National Science Week Reminds Us of Importance of VET to Australias Future

It’s National Science Week from 17-23 August – an annual week that encourages all Australians to get involved in scientific discovery and acknowledge its importance to the ways we live.

Scientific and technological innovations are extremely important to everyday life. For example, if it weren’t for scientists at the CSIRO working on a radioastronomy project, they would not have incidentally uncovered the building blocks for Wi-Fi – the technology you are probably using to access the internet and read this article right now!

This week, digital technologies are playing an enormous role in making sure that the barriers of the COVID-19 pandemic are only a small obstacle to celebrating science and the work of scientists throughout Australia.

Launching National Science Week, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Hon. Karen Andrews said she was “so impressed by the ingenuity that’s been on display in modifying events to be COVID safe.” The Minister was referring to unique initiatives, ranging from school-based science competitions streamed via the Zoom conferencing platform, to Australia’s “biggest satellite selfie” and virtual tours of national marine parks sheltering rays and sharks, all of which has been taken online to ensure no interruptions to the celebrations marking National Science Week.

An aim of taking Science Week online is to ensure that important knowledge of scientific discovery still reaches Australian households, even where COVID-19 has prevented its publicity in the usual ways.

As the COVID-19 pandemic and our collective response to it shows, technology is a key enabler of our ability to negotiate pandemic-related disruptions to work and life, even if many of us are trapped in our homes.

But not all of those that work with technology are scientists in lab coats. In fact, many of the people in charge of designing, constructing, producing and maintaining our technology got their start in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system.

VET has for decades trained apprentices and trainees to work with technology. As science is of central importance to ensuring that innovations continue to reach us in the form of new technologies, this makes the VET sector a key component of the process. The NCVER has this month reported that 4.2 million students were enrolled in a form of nationally recognised VET in 2019. On the basis of TAFE institute data alone, the Australia Institute has estimated that nearly 73% of Australian workers hold VET qualifications.

Apprentices and trainees across Australia are involved in work-based learning and training that introduces them to cutting-edge technologies – technologies that are essential to making sure the economy has enough people who can make sense of the technologies many of us take for granted.

For example, people trained to understand and use information and communication technology (ICT) – many of whom get their start in the VET sector – are so important to the economy that this week the CEOs of five major IT software firms operating in Australia called for a formal IT apprenticeship to be funded cooperatively by government and industry.

When participating in National Science Week events, it’s important to remember that the VET system is a pillar of keeping Australia smart and innovative. Don’t forget to celebrate our apprentices and trainees too!

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