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AVETRA Paper of the Year

Refereed conference papers will automatically be entered into the shortlisting for the AVETRA Paper of the Year.  This on-going award is funded by AVETRA and is offered annually. The award will be presented at the AVETRA Conference. Eligibility: the nominating author must be a current financial member of AVETRA. AVETRA reserves the right not to make an award if none of the applications received meets the criteria for award. Download the criteria for award for the AVETRA Conference Paper of the Year – Click Here


Previous Awardees AVETRA Conference Paper of the Year


Geethani Nair, TAFE NSW, & Mutuota Kigotho, University of New England

‘Disturbing effects of VET reforms on TAFE teaching units’


Don Zoellner

‘Fixing problematic apprentice systems: there is never a clean slate’


Due to their sheer size, economic importance and common sense history, national apprenticeship systems are important to many interest groups in advanced market democracies and provide a site where never-ending contests over control are waged. In particular, the constant shifts in the balance of the ‘who benefits-who pays’ equation reflects contemporary views on the relative roles of the state, private enterprise and the individual citizen. By using a modified version of path dependency theory, two vocational training systems are compared and contrasted in order to demonstrate how the public policy responses to a remarkably similar set of problems have produced very different solutions. The results suggest that while neoliberal ideas might be highly mobile, there are historical and political realities that serve to limit their translation into realistic policy options.



Susan Webb 

‘Geographical dimensions of imagined futures: post school participation in education and work in peri-urban and regional Australia’.  The Abstract follows and the full paper can be found on the AVETRA website.

This paper discusses preliminary findings from a sub-set of empirical data collected for a recent NCVER study that explored the geographic dimensions of social exclusion in four locations in Victoria and South Australia with lower than average post school education participation. Set against the policy context of the Bradley Review (2008) and the drive to increase the post-school participation of young people from low socio-economic status neighbourhoods, this qualitative research study, responding to identified gaps in the literature, sought a nuanced understanding of how young people make decisions about their post-school pathways. Drawing on Appadurai’s (2004) concept ‘horizons of aspiration’ the paper explores the aspirations of two young people formed from, and within, their particular rural ‘neighborhoods’. The paper reveals how their post-school education and work choices, imagined futures and conceptions of a ‘good life’, have topographic and gendered influences that are important considerations for policy makers.



Mary Leahy 

“Person-centred Qualifications: Vocational Education for the Aged Care and Disability Services Sectors”


This paper is part of a proposal for a symposium of four papers (by Kira Clarke, Serena Yu, Mary Leahy and Nick Fredman) examining links between education and work, to be entitled ‘Vocations, education and work’. The papers are derived from two related projects: a project funded by NCVER entitled ‘Vocations: Post-compulsory education and the labour market’; and a project funded by BVET entitled ‘From competencies to capabilities’.
Drawing on findings from BVET funded research examining the potential for capabilities-based qualifications, this paper analyses the impact of a person-centred approach on qualifications in aged care and disability services. The introduction of person-centred care and, in particular, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, is having a profound impact on jobs in the sector. It is changing practices associated with current positions as well as leading to the creation of new occupations. There is an expectation that vocational education and training (VET) will prepare people for employment or occupational progression. However, existing VET qualifications do not adequately reflect the nature of current jobs in aged care and disability services. These qualifications are even less able to prepare people for work under the new paradigm of person-centred care.



Raymond Smith - Griffith University

‘Explicating forms of negotiation through personal work and learning  practice’

