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Return on qualifications

Barry F. Drew
Festo Pty Ltd

This paper examines the common problems that currently beset industrialised nations and explores new education and training cultures as the means to long term solutions within the Australian framework.

The roots of the manufacturing system go back a long way. At the beginning of the 20th Century, mass production using machine tools first emerged and was established in the United States. Since the 1950s, new technologies have been developed and introduced, including numerical control, flexible manufacturing systems, and lately, computer integrated manufacturing (CIM). All these technologies have advanced the economy through scientific systemisation and benefited humanity at large.

Manufacturing is the cornerstone of all economic activities, a prime generator of wealth and critical in establishing a sound basis for all our service industries. Of late, however, socio-economic changes have generated a number of problems common to the industrialised nations.

These problems, which could threaten the foundation of a country's manufacturing industry, are related to the following internationally shared phenomena:

Human factors

In Australia all the signs are pointing to recovery - the dollar is around $0.72US, business confidence up, value added exports up, growth rates exceeding predictions, the employment sections of dailies are filled with middle management vacancies. Yet unemployment is still around 11% and we have a shortage of skilled personnel. The common problems of industrialised nations are also Australia's problems.

In terms of human factors we find that we too seem to have structural unemployment with an increasing number of school leavers and middle aged workers deemed to be "unemployable".

In the past our labour market seemed to be more able to absorb the wider spectrum of people from all skill levels. However the recession and global competition has reduced the number of unskilled positions available and our education system has been unable to react in time due to its inertia and culture.

Australia's inherited educational and cultural tradition, until recently, has tended to separate theoretical/cognitive education from vocational competency training. We have regarded education as the province of schools and universities and vocational training the province of TAFE and the workplace.

This model was originally adapted by the United Kingdom from the German Dual System of Learning (similar to our apprenticeship system).

Singapore and Korea adopted the German model; however, countries such as France, Japan, Italy and Sweden provide school students with skills that are directly related to the labour market as well as roles in preparing them for higher education and active citizenship.

There are strengths and weaknesses in both systems but the fundamental principle of learning is that:

People are motivated to learn when they regard the subject matter as useful.
To continue to be motivated, learners must enjoy the process of learning and experience movement, recognition and a sense of identity.

Most of the students who slipped through the education system "without touching the sides" (those destined to become long term unemployed) found that they either could not see the usefulness of the subject matter or were unable to synthesise the information into competencies.

Problem in the USA

One third of American youth and 20-25% of the population as a whole are functionally illiterate. They can just read a comic but not the daily paper.


Personal computers have been developed in Canada which allow letters and texts to be represented in spoken computer language.

Computers are a new medium through which more people can gain intellectual and social competencies that can become the foundation of future learning and career development.

What is needed in industry now is holistically qualified and holistically acting personnel who contribute their knowledge, creativity and skills to the work process and display team spirit.

It is now becoming widely accepted that the continued development of intellectual and social competencies in secondary and tertiary education needs to be enmeshed with the development of competencies that are explicitly required in the workplace.

Correspondingly recent thinking in Europe and the OECD recommends that competencies required by workers in their roles as citizens are merging more closely with competencies that are required in the workplace.

This also means that workers can no longer just be technically competent. They must be broadly skilled and be able to communicate within a team environment and be creative and adaptive as well as personally organised and socially competent.

Accordingly seven key competencies have been identified as common and must apply in all forms of education and training and these seven competencies are as follows:

In Australia these learning outcomes are known as the Mayer Key Competencies. A worker with all of these competencies is a powerful and effective producer. A workforce with these characteristics is seen as the best means by which Australia's manufacturing and processing industries can become internationally competitive. Also as a side benefit workers with these characteristics make socially responsible community members.

Accordingly learning must be regarded holistically and schools, universities, and trainers must in future teach/facilitate learning in a much broader more flexible way to ensure that not just the academically competent achieve vocational competence.

As a result many secondary schools are now adopting these seven key competencies and are factoring them into their curricula. Coincidentally, Festo Didactic has included these seven key competencies in all its training programs to assist industry in meeting the challenges of the future.

Model 1

Fun through activity:

Model 2

Fun through learning:

Obviously when Model 2 is applied the outcomes are more rewarding for all.

For teachers, professors and trainers this change means higher demands on relevance to everyday practice and on didactic methods.

The globalisation of corporate activities

Increasingly, companies are finding they need a common inter company communications system that enables different firms to exchange information through EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) and Corporate Networks. As the barriers between different areas of manufacturing diminish, companies are interacting with one another to a greater degree, and this interdependence is well on the way to intimacy. At present, though, it is seldom easy to exchange manufacturing information, because of systems incompatibility.

However within intra company networks systems incompatibility is not such a problem thus the efficiency of focusing resources onto global markets can be realised. This means that the vagaries (peaks and troughs) of a local market can be "ironed out" when dealing in a global market and massive economies of scale can be realised.

Already we are seeing the "Just In Time" concept of reduced warehousing costs within the supermarket chains, where the sale of goods at the checkout counter is instantaneously logged into the production schedule of the manufacturer and the replacement stock is automatically processed with no human intervention.

