What is the Australian Skills Classification? And how does it describe the tasks performed by a trainer working in the VET sector?

What is the Australian Skills Classification?

The Australian Skills Classification was announced and publicly released by the National Skills Commission on the 18th of March 2021. It includes skills profiles for 600 occupations. Each skill profile has three elements:

  • specialist tasks
  • core competencies
  • technology tools.

The announcement says that each skill profile clearly outlines what skills are required for a particular occupation. [1]

The Australian Skills Classification has 25 cluster families. [2]

How does the Australian Skills Classification describe the tasks performed by a trainer working in the VET sector?

The cluster family that covers a trainer working in the VET sector is ‘Teaching and education’. The following shows the details for the ‘Teaching and education’ cluster family. [3]

‘Teach tertiary and vocational courses’ seems to be the obvious place to look within the cluster family for the occupation of trainer in the VET sector. However, is being a lecturer or tutor at a university the same thing as being a trainer delivering a VET course? I think there is a difference. Many university lecturers and tutors are highly qualified academics. How do they feel being lumped together with their VET counterparts? And the qualification requirements are, and should, be different for a person who delivers VET training courses.

‘Teach tertiary and vocational courses’ gives a list of related occupations or roles. I am surprised that trainers working in the VET sector are classified with economists, geologists, biochemists, meteorologists, and historian. Are economists, geologists, biochemists, meteorologists, and historian happy being grouped with trainers? Has the National Skills Commission got their classifications right? I assume that many people with big brains have been paid big bucks to develop the Australian Skills Classifications. Could they have got it wrong?

Is teaching the same thing as training?

The National Skills Commission has created the occupation title of ‘Vocational Education Teacher’. The following is the description that is given for this occupation. [4]

I think there is a difference between teaching and training. And I think there is a difference between a teacher and a trainer. Teachers are degree qualified (AQF Level 7 or above). Trainers are Certificate IV qualified (AQF Level 4). Vocational training can, and should be, delivered by a person with the vocational competence and relevant work experience. For example:

  • Plumbers should be trained by a person who is a plumber
  • Hairdressers should be trained by a person who is a hairdresser
  • Prison guards should be trained by a person who is a prison guard
  • Sheep shearers should be trained by a person who can shear sheep
  • Cleaners should be trained by a person who has worked as a cleaner
  • Café workers should be trained by a person who has café experience
  • Aged care worker should be trained by an experienced aged care worker
  • Etc.

People training others to be a plumber, hairdresser, prison guard, sheep shearer, cleaner, café worker, or aged care worker do not need a degree. They do not need a teaching degree. They do need the vocational skills that they are helping others learn. They do need relevant and current workplace or industry experience relating to those vocational skills.

Will trainers of the future be called teachers? And will they need to be degree qualified? Will they need a teaching degree? Will part-time trainers, volunteer trainers, community trainers, workplace trainers, and industry trainers need a teaching degree? Or will there be first-rate teachers (those with a teaching degree and work in schools) and second-rate teachers (those without a teaching degree and work in VET)? When did a trainer and assessor become a teacher? Are teachers outraged that their profession is being undermined?

Also, the National Skills Commission has described the ‘Vocational Education Teacher’ occupation. The description does not cover all trainers and assessors in the current VET workforce. What about the trainers and assessors who do not work for TAFEs, polytechnics, and other training institutes? Many trainers and assessors work for small private RTOs, community-based RTOs, and enterprise RTOs. And there are many people who work in schools and organisations that have an auspice arrangement with an RTO to deliver training as an expert or experienced worker.

Did the National Skills Commission consult with VET before giving the occupation a new title and limiting the role description to institutional training? If there did consult, who did they consult? I can only assume they did consult with VET people. It seems that the consultation process got things wrong. Did the National Skills Commission consult with the wrong people? Or did the National Skills Commission ignore the information provided by VET people?

Occupation profile

The following is the occupation profile for Vocational Education Teachers. [5]

There are 21 tasks identified. The percentage (%) of time likely to be spent on the task by a person working in this occupation is given by ‘clicking’ on each box.

The following table lists the 21 tasks, the % of time on task given by the Australian Skills Classification, the % of time on task from my own experience as a trainer, and some additional comments.