This paper outlines a means of making more explicit some of the often taken for  granted meanings and understandings of the concept of ‘negotiation’. Negotiation is
often used in constructivist adult learning theory to describe and explain the nature of  learning through the activities of engaging in work and vocational training. Too often,  in work and learning research literature, the concept of negotiation remains generic  and under specified and so fails to sufficiently account for how workers and learners  engage in the interactions and outcomes that constitute their learning practices.
Drawing on ethnographic research undertaken with twelve workers from four  different work places, this paper proposes that overcoming some of this lack of  explication can be achieved by viewing negotiation as comprising four forms of joint  activity that workers are engaged in through the enactment of their work and learning.  These forms are realised, discovered, concealed and protracted negotiations. The  research focused on workers’ self description and explanation of the particular ways  they went about their work and the purposes and outcomes accomplished through  their personal practice. With this strong focus on the personal enactment and  accounting of work practice, the findings indicate that workers can be viewed as  negotiating their participation in work. Further, negotiation can be used to  conceptualise personal learning practices as social processes of engagement in joint  activity when the four forms of negotiation are used to analyse and categorise  workers’ personal practices.
In this way, the value of research to make explicit what is often taken for granted,  that  is, workers’ active participation in vocational practice, and the voice of workers as  those who enact work and learning practices are brought together as the evidence of  how research impacts individual workers and learners to understand more fully the  nature of their personal work and learning practices.  Such understanding can be the  basis of improving work and learning performance by developing individuals’  awareness of personal practice and its relational qualities as always negotiated  accomplishment.


Stephen Black, Keiko Yasukawa
University of Technology, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Beyond deficit approaches to teaching and learning: Literacy and numeracy in VET courses

Literacy and numeracy skills (L&N), now framed nationally as ‘foundation skills’, are high on government and industry agendas, and a new National Foundation Skills Strategy is currently in the making. L&N support provided to students in vocational education and training (VET) courses is anticipated to feature strongly in this new strategy, especially in light of the national focus on increasing post school qualifications. Predominantly, current models of L&N support in VET courses can be seen largely as a ‘deficit’ approach in which individual students are identified, usually through a test or screen at the beginning of their course, as being in deficit of the L&N skills needed to complete their course. Students are often given the opportunity of obtaining assistance through attending additional ‘stand-alone’ L&N classes, a study centre, or a L&N teacher providing assistance in the vocational classroom. This paper considers other models of support, both in the research literature and in Australian case studies, which ‘integrate’ L&N with VET courses. This involves a variety of team teaching arrangements between vocational and L&N teachers in which the aim is to assist the whole student group and not just those identified with L&N ‘problems’. This approach may improve vocational learning by more directly linking L&N practices with vocational practices. It also avoids the negative labeling of students associated with the deficit approach, and may be seen as a more active pedagogy, encouraging change in VET practices. The paper is based largely on semi-structured, taped interviews with a total of fiftythree L&N teachers, vocational teachers and VET managers across most Australian states and territories. These interviews were undertaken by the authors as part of a Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) funded research project on integrated L&N support in VET which is due for completion in mid 2011.


Jo Balatti, James Cook University, Martha Goldman Tropical North Queensland Institute of TAFE, Phil Harrison Tropical North Queensland Institute of TAFE, Bob Elliott Southern Queensland Institute of TAFE, Meredith Jackson Wide Bay Institute of TAFE and Gillian Smith, Southern Queensland Institute of TAFE

A model of professional development delivery for VET teachers by VET teachers: An evaluation

Professional development (PD) can be costly with the outcomes often difficult to measure and sometimes, even intangible. Training and education organisations are seeking new ways of responding to the challenge of developing the expertise of their teachers to teach effectively in times characterised by changing student profiles and changing government and community expectations and demands. This paper reports on an 18 month long action research project involving three Queensland TAFE institutes that trialled a grassroots PD model. Three features characterised the model; the PD was planned, prepared and delivered by teachers for teachers. The project included a formal evaluation of the trials. This paper explains the rationale for this model to PD delivery and reports on the results of its implementation. It discusses how and why the model evolved in different ways in the three sites and it analyses the strengths and weaknesses of such an approach to delivering professional development in TAFE institutes. The paper concludes with some insights that the trial offered on how PD fits or can fit in the organisational life of 21st century TAFE institutes.


Gerri Pancini and Rob McCormack, Victoria University
Learningful work: how can the workplace foster affordances for learning?