Of course this calls for a new range of skills and competencies in the areas of Accountancy, Computing, and Data Communications from the people installing, maintaining and operating such systems.

This and all corporate knowledge that goes into the manufacturing process must also be transferred to the next generation.

This requires consistency and continuity to ensure that mistakes are not replicated generation after generation. This calls for a new discipline known as Knowledge Management. At present we use the system of Quality Assurance Procedures to achieve but it will not be long before artificial intelligence and fuzzy logic will take over the Management of Knowledge .

Capital investment for the future

Computer aided design, manufacturing, and engineering will help in the rapid development of new products matched to customers' needs, which forms concurrent engineering. New Age flexible Computer Integrated Manufacturing facilities will be developed with Quality Assurance built in. A global communications network with standardised interfaces will link head office to the manufacturing plants, sales agents, and subcontractors. The equipment, such as Robots and Flexible Manufacturing Plant orchestrated by computerised Order Processing and Scheduling systems needed to satisfy the demands of global markets takes large amounts of capital.

Capital is the major constraint to Australian companies attacking global markets. A fair degree of investment courage is also required because technology is costly and often a risk. But capital and courage is not all that is required - Market Knowledge and a new range of skills are required to manage these investments and the technology risks.

As new technologies, ever higher product quality and ever more complex processes emerge, companies are becoming more dependent on the qualifications of their personnel and the willingness of personnel to accept responsibility.

Concepts such as the half life of knowledge and the explosion of knowledge make training a decisive factor for success. The value of experience decreases faster as knowledge continues to expand.

Given this march toward a technological world with increasing emphasis on education and training, how will Australia do?

Our best export potential is in our minds, in our ability to use, increase and sell our knowledge and skills (Knowledge-ware). For many such "knowledge workers" in this country, there is no shortage of work. Many of them are working longer hours than ever. They are competing in the world economy - feeling the pressure, but finding their share of success as well as the occasional failure. The promise of freer trade is an unqualified blessing for the Australian scientists working on new pharmaceuticals, the product designers shaping medical equipment and the BHP engineers working on new coated steels.

If Australia is to prosper, more of us must work this way. We cannot place our hopes on low skill protected industries where most of the work is done in bolting or sewing things together. The renewed promise of freer trade reminds us that these Australian industries are waging a losing battle against lower wage nations (for which such work can be the fast track out of poverty). The challenge for Australia is to ensure that more and more of our people can become knowledge workers through improved education and training. Then, and only then, our unemployment numbers will come down to something approaching an acceptable level.

This means, as with our secondary school system, our Higher Education industry must move quickly to a new culture - a new format.

When the first universities were founded in the Middle Ages, anyone interested in scholarship had no choice but to visit them, either to consult their inhabitants or read in their libraries. This was the only place that learned research was done. But through technical innovation by industry over the years universities have less control over the dissemination of knowledge.

Technological innovations, starting with the printing press and extending to the computer disk and the videotape, have succeeded in divorcing knowledge from institutions.

Soon you will be able to enjoy many of the advantages of a first class education without ever setting foot on a campus. If you want to learn economics, you will be able to watch and interact with a lecture delivered by a Nobel laureate.

With Universities suffering 20% lower intakes in the Sciences and Engineering streams it appears that the market is already voting with its feet. Fortunately the process of change in Australia is well under way. Universities are now being subjected to quasi-market disciplines, under the HECS (Higher Education Contribution Scheme).

Private entrepreneurs have been much better than their public sector counterparts at harnessing the information revolution. They are flexible and ruthless enough to ride a rapidly changing market whereas most universities are still constrained by public sector attitudes.

A second stimulus to change has been to reform by cost cutting, simply by shifting funds to cheaper institutions, such as the TAFEs or the community colleges, or else by encouraging new sorts of higher education.

This has lead to a considerable increase in part time courses, which allow students to combine work with study and are proving to be especially cost effective. So are distance learning courses and academic credits to a National Qualifications Framework (which allow students to advance at their own pace, cram several courses into a single year, combine study with part time work or move from one institution to another).

The third strategy for change is for universities to diversify their funding - by marketing their research, improving their relations with industry and, above all by charging fees.

Today Learning Institutions must link with Industry and adapt to a world in which governments are reluctant to fund higher education and research; in which students are as likely to be middle aged managers, trying to update their skills or change their careers, as impressionable school leavers; and in which knowledge intensive industries, happily innocent of lifetime tenure and union negotiated pay scales, are competing to buy talent. To prosper, they need to reinvent themselves once more.


With industry and commerce now demanding broad based skills as well as intellectual and social skills the secondary schooling system is moving to integrate vocational competencies with academic competencies. Also in the class rooms of the future there will be a shift toward less "teaching and more learning" along with competency based assessment. Similarly our Universities are now facing a great challenge to be able to match the new environment with new offerings that meet market needs of cost effective holistic development and that factor in the notion that learning is fun.

In Industry the concept of lifetime learning is becoming a reality of working life. Therefore our educational institutions have an opportunity to provide a new market based product known as EDUTAINMENT.

Author: Barry F. Drew, National Didactic Manager, Festo Pty Ltd

Please cite as: Drew, B. F. (1994). Return on qualifications. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 52-55. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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