We need business leaders to speak often and consistently with one voice about the perils of trying to do too much too fast on the cheap in education.—George D. Kuh, Professor Emeritus, Indiana University
With current workforce supply pressures and overriding demand for age services, there is considerable focus on producing more workers who can meet the demands of this ever-changing sector. Much of this comes in the form of post-secondary certificate programs with a focus on practical vocational skills.
Making things easier on the employer side of the equation, many training organisations now offer a plethora of badges and certificates to supposedly signal skill proficiency. In turn, these badges and certificates are collaged together to create a fit-for-sector suite of credentials with an implicit belief that learners will bring coherence to these disparate learning experiences to their employer, and when caring for our elders.
The fact that IT vendors are now providing systems for individuals and employers to store and share their training credentials indicates that the training sector is hot.
Still, it should be stated that short-term skills training is vitally important to the sector, and suits the development needs of many people. This has always been the case, and will continue to be so into the future. However, should this be the acceptable path to addressing our workforce and sector needs?
The answer is no, and here are a few reasons why. Reflecting a more complicated and challenging world, our sector will need leaders and managers who can navigate ambiguity and uncertainty, increasing the need for individuals with accumulated knowledge, interpersonal and practical competence, critical thinking and empathy. Giving preference to shortened and fragmented education and personal development to increase sector productivity is reckless, and a disservice to workers, the elders we care for, and the sector. At the end of the day, you run the risk of creating a caste system in the sector, whereby those with short-term practical skills training are relegated to low-level work.
It is perhaps also ironic that many who support the present push for short-term practical skills, and bemoan the value of higher education, themselves completed formal tertiary studies. It would also be reasonable to assume that many encourage their own children to follow a similar educational path, yet do not apply the same encouragement to the aged care workforce.
In reality, true future leaders benefit from being in a learning environment where they can broaden their perspectives, hone their skills, devote time and effort to ponder tough questions and complex problems, and try to come up with alternative solutions. These are the building blocks to future-proofing the sector with the right kinds of leaders.
Focusing on the short-term might be the stop-gap we need at this moment. However, favouring short-term job training over multi-layered educational experiences is a bad idea for future leaders, sector viability, and our collective ability to provide the best possible care and innovative care solutions for our elders.
The truth is, there are no vocational programs to prepare you for tomorrow’s work. And there are certainly no badges and certificates to confirm you for jobs that have not yet been invented.
Merlin Kong is Head of innovAGEING and Director of the Centre for Workforce Development & Innovation, Leading Age Services Australia.