What is Lifelong Learning in Vocational Education and Training?

What is Lifelong Learning in Vocational Education and Training?

This blog has been updated for freshness and relevancy…

As we all know far too well, the world of work is subject to periods of change. The recent COVID-19 pandemic really drives home the need to be flexible about your current situation, as well as being prepared for the requirements of the future. To stay relevant, an ongoing learning process is necessary. For this reason, Lifelong Learning in Vocational Education and Training is high in demand.

This article takes you through the following in relation to Lifelong learning:

  • What it is
  • Its importance and relevance
  • The stages of Livelong Learning
  • Real life examples

1. Definition of Lifelong Learning

Lifelong Learning describes the ongoing process of learning undertaken in schools, RTOs and universities. However, informal learning at home, in the workplace and in social life are contributing to this ongoing process as well. The motivations and reasons to engage in lifelong learning can range from a need to stay up-to-date for work requirements, through to studying for personal interest.

2. Importance of Lifelong Learning

Everyone who is currently working understands how essential it is to stay up-to-date with the skill requirements of the job market. Nowhere is this more true than in technology. Why’s that? Because the very nature of tech is to evolve and change constantly. In the coming years this change will become increasingly frequent as the devices we use in our daily personal and professional lives get updated so often. The workers of today need to be able to adapt to these changes if they want to stay relevant in the workforce.

At first this may sound quite intimidating and can be seen as a disadvantage, but it’s the opposite. Tasks can be performed faster, more efficiently and more safely with the help of technology. If workers understand the importance of re-skilling and up-skilling when necessary, they will increase their potential. In essence, this will improve their own lives and contribute to the economic growth of Australia.

This didn’t go unnoticed by the government. Key priority of the Department of Employment , Small Business and Training for their 2018-19 Investment Plan was to focus on providing skills that are required to participate in today’s workforce. The plan is structured into different initiatives like the Higher Level Skills program. The goal is to help workers gain higher level skills to secure their employment or achieve advancements in their career.

Lifelong Learning is as relevant as ever in the Australian workforce. Employees need to keep themselves up-to-date with the standards that technology sets. A worker that has all the current requirements to operate in his field is a valuable worker.

3. The stages of Lifelong Learning

Research has shown that workers are engaging more in formal education than they used to and there are clear stages at their life where the need for further training is higher. A survey from 2017 lists statistics on what the reasons were for students to enrol in VET. The motives were the following:

  • 25.1% to get a job
  • 22.3% because their job required an up-skilling
  • 12.1% for personal interest
  • 11.9% to acquire extra competencies for their work
  • 6.2% to go into a different carrier path
  • 4.9% to access a continuing course of their study
  • 4.1% to get promoted or find a better job

Source: VOCSTATS Total VET students and courses 2017. Proportion is calculated using the reason for study at the subject enrolment level, excluding where the reason is not known.

Another report from the Productivity Commission (2017b) shows which types of Lifelong Learning can be provided by Vocational Education and Training. There are three different options of Lifelong Learning for people: initial skilling, up-skilling and re-skilling.

Initial skilling: This is the first time an individual is in contact with skilling.

In Australia this takes place in schools for most people in the Years 10, 11 and 12 and statistically most students are male. In terms of post-school skilling, almost one in 10 students undertake some form of VET study. People who study post-school are most likely to go into a certificate 3 level with engineering or similar courses in scope.

Up-skilling: If an individual wants to improve his skills or learn new skills to increase chances for a better career or a higher promotion, it is regarded as Up-skilling.

A big factor for up-skilling is technological change and the need to understand how to use it. This means that many people need to receive training while working at the same time. RTOs tend to provide flexible courses to adjust to the schedules of employees. As the market is changing rapidly, due in part to technology, RTOs can really maximise the opportunity to increase intake of students by offering short and part time courses.

Re-skilling: The process of re-skilling is best described as a person that needs to receive training to change jobs or start a different career.

According to a study by AlphaBeta, nine out of ten Australian workers will change careers more than once during their lifetime. That’s where the VET sector plays an important role of re-skilling displaced Australian workers. A person might have had the right role for a while, but personal circumstances like having children might change that. VET offers training that enables employees to gain transferable skills instead of having only company-specific expertise. RTOs need to provide courses that are suited to this audience.

4. Examples of Lifelong Learning

The best way to represent Lifelong Learning is with the help of real-life examples. The following stories are about two individuals that took the initiative and up-skilled or re-skilled.


We spoke to Thibault from Imagine Education in Ashmore, Gold Coast. He is currently enrolled in a Certificate III course for commercial cookery and will continue his studies with Certificate IV afterwards. The 25-year-old is originally from France, where he was trained to become a Baker. It was always his dream to live in Australia, so after two years of working in a bakery, he decided to move over.

Initially, Thibault planned to do a 1-year work and travel visa in Australia but soon realised he wanted to stay for good. While searching for options to stay and how to continue his career, he came across Vocational Education and Training. Straight away, the idea of combining theory and practical learning appealed to him. Already having some experience in the food industry, it didn’t take long and Thibault started a course in commercial cookery.

The young baker took the chance to broaden his skills and changed it into a new pathway in his career with the help of VET and Lifelong Learning. This example shows how important up-skilling is for people that want to grow within their career and in the case of Thibault even want to start a new life.


We also spoke to 34-year-old Caroline, who chose a new pathway in childcare. She used to work in retail as a sales associate for a well-known fashion brand. After about four years in the business and a promotion to an assistant store manager, Caroline felt she needed a change. The daily routine and the hard working conditions left her wanting more. She chose to start a career in childcare as this was always her passion.

Her best option was to study for a Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care at the Registered Training Organisation EIM Training in Brisbane and then continue with the diploma. After just over two and a half years Caroline managed to finish the course and find work shortly afterwards. The successful graduate has since worked as an Early Childhood Educator and is aiming to become the Assistant Centre Manager soon.

Determined, Caroline managed to make a major career change in a relatively short period of time. She chose to use a Vocational Education and Training pathway to be re-skilled and start a new career.

These two examples show that Lifelong Learning happens across across all different industries and stages of life. It doesn’t matter if the person wants to up-skill to gain extra knowledge in their field or if they want to re-skill to pursue a completely different pathway, this is all part of Lifelong Learning.

More and more Australians will be interested in Lifelong Learning in the future. Microcredentials have become an attractive option for many. These bite-sized short courses, also known as nano degrees, mini degrees, digital-credentials, or badges, are skill based qualifications that are broken down into small blocks of learning that are often earned through low-cost online courses. They are predominately offered through Vocational Education and often focus on “employability skills”, adapting education and filling skills gaps in prior learning.

RTOs can communicate their courses differently and to a broader audience by allowing part time study and suggesting multiple pathways rather than just one. The training should not be for specific jobs and instead be a skill that is suitable for multiple jobs, that provide different potential areas for work. Motivating employers and employees to spend time towards Lifelong Learning should be a number one priority.

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