Article prepared by Jacqui Hodge, Director, RTO Advice Services


NCVER has just released a new paper that will be of interest to RTOs and their training and assessing staff.  It’s called  – “Industry currency and professional obsolescence: what can industry tell us?”

The report, published 21 June 2013, explores the issues of industry currency and professional obsolescence, focusing on the viewpoint of those working in the plumbing, hairdressing and printing industries, as well as professionals working in the science, engineering, human resources and health sector. However, we would like to point out that discussions raised in this paper may relate more generally to provision of training and assessment in all industries.

This topic relates to the following RTO standards: AQTF Essential Standards of Registration 1.4; VRQA Guidelines for VET Providers: 1.3; VET Quality Framework: SNRs: 4.4, 15.4.

The research was conducted by:

  • Berwyn Clayton, Victoria University
  • Pam Jonas, The Victorian TAFE Association
  • Regan Harding, TAFENSW North Coast Institute
  • Mark Harris, Global Education & HR Consultancy Services
  • Melinda Toze,  Queensland VET Development Centre

Below are some extracts from the report:

  •  Industry currency and professional obsolescence are terms that relate to the capacity of an individual to continue to perform their job.  Having up-to-date skills, knowledge and experience in a particular industry is known as industry currency, whereas in the professions a lack of ongoing learning in order to retain competence is known as professional obsolescence.
  • The knowledge required in occupations does not remain static; for example, changes in technology or the development of new products mean that workers need to learn new skills and keep abreast of these changes.  This is of importance to vocational education and training (VET) because VET practitioners are training the individuals moving into these occupations.  Therefore, VET practitioners need to ensure that their industry skills and knowledge are kept current.
  • There is evidence of currency gaps in the VET workforce and there is also a lack of understanding about how best to manage and maintain industry currency within the sector itself. As a consequence, industry currency has become an increasing concern for industry, the VET sector and its regulators.
  • Employers suggested that they trusted training providers to employ people with industry-relevant skills and that industry currency was not something they were overly concerned with.   Employers did suggest, however, that the strategies they used themselves to keep current were equally appropriate for VET trainers and assessors.
  • The most favoured ways of doing so were attending trade events, reading industry magazines, undertaking online research and engaging in industry networks.  Significantly, product manufacturer/vendor training was also available in most industries regardless of the approaches adopted to build skills and knowledge, employers in the trades wanted to see trainers and assessors attending industry events, engaging in industry networks and interacting with employers. Industry skills council representatives and industry association personnel confirmed these views.  The auditors’ views, by contrast, did not necessarily align with those of industry and there was some questioning of the value of industry events and online research.  Auditors were much more concerned to see evidence of planning for industry currency and the application of any learning gained through updating activities.  In effect, it was not about the strategies being used to maintain industry currency, but rather how the ongoing learning was taken up and used to inform teaching practice.
  • Employers and industry representatives in the study indicated that they themselves could assist in keeping VET practitioners abreast of changes in industry.  While there was some evidence of this having occurred, most informants noted that they had not been approached by trainers seeking help to keep current.  Others indicated that they had learnt from trainers who were sometimes more current in certain areas.  This situation signals the importance of practitioners developing personal networks with employers and others in industry.  It also highlights that individual trainers and assessors need to accept responsibility for ensuring their currency.  In every instance, there was ready acceptance that maintaining currency was a responsibility to be shared by the individual and the organisation — without joint commitment updating strategies were likely to fail.

From a training provider perspective, the research suggests there is a need to:

  1. Develop an organisational climate that endorses, supports and rewards updating so that the revitalisation of vocational competence and industry currency becomes the norm among practitioners.
  2. Adopt a strategic approach to the maintenance of industry currency, particularly where technology and the associated knowledge are constantly being superseded.  As new knowledge emerges and skill requirements change, those workers who have responsibility for the take-up of innovations will need to be provided with carefully tailored training to keep them abreast of the changes.
  3. Introduce innovative approaches that not only offer formal and structured learning activities but also open up incidental learning opportunities as they arise in the conduct of day-to-day work.
  4.  Emphasise the importance of collaborative learning; whereby sharing of new knowledge and mentoring of others, including the casualised training workforce, is encouraged and supported.
  5.  Encourage the development of trainer interactions with employers and industry bodies who are willing to assist individuals to update their skills and knowledge.
  6.  Make prominent the issue of industry currency in performance management discussions with individual practitioners and develop meaningful and achievable plans for its attainment.
  7.  Strike the right balance between maintaining industry currency and improving teaching quality.

From an individual trainer or assessor perspective, the research suggests there is a need to:

  1. Commit to ongoing interactions with industry to build on industry experience and knowledge.
  2. Use opportunities to engage with industry and build industry networks.
  3. Attend industry events and supplier/vendor training to keep abreast of emerging industry trends.
  4. Share experiences and information with training colleagues.
  5. Apply new industry knowledge and skills to day-to-day teaching and training practice.

A systemic framework for continuing professional development and access to training in key technical areas, together with some innovative organisational thinking about the provision of developmental opportunities for trainers, will go some way to addressing the issue of industry currency in the VET sector.

We would love to hear your feedback/response to this article and any plans you have for reviewing your current procedures in light of this new information.  Please comment on our facebook post, write to us, or you can comment on our article below.

You can find the full NCVER report here.