From Trade Workers To Trade Tutors: Actively Supporting Vocational Identity Transitions

From Trade Workers To Trade Tutors: Actively Supporting Vocational Identity Transitions

published by Dr. Mahrukh Khan, ConCOVE Tūhura Senior Researcher

In New Zealand, the teachers who are employed in the delivery of vocational subjects in tertiary institutions often come from practical vocational backgrounds and are referred to as trades tutors (Chan, 2012). We acknowledge that in vocational education employers are often seen as trainers too. This piece however focusses on those who transition into trades teaching in a tertiary institution. This involves a shift in identity that takes place – from a worker perspective—where someone who is mainly accountable for their own job with clear reporting lines – becomes a teacher (Maurice-Takerei, 2015); Billett, 2001), who is responsible for student learning, implying an active engagement in the future skillset development of the workforce.

A review of secondary research acknowledges the struggles faced by vocational workers as a transition into teaching careers takes place (Haycock & Kelly, 2009; Maurice-Takerie & Jesson, 2010; Billett & Summerville, 2004; Manathunga, 2007; Tanggaard, 2007 etc., to name a few). Further, this transformation from “expert trade worker to effective trades tutor”, Chan (2012, p.409) names as the ‘boundary crossing’ process between two diverse vocational identities.” While, there may be significant value gained from having a trade workers background, rooted in workplace learning, a new complementary set of skills would have to be accumulated, primarily relating to a focus on how people learn, acknowledging the lenses that both culture and social diversity (age, gender) can provide in this regard.    

The aim, here, is to highlight the importance of Teacher Training Programs (TTP) and putting formalised induction systems in place to ensure that the transition from one identity to the other is valuable and efficient for both people and organisations. Trades tutors are experts in their fields and belong to substantial communities of practice (Wenger,1998). They are also, however, expected to cross boundaries into a culture of teaching practice that helps effectively fulfil learning aims and outcomes and also keeps track of the future needs into workforce development and capacity building.

Human social development theories, such as Vygotsky’s (1998) sheds light on the importance of professional development in teachers for improved instructional outcomes. Also, one of the key reasons in terms of attrition and retention in trades is the nature of instruction provided (Cao, 2003; Prosser, 2001); and that too, as most attrition takes place in the first year of study with specific implications for entry programs across the construction and infrastructure sector.

This means specific and systematic resourcing and human resource development around teacher induction systems (TIS) and personal development (PD) plans can have several benefits shared across the vocational education sector:

  • Attrition levels could be positively addressed as tutors are also models to their students, imparting specific “dispositional aspects” of their trade, “to learn how to think and feel but also to become and be trades people” (Chan, 2019, p.57)
  • Specific signature practices and communities of learning can be developed that combine both Workbased Learning (WBL) and academic scholarship and research
  • These signature practices would help develop and recognise ‘signature pedagogies’ based on Multiliteracies (1996), VARK = Visual, Audio, Reading, Kinesthetics, equating to tactile learning
  • Induction systems can provide systematic and measurable standards and build consistency in teaching and learning delivery throughout the sector
  • Qualitative gains can be made with teaching strategies that embed literacy and numeracy into situated learning activities maintaining current industry practices
  • PD can be specific, individual-centred and systematically recorded (ROL = Record of learning)

All of the above can only take place if teachers are comfortable in both domains and the complementary adjustments from trade workers to trade tutors are efficiently and competently achieved. Teachers are the backbone of any educational context and a review of vocational education cannot be fully addressed, without an active engagement and analysis of the scaffolding provided to teachers to reposition them from trade worker to trade tutor. Also, building the right TIS can provide the necessary scaffolding and complementary adjustments, with significant implications for heightened sector performance overall.  

This raises the question for us here at ConCOVE, how well are we assisting trades workers, whom we call upon to join the teaching ranks in vocational education, to transition to their new role as trade tutors?

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