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The Rise of Vocational Education and Training - 1930s


In the 1930s, the Age Newspaper was adding its voice to the calls to invest in technical education as a way to improve the employability of youth and to combat youth unemployment, at a time when there was an identified lack of trades-qualified workers. A call that the echoes to the present day.

In 1936 the Age sounded this alarm:

‘States unable to meet needs – Federal Grant of £2,000,000 Sought.’

The money was needed to modernise the system of technical education. People were calling for direct Commonwealth grants for technical education. Victoria sent its Chief Inspector of Technical Schools on a fact finding trip overseas, and he was most impressed by developments in Germany, a country which had lost the war, was in a perilous financial state, yet was still able to invest heavily in technical and trades education. Most impressive was their requirement that employers release their trainees for attendance at a technical school. This eventually was adopted in Australia and is now familiar as the ‘block release’ scheme for apprentices. In the 1930sit was still a controversial topic of discussion in Australia.

A meeting of all state ministers took place in 1936, to discuss Commonwealth financial assistance for technical education but only when technical skills became critical to the war effort, did the Commonwealth agree to provide funding at significant levels. This meeting of 1936 became the inaugural meeting of the Australian Education Council.

During this period, apprenticeship organisations were established to oversee the training and employment of apprentices. Following World War I, the importance of technical training as part of the skills of an army was highlighted, and this provided a further impetus to the development of technical training.

With the coming of the Great Depression tuition fees in technical schools were eventually exempted and this led to an even greater growth in student numbers. Education was also used to lessen the impact of unemployment brought on by the Depression by keeping students in school for longer, and while enrolments initially dropped in technical schools, there was later a growth in technical education during this period.

From 1939 ‘Dilutees’ were introduced into industry to make up for the shortfall in skilled tradesmen due to World War II. These were mainly women who had little or no background in the trades.