Crossing the divide: working across industry and education for skills training

For Melissa Tinetti, preparing students for the jobs of the future requires collaboration and cooperation. Manufacturers’ Monthly reports.

With the shifting demand for skills as the manufacturing industry transforms, education providers have been under pressure to produce graduates with digital skills. While the university and vocational sectors have been seen as distinct, for Melissa Tinetti, associate dean of Industry Programs at RMIT University, both have a role to play in educating future graduates for the next generation of manufacturing jobs.

Encompassing fields from dental to surveying, Tinetti contends with the quotidian realities of the skills shortage. With perspective of an education provider that provides both vocational and higher education programs, Tinetti stresses that collaboration between the Vocational Education and Training (VET) and university sectors is what is needed.

“Vocational education is about experiencing real life challenges, while you’re studying, but higher education is more about being in a lecture theatre with more people and learning,” said Tinetti.

Indeed, as Tinetti notes, after studying at a vocational level, those who succeeded in their skills-based studies find similar success when they undertake further study.

“The skills that students would learn in their vocational studies meant that they would easily finish in the top 10 per cent in their higher education studies. These students have the drive, the passion and most have already had the chance to try the industry already and get a qualification out of that,” said Tinetti.

Recognising that the two sectors are complimentary requires a flexible approach from educational providers. As Tinetti highlights from her own experience in the building and construction sector prior to working in education, it’s the lessons and skills that educational providers give their students that remain useful after final examinations are over.

“I use tools that I learnt while studying every day. I think that’s a really good lesson for younger students – where you’re on a path now through the Victorian Certificate of Examination (VCE) and starting to look at higher education or at TAFE and you don’t actually know where that path is going to end. It’s those life lessons that you learn along the way, particularly as you’re studying, that will help map out that pathway for you in the long term.”

In Tinetti’s experience, with the changing nature of industry and education, the ability to impart students with talents they will use over and over again throughout their life involves recognising where what is taught at a university can compliment a student’s industry training.

“We don’t have the volume or facilities to run a full carpentry program here at RMIT, so we are able to run eight units face-to-face on campus and the rest are done out in industry. The benefit to the employer is that they’re not losing their apprentice a day a week, they might be losing them for one week, four times a year and that’s it,” said Tinetti.

Working at the intersection of industry and education requires constant contact between RMIT and industry, which Tinetti facilitates through committee meetings four times a year, where industry can provide feedback on the training being provided by RMIT.

“It’s a really good way to get a feel for what our industry is needing and to also get a feel for whether out training meets the requirements of the industry,” said Tinetti of the meetings.

With industry as a partner in delivering the skills that the workforce needs, regular contact between employers and educational providers is essential for the students’ success. “Those employers are really driving the learning and the teaching for their students,” said Tinetti.

Another influence in the training relationship between students, education providers, and industry is the governmental standards. While state governments set the standards for education providers, in implementing these standards, Tinetti liaises with industry partners to ensure that the course that RMIT is delivering is similar to how industry would teach the same skills.

With the increasing pace at which technology is adopted, universities are in a unique position to provide students with the most advanced technology. Tinetti reflected on her own experience working as a project architect, managing the contract for the manufacture of a unique shading screen for a building in Ballarat.

“We were able to make anodised red perforated panels across the whole façade that would allow different amounts of sunlight into the building at different times of the day.”

Tinetti and her team relied upon prototypes to test the material. Today, students are utilising software during their studies and the employing this in the workplace.

“The ability to test things and build things three dimensionally in computer aided design (CAD) application, such as AutoCAD, gives the student a much better perspective of the final outcome would be.”

Tinetti’s journey to her current position began 11 years ago, after finding that she needed another challenge in her career. While managing students, curricula, and staff, Tinetti has used the project management skills she learnt as an architect in her current role. Nominated for the Rising Star Award at the 2019 Women in Industry Awards, the nomination allowed Tinetti to look back on what she had achieved since making the jump into education.

“It wasn’t really until someone nominated me that I reflected and thought I had really done a lot in 10 years and there’s a lot I should be proud of.

“The reward that you get when you see students suddenly get it, is amazing.”