European education and training tour reveals key learnings

Michael Grogan (National Director Skills and Training, AMGC) was recently invited to accompany the Victorian Minister for Training and Skills and Minister for Higher Education, Gayle Tierney, on a post-secondary education and training delegation to Europe.

The small delegation visited Helsinki, London, Glasgow and Edinburgh, touring innovative businesses with world-class training programs, high quality education and training providers, non-government organisations involved in skills development, and senior government officials. Each of the four cities visited by the delegation offered valuable insights.

The purpose of the tour was to examine best-practice post-secondary education and training systems, and to inform the development of similar approaches and policies in Victoria.

Key takeaways from the European experience

According to Grogan, there were three key takeaways from the tour. “The first takeaway is that the importance of lifelong learning cannot be underestimated. Too often we focus on school-leavers and apprentices and neglect our existing workforce. It is vital that members of Australia’s existing workforce are trained and re-trained throughout their careers, and the right courses and facilities are on offer to expedite this training.”

“Second, articulation is vital, both for school leavers and older students. We must create a post-secondary education and training system with clear and flexible pathways between higher education and VET. Even if school leavers are unable to attain the ATAR they need, there must be other options and pathways available.”

“Finally, Australia’s education and training system is not keeping pace with the rapid rates of change prevalent in industry, particularly in terms of technological advancement. Apprenticeships and degrees need to be much more flexible—even within the four or five years that an apprenticeship or degree takes, industry is undergoing rapid transformation. This is where micro-credentialing could help,” said Grogan.  

Finland: No one gets left behind

Finland has recently implemented far-reaching changes to their training and education system. These changes took over three years to implement and were only completed following extensive consultation with industry over two years.

“The Finland experience illustrated the importance of lifelong learning, as well as the clear articulation from high school, to TAFE, to university. In Finland, there are no dead-ends when it comes to training and education, and no one gets left behind. Every student has their own, personalised learning plan,” said Grogan.

London: Different pathways for different learning abilities

England’s education and training system has experienced ten years of cost cutting and austerity, particularly in their college sector (equivalent to TAFE in Australia). As a result, the system is suffering somewhat.

“England has introduced a lot of apprenticeships, but these are not apprenticeships as we understand them. They are more of an applied learning model, featuring extensive on-the-job learning in the workplace. The model offers different pathways, which can be particularly beneficial for students who learn differently. England’s model offers stronger recognition of prior learning, and promotes more flexible articulation between school, college (or TAFE),and university,” said Grogan.

Scotland: A flexible system keeps pace with rapid industry change

While in Scotland, the delegation visited BAE Systems, a global defence, aerospace and security company that employs approximately 83,o00 people worldwide. This private company is currently investing huge amounts of money to train their aerospace engineers.

“BAE Systems told us that they will have to retrain their existing workforce—not new graduates—in the next five years, and then again in the five years after that. They cited rapid rates of change in industry and technology as the reason for this training. While a job might remain the same, the processes that their employees are using to complete the job are changing rapidly. Micro-credentials can help to fill the resultant knowledge and skill gaps,” said Grogan.

“Scotland’s education and training system is quite flexible, with colleges of a high quality. The system also features sound models for centres of excellence in applied learning.”