An exploration of workplace tension: perspectives of VET and HE teaching staff in a mixed-sector TAFE institute in Australia

  • Patricia Farnes

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Tension between employees can have undesirable organisational consequences but can also lead to innovative and effective solutions depending upon the workplace culture. This research investigates the nature of tension between VET (vocational education and training) and HE (higher education) teaching staff associated with the expansion of higher education programs at a mixed-sector Australian TAFE institute. In particular, it aims to explore how staff perceptions of status, identity and professionalism are challenged by the transition to mixed-sector education provision. The research also seeks to identify institutional strategies for addressing such tension that could contribute to the development of a more cohesive institutional culture.
    As a single institution case study using mixed methods, the study collected data from interviews with managers who were involved in the expansion of higher education; from focus groups of HE academic staff, VET teachers, managers and supervisors; from a survey of HE/VET employees; and from staff participants in a collaborative activity. Additional data were obtained from government reports and unpublished and published sources to inform the institutional context of the study. Literature on mixed-sector education providers in Australia and overseas was surveyed, as well as relevant literature on organisational change.
    The study found that perceptions of differences in status; qualifications; expectations regarding research, scholarship and scholarly activity; employment arrangements and working conditions were the main manifestations of tension between VET and HE teaching staff. Issues of occupational identity and professionalism were less likely to be identified as sources of tension between staff. Lack of understanding of the reasons for the institute’s expansion into higher education and the perception that resources were being diverted from VET to HE courses was also associated with workplace tension, particularly among staff not directly involved in HE delivery.
    This study suggests that better communication of organisational strategies may assist in addressing tension by raising awareness and understanding of the institute’s rationale for the policy change among VET teaching staff. While collaboration between HE and VET staff is desirable, especially in fields where creating student ‘pathways’ from VET to HE is a priority, this study found there were limited opportunities for collaboration between VET and HE teaching staff. Given that collaboration can assist in promoting understanding between VET and HE teaching staff, the study suggests that the promotion of formal and informal collaborative activities could assist in addressing workplace tension, in a mixed sector TAFE institute.
    A cohesive institutional culture can be built from a diverse workforce, such as that in a mixed-sector provider, when all teaching staff feel acknowledged for the contribution they make to the educational outcomes of students at all levels. This study concludes that, by recognising manifestations of workplace tension, encouraging collaboration between VET and HE teaching staff, and communicating organisational goals more effectively, workplace tension in a mixed-sector TAFE institute can be addressed and a more cohesive organisational culture is likely to develop.
    Date of Award2020
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorMike Gaffney (Supervisor), Louise Watson (Supervisor), Dan Kaczynski (Supervisor), George Cho (Supervisor), Misty Kirby (Supervisor) & Peter Copeman (Supervisor)

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