplaces, classrooms, homes, and via their smartphones. Mohammed can go to the mountain, but if the system is structured and organised well, the mountain can just as easily get to Mohammed.

The best vocational education and training (VET) systems around the globe are characterised by strong integration between the world of education and the world of work.  That’s what VET is; that’s what VET does. We have a diverse workforce needing the skills and capabilities for a dynamic and increasingly sophisticated labour market.

We’ve known for a while that workplaces are powerful (and cost-effective) settings for delivering and developing the skills, knowledge, and capabilities that help people gain and keep jobs (including jobs that have yet to be invented), and ultimately a successful career – or 10 careers, if the urban legend is to be believed.

Work-based learning experiences are also supremely valuable to senior secondary school students, each of whom needs to know what the world of work is like, gain some authentic experiences, and match their strengths and aspirations to ways of making a living.

Workplaces are also where we will make inroads into the substantial challenge of adult literacy. Most of the million or so adult New Zealanders who need help in that space are not enrolled in our learning institutions but are going to work every day, struggling and not reaching their potential. We need serious, national, joined-up effort at both the top and bottom of that particular cliff.

In my experience, it’s at the interfaces – where the system is sliced – where we can improve. Examples? Students who get jobs (and industry training agreements) partway through their programmes shouldn’t count against providers’ performance indicators.   Apprentices who lose their jobs should be able to pick up where they left off in provider settings. The tertiary sector’s increasingly substantial contribution to NCEA completions should be acknowledged somewhere. And young people over the school leaving age should be able to dual enrol in pathway programmes that involve schools, ITOs and tertiary providers.

So the education system of the future is one that supports every learner to find their own future. We have most of the ingredients, and hopefully the mindset, to bring it together.

Josh Williams, Chief Executive, Industry Training Federation

Source: Education Review

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