Victoria University has recently nominated workplace learning as a universal feature of all its courses. It has also established the Work-based Education Research Centre (WERC) to provide the research and development underpinnings needed to build world class innovation in vocational and work-based education at Victoria University and to contribute more generally to knowledge and policy development in these areas. As a contribution to the work of grounding these developments in current experience, theories and research, this paper will probe current literature around work-based education through the question: How can workplaces be places of learning? That is, how can they be sites that help produce graduates with learning attributes that are attuned and responsive to a flexible world of change, complexity and contingency?



Doug Fraser, Australian Innovation Research Centre, University of Tasmania
Are Australian jobs becoming more skill-intensive? Evidence from the HILDA dataset

Labour market policy rhetoric since the 1980s has promoted the view that jobs in industrialised counties, if they are to survive the pressures of global competition, will need to place ever-increasing demands on the skills of the workforce. This paper describes a study designed to test this proposition on a representative sample of the Australian working population over the period from 2001 to 2005. The data come from HILDA (Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia), a panel survey of some 6,000 households and 18,000 individuals conducted annually since 2001. The dataset includes three indicators representing a common metric across industries, occupations and levels in the workforce hierarchy of the degree to which jobs “stretch” the skill base of those who work in them, together with three variables covering task discretion and worker autonomy, which past research has shown to be highly correlated with skill-intensity. These data make it possible for the first time to duplicate in Australia, albeit in lesser detail, the landmark research on the skills trajectory of the UK economy carried out over the last twenty years for the Economic and Social Research Council. Initial analyses suggest that in the aggregate, Australian jobs were less skill-intensive in 2005 than in 2001, a counter-intuitive trend for which an explanation has still to be found.



Ian Falk and John Guenther, Charles Darwin University
Generalising from Qualitative Research: Case studies from VET in Contexts

One of the reasons that research is conducted is to build the evidence base to inform strategic or policy directions. In this context, the value of qualitative research is often questioned because ‘you cannot make generalisations from results when the sample is not statistically representative of the whole population in question’. However, a scan of the research literature in the field of Vocational Education and Training (VET) reveals a considerable amount of qualitative research which is used for this very purpose even though much of the headline data is in the form of numerical statistics based on sampling regimes. Can findings from qualitative research legitimately be generalised and applied beyond the frame of a particular case or even a set of 100 semi-structured interviews on a particular topic? Are there features within qualitative methods that justify generalisable inferences? The paper stems from the research experience of the authors over the last two decades, during which time we have, as it turns out, been living with a dichotomy. On the one hand, we were taught in our research training that you can’t generalise much from qualitative research, if at all. On the other hand, what has emerged for us is that, first of all, people do generalise from qualitative research; and second, we suggest that we may well have good reason to be able to do so. By ‘good reason’, we mean that the generalised decisions that are made on the basis of the findings of qualitative research are sound, that the findings have indeed been generalised successfully. That is, when the findings have been applied more generally, it has been found that the generalising has proved valid and reliable.


Roger Harris and Linda Rainey, CREEW, University of South Australia
‘Crazy Paving?’ Learning Pathways between and within VET and higher education

Promotion by governments and institutions of pathways and seamlessness over the past decade may be perceived as both positive and problematic. Seamlessness can provide considerable choice for young people and yet at the same time can readily lead to uncertainty and indecision. A number of studies have drawn attention to the phenomenon of indirect transfer where movement of tertiary students is not linear but instead involves several moves within and between institutions and sectors. This paper examines what some of these pathways look like, explores patterns in such movement and proposes a typology of learning pathways. The research involved indepth interviews held with 49 students in South Australia who had experienced both VET and higher education. Such research can help us to understand more fully the experiences in, reasons for and consequences of moving within and between various pathways. It might also help policymakers and institutional planners with insights into how best to position relationships between sectors and to implement policies and services that help learners navigate through education systems.


Laurie Grace, Deakin University
Training Packages and the AQTF: freedom to move or components of a compliance-driven straitjacket?

This paper reports on a PhD research project being undertaken through the Faculty of Education, Deakin University. Training Packages and the Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF) form part of the ruling relations of VET, but how do they operate in practice? Do they provide frameworks within which training professionals are free to use judgement and respond in innovative ways to local learning and assessment contexts? Do they impose rigid ‘guidelines’ within which the decision-making authority of practitioners over appropriate practices is displaced by that of auditors, constraining creativity and creating pressures towards conformity? Or does their impact vary, depending on how they are interpreted and who is doing the interpreting?



