Sunday, June 3, 2012

a trade off

As The Other spends scads of her leisure time finding twigs in family trees, a great source of information about UK forebears has been census records. Two hundred years ago many people lived in one house, in a street full of relatives, with generation after generation following the same trade as their parents and never moving away from the area.
In the 1860s, for example, some long lost 56th cousin of hers [2 million times removed] was a “Pawnbroker’s Clerk”. His son was, at the time of the census, an “apprentice pawnbroker’s clerk”.
Apprenticeships predate the industrial revolution, youngsters often indentured to artisans for years, their labour paid for by food, accommodation and a chance to learn.

In the 1960s I had one brother who was academically inclined and therefore attended a Christian Brothers College during his high school years, and the other brother – who loved de-constructing anything with cogs and wheels inside it – attended a Technical High School.
Tech schools provided a great opportunity for kids [i.e. boys] to decided which trade they might be best at or enjoy most, so they could then seek an apprenticeship in that trade.

In the 1960s some family friend, offering career advice to us young’uns, suggested barber shops were the way to go. Men would always need a haircut once a week, and they always bought their cigarettes or tobacco from the barber when they went to get a haircut. In fact, barbers made so much out of tobacco products, many would provide a free haircut to any bloke who had just bought a carton of smokes.

The beginning of the end for this ‘tade for life’ was not the anti-tobacco lobby, but those fab four mop-tops from Liverpool, the Beatles. Mens’ ‘short back and sides’ haircuts were doomed, though there was some initial resistance to the idea of long hair: Schools often sent boys home if their hair was long enough to touch their shirt collars.

Even after hundreds of years, time can bring change, and secondary ‘Tech schools’ were soon shut down. Apprenticeships still existed, but the educational side of learning a trade was to undergo a radical change.


The Training and Further Education System [TAFE] is managed by states, and when set up in the 90s its main goals appear to have been:
  • Replace/complement the apprenticeship system; and
  • Offer an alternative form of tertiary training for non-academically inclined; and
  • Provide qualifications which will be accepted Australia wide.

The private sector is part of this training system, with organisations meeting operating requirements able to set up Registered Training Organisations [RTOs], to compete with Government TAFES and fill gaps in the training market.

Theoretically, industry experts have collaborated to establish the curriculum requirements for various courses or levels of qualification. These curricula outline the topics to be covered, and the number of hours the course should take. These ‘contact’ hours, and form the basis of government subsidies.

Some RTOs are long established training organisations, for example a hairdressing college 50 years old with a good reputation will take a few years to turn out graduates with an extensive and useful knowledge of all aspects of hairdressing.
Others, unfortunately, are able to provide some truly shonky training at reduced prices which do not necessarily meet the contact hours requirements. You might for example spend a year at RMIT receiving training in the OH&S field, or spend 2 weeks sitting in a classroom getting a certificate which, ultimately, will not be taken seriously by potential employers.

Like most “national” laws/rules, there are differences from state to state, and just one of the differences is that in South Australia RTOs cannot offer training unless someone has at least 3 years’ experience in the field. Not so in Victoria. When this system first started, all one needed was to have done the course themselves –e.g. someone who had completed a dodgy Certificate in Training & Assessment was automatically qualified to teach a course in Training & Assessment.


Government, I guess, is about priorities. What should we spend our money on, and how can we make sure our money is spent wisely?
Sometimes spending is proactive, but more often it seems to be reactive. I’m tempted to use the expression ‘knee jerk’, but am not sure what knees have to do with anything.

The Age recently published a long article explaining how these RTOs are are not just providing worthless but ‘legitimate’ training, but actually engaging in fraud to rip off millions in government payments for training that hasn’t been delivered at all.

These rorts have been an open secret for years, yet little has been done to address the problem.

Part two – what kind of Vocational Training should be available?


  1. I think there is much to be set for a liberal arts education. Around here we have kids who don't finish high school or simply get a GED and then later go to a tech school to become practical nurses or aides and they really aren't very good at what they do. I don't know if it is due to a lack of tenacity or never having learned to think well. My point is I think they need to learn more than just a particular set of skills in order to excel at what they do.

    1. I agree with you wholeheartedly. That might be part of the reason the tech skills were moved to an 'after high school' system. I don't know what the public school curriculum is about these days, but quality of life is surely just as important as survival skills.
      I went to a 'working class private school' where I had elocution and dressmaking lessons, only to discover after I left school I had to 'dumb down' my way of speaking in order to fit in. The Other, however, went to a state-run high school that had a choir, history of art and similar subjects on offer.

      I guess what I'm whingeing about here is the poor quality of what is on offer as well as the paucity of choices.

  2. Although I have little knowledge about the subject, it won't stop me from commenting. Our hairdresser friend teaches in a TAFE and is a team leader among the teachers. Just last night she was saying that things have been cleaned up a lot in the last couple of years. But in my view, the whole system is a disgrace.

    1. It's appalling the system was designed so badly in the first place. And yes, while things are getting cleaned up, it's happening too slowly. I haven't even mentioned the Centrelink-job-placement / job-application-skills-training rort.