The following awards were presented at the AVETRA 2016 conference:

  1. The Ray Barker Award for Distinguished Service to VET Research – Erica Smith
  2. AVETRA Conference paper of the year – Don Zoellner
  3. Journal article of the year award – Steven Hodge
  4. TDA/AVETRA Innovation Scholarship – Ross McLennan


In general all the Awards will follow the same criteria:

  • they will have a common closing date of 20 February in the year of presentation
  • a member of AVETRA Executive will chair the judging panel with two other Executive members or outside members with appropriate background and experience, except for AVETRA Paper of the Year which will be judged by a panel of that year’s conference committee
  • all Award winners must be current financial members of AVETRA.  In the case of journal articles, the nominating author must be a current financial member
  • judges may not enter the competition and may not work in the same institution as any of the candidates, may not be involved in the relevant research project or in other current research collaborations with candidates, or have other conflicts of interest (eg. relative or PhD supervisor)


1.The Ray Barker Award for Distinguished Service to VET Research

The Ray Barker Award for Distinguished Service to VET Research has been instituted as a way of recognising the distinguished long-term and exemplary contributions to VET research of a nominated member of AVETRA. The Award recognises significant contributions to VET research and scholarship and the promotion of VET research.

2016: Awarded to Professor Erica Smith – Federation University



Erica has made a significant contribution to VET research for over twenty years, both through publications and papers that have influenced VET policy.  She was a former President of AVETRA and continues to be a well-respected advocate and expert in many fields including apprenticeships and teacher qualifications.

Previous Awardees

2006  Roger Harris (University of South Australia)

2008  No awardee

2010  No awardee

2012  Stephen Billett

2014  No awardee


2. AVETRA Conference paper of the year

2016 – Don Zoellner, Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University, Alice Springs, NT, Australia for his paper ‘Fixing problematic apprentice systems: there is never a clean slate’


Don Zoellner

Abstract 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.


Previous Awardees AVETRA Conference Paper of the Year

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.

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?

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.

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.


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.

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?

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.

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.


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.

2013 – Mary Leahy for the conference paper titled:

“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.

2014 – Susan Webb for the paper ‘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.


3. Journal article of the year award

2015: Awarded to Steven Hodge, Griffith University, for his journal  ‘Alienating curriculum work in Australian vocational education and training ‘


Steven HodgeAbstract

Competency-based training (CBT) is a curriculum model employed in educational sectors, professions and industries around the world. A significant feature of the model is its permeability to control by interests outside education. In this article, a ‘Neoliberal’ version of CBT is described and analysed in the context of Australian Vocational Education and Training (VET). In this version of the model, a division of curriculum labour is instituted that, from the perspective of Neoliberal theory, allows the interests of educators to be limited in accordance with the belief that they will neglect the interests of students and other stakeholders if they have control over the whole curriculum construction process. But this version of CBT denigrates the expertise of educators by forcing them to set aside their own judgement about what is important to teach and implement a pre-existing picture of an occupation that may or may not be an effective representation. Empirical evidence is reviewed that suggests curriculum work in VET is indeed alienating for educators. Existing critiques of CBT are considered and found to have overlooked the specifically Neoliberal form of CBT in VET analysed in the article.

Previous Awardees:

2014- Selena Chan ‘Crafting an Occupational Identity: Learning the Precepts of Craftsmanship Through Apprenticeship’
2013- Roger Harris & Catherine Ramos ‘Building career capital through further study in Australia and Singapore’.
2012- Steven Hodge Deakin University and Roger Harris University of South Australia ‘Diplipline, Governmentality and 25 years of Competency-Based Training’
2011- Erica Smith and Andy Smith, University of Ballarat ‘Does the availability of vocational qualifications through work assist social inclusion? Education and Training, Vol 53, No. 7, 2011’

4 TDA/AVETRA Innovation Scholarship

2016:  Awarded to Dr Ross McLennan, TAFE Queensland




Dr Ross McLennan, pictured, the Principal Teacher, Music, at TAFE Queensland, Brisbane campus is the winner of the TDA/AVETRA Innovation Scholarship for 2016.

Ross will receive $6,000 through the scholarship to support his research into innovative internship models for music students.

His interest is in commercial models of internship that support students financially and improve their entrepreneurial skills and employment opportunities. The outcomes of his research will inform new industry partnerships models and practices in TAFE Queensland.


Previous Awardees:

2014- Inaugural winner- Awarded to David McLean from RMIT University. David is the Deputy Head of School \ Industry Group Manager in the School of Vocational Business Education at RMIT.

2015- Awarded to Peter Hurley – Project Manager, Bendigo Kangan TAFE. Peter’s research proposal : This project will look at how the TAFE sector can play an effective role as part of Australia’s response to unemployment through innovative Work for the Dole programs. It will look at how TAFE can create successful models of engaging theunemployed by linking them to training. The research will look at: program design, engagement strategies with jobseekers, how to recruit employers, how to maintain relationships with industry, program promotion, and transitioning job seekers to employment.