 Karen Plane, CREEW, University of South Australia
“Wine and cheese or chalk and cheese?” Discovering the ‘attitudinal ecology’ between VET and small business for capacity building in regional South  Australia.

Bagshaw (2000) writes that emotional intelligence is embedded in life and work, an asset with strong commercial advantage for the organisation’s stock of emotional capital. ‘Emotional capital” is not well defined in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) discourse despite debate about capabilities based platforms to meet the social, environmental, economic and cultural needs of changing regional Australia. This qualitative research is exploring a social partnerships construct of learning ecologies in VET for connecting learning regions and the enablers and barriers to learning partnerships with small business. Small business, it has been argued, is opting out of responsibility for formal training and the last bastion of market failure for VET. This paper discusses what constructs this ‘attitudinal ecology’ between VET and small businesses. It questions how similar visions and common values about lifelong learning can be promulgated between small business and community stakeholders in a market economy of VET. It finds there are more similarities than differences though in the effect of regional economic policy on practitioners and small business, and suggests enculturing resilience and healthy resources of emotional capital in learning partnerships is not only a concern for small business, but warrants further investigation within VET too.



 AVETRA Early Career Researcher Award

Refereed conference papers will automatically be entered into the shortlisting for the NCVER Early Career Researcher Award Paper of the Year award as part of the refereeing process. National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) sponsors this award to encourage new researchers, that is, within the first five years of their research career, to present at the annual conference and become actively involved in the Association. Funding for this award should not be assumed to be on-going.

Previous Awardees AVETRA Early Career Researcher Award Paper of the Year


Serena Yu and Tanya Bretherton University of Sydney

“Defining Vocational Streams: Insights from Engineering, Agriculture, Financial     Services and Healthcare and Community Services”


This paper is part of a proposal for a symposium of four papers examining links between  education and work, to be entitled ‘Vocations, education and work’. The papers are derived from two related projects: a project funded by NCVER entitled ‘Vocations: Post-compulsory education and the labour market’; and a project funded by the NSW Board of Vocational Education and Training entitled ‘From competencies to capabilities’. The linked papers are those by Kira Clarke, Serena Yu, Mary Leahy and Nick Fredman.
This paper considers how educational and labour market progression is linked, and in particular how capability and vocational streams are shaped by different sectors or industries. A vocational stream is a set of occupations linked by common practices and knowledge, and is embedded in a broader skills ecosystem of regional, market and institutional forces. Based on a series of in-depth stakeholder interviews across the case study sectors of agriculture, healthcare/community services, engineering and financial services, we find that potential for the vocational stream framework is based on two preconditions: that there are commonalities in underpinning knowledge and skills across occupations; and that there is threshold level of social capital and trust between the stakeholders to mediate these links between occupations.




Jennifer Davids
Southbank Institute of TAFE

‘In the frontline – the voice of VETeran teachers’

As we move into a period where the ramifications of having an ageing population of  teachers is beginning to impact on the VET sector, the need for experienced mentors  and master practitioners is becoming more apparent (Wheelahan 2011, p.12). This  paper gives voice to the Lead Vocational Teachers (LVTs) of TAFE Queensland. A  quantitative electronic survey was distributed in June 2011 to the total population of  738 Lead Vocational Teachers. In total 283 LVTs responded (38.3% response rate),  and 245 completed the survey (33.2% completion rate). Almost three-quarters  (73.8%) had been working in TAFE for more than 15 years. The question of how best  to use this group of experienced teachers clearly needs to be addressed as findings  indicate that overwhelmingly the majority of participants did not believe that their  role is clearly defined.  The research examines the role and attitudes of these LVTs in  TAFE Queensland within the context of ongoing change. It addresses issues of job  satisfaction and commitment. Who indeed will listen to the voices of these veteran  teachers in the VET sector?