I think the 21 tasks are unreal:

  • Much of the terminology used are not common VET terms
  • Some of the percentages of time spent performing tasks seem to be wrong
  • Some sub-tasks have been given the same status as tasks
  • Some uncommon tasks should not be on the list, for example, ‘Supervise laboratory work’
  • Tasks with 0% of time on task have been listed (this means that task not performed by a trainer have been listed as part of their occupation profile).

Here is my revised list consisting of 5 tasks. I have used the same terminology or task titles as used in the Australian Skills Classification.

And here is my revised occupation profile for a trainer and assessor working in the Australian VET sector, referred to as a Vocational Education Teacher by the Australian Skills Classification. In this example I have used terminology more commonly used in VET.

Limitations of the Australian Skills Classification

The Australian Skills Classification is said to offer a deeper understanding of the labour market. This may be true, but it is too shallow to be used for planning, designing, and delivering vocational training and skills development. The Australian Skills Classification identifies occupations and lists tasks performed by an occupation as represented by the following diagram.

The developers of the Australian Skills Classification seem to be fixated on labour market analysis and the transferability of skills across occupations. Some people may think the Australian Skills Classification has applications beyond its capability. It is limited. Should the Australian Skills Classification be renamed as the Australian Labour Market Classification to avoid misunderstand?

The following diagram represents the depth of the current VET system.

This is the depth of specification required for:

  • analysis of training needs
  • design of training and assessment programs
  • delivery of vocational training and skills development
  • assessment to determine if the specified outcomes have been achieved.

I hope our politicians and bureaucrats responsible for VET are smart enough to know they should not tamper with the current VET frameworks in an attempt to find alignment with the Australian Skills Classification. Alignment would be a disaster for VET.

In conclusion

The Australian Skills Classification can be thought of as the Australian Labour Market Classification. It has limitations and should not be used to change the current VET frameworks.

The Australian Skills Classification has used the Vocational Education Teacher as the occupation title for a trainer working in the VET sector. It seems to be a deliberate attempt to remove the words ‘training’ and ‘trainer’. A teacher is not the same as a trainer. And teaching is not the same as training.

It is unfortunate that the same acronym for vocational education and training (VET) can be used for the vocational education teacher (VET) occupation. Some people may get confused between VET (the system) and VET (the individual).

There are 21 tasks listed for the Vocational Education Teacher occupation. The tasks are poorly titled or use terminology that is foreign to VET. And there are unnecessary tasks listed. The percentage of time on tasks are not realistic. Are other occupations poorly described by the Australian Skills Classification?

Are we entering a new era? An era when there will be no ‘training’, only ‘vocational education’. And there will be no ‘trainers’, only ‘teachers’. I am proud to say that I am a ‘trainer’. I lament the demise of ‘vocational training’. Why have people pursued an agenda to remove the words ‘training’ and ‘trainer’ from our lexicon? How will the removal of these words change things? (Will industry start calling their trainers, teachers? I don’t think so. Why create a divide between VET and industry?)

Also, I have looked at the ‘core competencies’ found in the Australian Skills Classification . I’ve decided to reserve my comments because this article has gone on for long enough. I may decide to write an article dedicated to the ‘core competencies’.

The Australian Skills Classification may be useful for labour market analysis (assuming that something is wrong with the current way of doing it). It is not useful for VET (the system).

In closing, I should say something nice. The Australian Skills Classification has used a spectrum of pretty colours and an array of icons.


[1] https://www.dese.gov.au/newsroom/articles/australian-skills-classification-common-language-skills accessed 3 April 2021

[2] https://www.nationalskillscommission.gov.au/our-work/australian-skills-classification#clusters accessed 3 April 2021

[3] https://www.nationalskillscommission.gov.au/our-work/australian-skills-classification#clusters~2120 accessed 3 April 2021

[4] https://www.nationalskillscommission.gov.au/our-work/australian-skills-classification#occupations accessed 3 April 2021

[5] https://www.nationalskillscommission.gov.au/our-work/australian-skills-classification#occupations~2422 accessed 3 April 2021

Author: Alan Maguire

35+ years experience as a trainer, instructional designer, quality manager, project manager, program manager, RTO auditor, RTO manager and VET adviser.

3 thoughts on “What is the Australian Skills Classification? And how does it describe the tasks performed by a trainer working in the VET sector?”

  1. Hi Alan,
    Thank you for the insight. Teachers’ with AQF level 7 usually don’t get their hands dirty and stand behind a teacher’s table delivering. Us cert IV industry professionals train the learner industry skills.
    Wish most of us in the teaching arena undertands this concept?


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