When we advertised the role of Research Coordinator we expected some people to ask about the job and see whether it might fit with them. What we didn’t expect was the level of interest in why we are wanting to conduct research in VET in the first place.
This idea is one that has been discussed in Fortress Learning for some years, but it was only recently that the commitment was made to explore it further. During a 2017 visit to China, our Manager, Bryan West, had the opportunity to meet with a number of people at both the academic and frontline of VET in that nation. (This article will include some photos from that visit.) What emerged was:
- a shared interest in exploring some questions that are fundamental to the future of quality vocational education and training
- the realisation that an internal research agenda fits well within Fortress Learning’s next phase of Strategic Development.
(L to R: Professor Jia Dongqing, Beijing Vocational College of Transportation; Dr Bryan West, Fortress Learning; Professor Wang Dong Ping, Sichuan Vocational & Technical College of Communications)
Since then, we have commenced a number of projects spanning both domestic and international VET domains, and presented at a number of conferences. Additionally, we have entered into agreements and commenced projects with other research institutes in both Australia and several other nations.
And so with that bit of background out of the way, the purpose of this post will aim to shed some light on the question:
Why is Fortress Learning investing in research in VET?
There are a few things that influence this decision.
Blind Freddy can see that our industry is not in great shape. It is clear that what people believe and expect from VET varies just as wildly as the skills and knowledge possessed by graduates of the various Cert IV TAE programs that have been delivered by almost 1000 RTOs over the past few years.
(Fortress Learning’s Dr Bryan West delivering at VET Compliance, Policy & Quality Summit, 2019.)
Students looking to choose a training provider are in a difficult position. We feel for them and the very real challenge that they have in making a decision. After all, who can they rely upon to deliver the training that will result in a qualification that actually reflects what the qualification is meant to reflect? Unethical and questionable practices of many RTOs in recent years makes it very difficult for a prospective student to trust that an RTO is committed to not just doing the right thing, but also to being around long enough for the student to finish their course.
(Professor Nik Bogduk, delivering preliminary findings of a Fortress Learning research project at ACDEVEG, 2018.)
Fortress Learning is a privately owned RTO. Our future depends on being aware of not just what people want, but also what they need. This is a critical distinction, and one that is often overlooked by both learners and employers. In the current VET landscape, there is a lack of confidence in what people – what we – are doing. Our industry is plagued by RTOs who collectively possess a mass neurosis (and one that is altogether justifiable for many reasons) as the goal posts shift and move around.
Alongside this is an increased international focus on VET, with the Australian system being explored by and introduced to other nations; nations with large populations and equally large short- and medium-term infrastructure projects that will require highly skilled workforces. China’s One Belt-One Road initiative is one such example. Bilateral moves to shore up mutual recognition strategies are increasing, and understanding the similarities and differences will inform decisions for how best to support those initiatives.
(L to R: Yang Ruizhu and Professor Sun, Capital University of Economics & Business; Dr Bryan West, Fortress Learning; Mona Ye Meng, Australian Vocational Education Alliance)
(Fortress Learning’s Dr Seneviratne presenting at the AVETRA Conference, 2018.)
How does conducting research in VET help with this?
We believe that conducting a program of empirical research will allow us to better understand what is needed and how to provide for that. Fortress Learning’s research program will certainly lead to refereed publications and conference presentations at the academic end of the spectrum. The process of conducting research will build valuable and exciting relationships with others, both in Australia and internationally.
For the coalface of RTO operations, the findings that emerge from the research process will lead to a trickle-down effect, where findings and questions and issues can be identified and shared along the way in a range of forums (such as this one). It is these that we believe will have the greatest impact, by:
- Informing what we do and how we do it to ensure we are providing the best possible service for our learners and their future employers
- Communicating with like-minded organisations and individuals what we are discovering, and thus contributing in some small way to a restoration of confidence in what we do
- Providing our students, prospective students and employers with confidence in the commitment of Fortress Learning to best practice, and from that a confidence in the integrity of a Fortress Learning qualification
- Nurturing strong relationships within the VET sector, both domestically and internationally, by working together to identify opportunities of mutual benefit.
Fortress Learning is a privately owned RTO. We are committed to a sustainable business model, and we are committed to a long-term presence with the Australian VET sector. We believe that the VET sector will only be as strong as those who contribute to it, and we appreciate and applaud those who do work to its benefit.
As we approach our tenth year, we see this as an opportunity for us to make a new contribution.
It is early days, but it is a start … and it could be fun.
(Linda Li Zhou, Trainer from Beijing Vocational College of Transportation, Bryan West during a role play conducted as part of a teaching micro-skills session conducted by Fortress Learning in Beijing, July 2017.)