NCVER Early Career Highly Commended 2012
Jennifer Aitken
Advance  TAFE, East Gippsland, Victoria

‘A case study exploring the experiences of teachers in developing confidence in  their teaching skills and the role that continuing Professional Development has  played in the acquisition of this confidence. What has worked for them and why?’

Australia is looking for a model of Vocational Education and Training (VET) teacher  development which ensures that there are sufficient people with a sound industry  background willing to teach in the VET sector, who can deliver professional teaching  to a large variety of students. The problem arises around how we can ensure that VET  teachers develop their skills and knowledge further in order to be able to take on more  responsibilities and develop their professionalism. In Australia the provision of  Continuing Professional Development  (CPD) to VET sector teachers has never been  addressed in a cohesive manner.
A Case Study approach was used to examine how VET teachers have developed their  confidence in their professional teaching skills, how they have felt about this  development pathway and whether the available professional development options  have been adequate.
This study focussed on teachers in rural areas. This group are particularly  disadvantaged in terms of access to any type of higher level teacher training or  informal CPD.  It considers how these teachers felt about their initial qualification and  the reasons for further formal study or continuing to develop their teaching through  ongoing professional development.

• VET teachers at a Victorian rural campus of TAFE found Cert IV to be suitable beginning level qualification; however the delivery of that qualification by the TAFE sector was inadequate to fully prepare teachers for the start of their teaching career.
• Delivery of this qualification should be improved and a mentoring system for beginning teachers implemented.
• CPD which is structured to build teacher skills and workforce capability and is recognised as building professionalism may create incentive and guidance for teachers to build their skills and confidence.
• The VET workforce’s capability would be continually enhanced if such a career structure could be provided as it would contribute to supporting the growth of the sector and provide a career structure which recognises the professionalism of Vet teachers. This recognition would in turn encourage recruitment of teachers from 



David McLean, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
A Victorian tale of two texts: Skills Reform and, the Multi Business Agreement.

During 2008 in Victoria two influential texts were released within weeks of each other; texts that would have a significant impact on how Victorian TAFE institutes would organise both operational and human resources over the next four years. The texts were the new Victorian State Government Vocational Education and Training Policy, known as Skills Reform and the amended Victorian TAFE teacher employment conditions, the Multi Business Agreement (MBA). Skills Reform had many new policy initiatives stated to introduce a greater degree of market choice for the clients of VET providers. The MBA had pay rises with very minor changes to the core employment conditions of TAFE teachers and Senior Educators. While these two texts were created independently of each other, Skills Reform’s impact would need to be closely considered in relation to how a TAFE teacher’s work is organised from the MBA.
This paper argues that the core change agenda of Skills Reform is not to create improved access to training by broadening consumer choice but to directly reduce the cost of training in the public sector through productivity gains. This will be forced by the new activity based funding criteria and a falling financial return to institutes per training hour. This strategy will force TAFE institutes to significantly change the way a teacher’s work is organised, not driven by competition


Tom Short, University of South Australia
Leadership development in a moving context

The success of workplace training initiatives is increasingly connected with how programs of learning are aligned with, and take account of, the organisational context. This is especially true in the area of leadership and management development where Currie (1999) concluded that unless there was congruence between the context of the organisation as perceived by the participants and the development initiative being introduced, the initiative was likely to be unsuccessful. Using selected findings obtained from a two-year research project within the Australian Rail Industry, as part of the CRC for Rail Innovation, this paper draws insight on how leadership and management capability are being developed in an era of changing contexts. In this setting, context is defined by external characteristics of the rapidly changing environment in which rail organisations operate. Drawing information from the  literature on leadership, a selection of rail reports, interview data and a content analysis of learning materials taken from rail organisations, this paper evaluates if current management training programs are developing rail leaders with the knowledge and skills to cope with a selection of ever-changing contexts.

AVETRA reserves the right not to make an award if none of the applications received meets the criteria for award. Download the criteria for award for the NCVER Early Career Research Award Paper of the Year here.


Regan Harding, North Coast TAFE NSW
Early days: A personal review of a research into practice initiative

This paper provides participant reflections from one of ten researchers involved in an NCVER sponsored ‘Building Researcher Capacity in the VET Sector’ scheme in 2008. In this scheme, early career VET researchers are supported to undertake work-based research projects in a community of practice to develop their research capacity.
‘Early Days’ intends to do two things: firstly, to provide an interim account of the data collected through surveys and focus group interviews for the research project: ‘The experiences of early vocational education and training programs for young Aboriginal learners: perceptions of practitioners and young people’. Key findings and discussions emerging from the program and the research are presented to inform practitioners in designing, delivering and supporting early VET programs for such learners.
Secondly, it aims to be of general practical assistance to early VET researchers and the experienced VET researchers and mentors supporting them. Including personal reflections on the researcher community of practice, the paper discusses the mentoring received through the AVETRA network and the support received by the participants and organizations included in the research. Each section of this paper will address the research project -‘Experiences of early vocational education and training programs for young Aboriginal learners: perceptions of practitioners and young people’. It will also explore the research process – the research methodologies selected and support received through the ‘NCVER Building Researcher Capacity Community of Practice’.

Ruth Wallace, Social Partnerships in Learning Research Consortium, Charles Darwin University, Cathy Curry, CHARTTES Training Advisory Council, Richard Agar, Kimberley College of TAFE
Working from Our Strengths: Indigenous Enterprise and Training in Action and Research

Developing innovative and successful approaches to training in remote and regional contexts with Indigenous people necessitates effective partnership and the recognition of diverse knowledge systems as they relate to the worlds of work, community engagement and learning. Social partnerships catalyse and enable change in human or social policy (EU Guideline Principles 2004) Social partnerships in learning, then, are the interagency and interdisciplinary relationships that enable effective learning in different disciplines, workplaces and training sites. Social partnerships in learning frameworks are used to; examine diverse knowledge systems, develop capacity building processes and understand the underlying relationships that facilitate connections, engagement and decision making between government, non-government, enterprise, community, stakeholders and individuals (Wallace forthcoming:7). These frameworks operate at and across all levels i.e. involving individuals, organizations and learning systems. Over the past four years a team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners in learning research across Northern Australia have identified many of the issues that must be addressed to improve economic and community outcomes of training and investment through enterprise development. As the issues have been widely reported, the project team are now looking to the future directions for enterprise development and training research indicated by the findings of these projects. This paper provides an overview of a series of recent projects developed around enterprise development and training. The issues project teams have explored include the recognition of diverse knowledge systems within the Recognition of Prior Learning process, the role of digital literacies in sharing knowledge and work-based learning. The paper then foreshadows the future directions of this work; addressing a range of issues such as infrastructure, funding, technology and identifying relevant skills sets. Approaches to sustainable enterprise learning and production, professional development and support of successful Indigenous and non-Indigenous teachers are also discussed. Essentially the paper focuses on the ways partnerships and relationships, rather than systems, can effect change in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system.

Ruth Wallace and Kathie Mair, Charles Darwin University
Turning Points: Exploring the development of learning communities through participatory action research

‘Turning Points’ is a pilot project developed by a Charles Darwin University team and funded by the NT Department of Health and Community Services to respond to a community need for effective and sustainable professional development in the children’s services sector. This paper describes the project, highlights some of the emerging results and discusses insights into its effectiveness and potential as a model for training and professional development in the workplace.  The innovative approach to professional development and training of local children’s services staff and organisations, supports participating services to develop ‘communities of practice’ as they engage in participatory action learning cycles that act as a framework for developing positive and self sustaining learning experiences, networks and environments. This paper will discuss issues related to implementing and using this approach.

Download the full paper here

Susan Monti and Graeme Stone, Northern Beaches College, TAFE NSW

Students in the Diploma of Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Studies at the Northern Beaches College of TAFE, NSW, have been participating in an innovative learning strategy throughout 2002 and 2003, referred to as ‘peer health promotion’, which is a peer driven initiative that extends the traditional ‘peer education’ approach. This paper reports the initiatives that have been undertaken, the experiences gained and the likely outcomes of this study as the project continues into 2004.