VET training in a global market

By Andrew Stuart

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Ian Mason is a vocational trainer who has embraced the opportunities offered by Australia’s flourishing education export industry. Since moving into vocational training after 25 years in the tourism, marketing and business fields, he has taken on assignments from Abu Dhabi to Hangzhou and is now working for TAFE Queensland Brisbane, teaching event management to local students in Shanghai.

Edutemps helped Ian secure the role and he kindly agreed to share with us why he finds the experience of working overseas so stimulating.

Australia’s growing reputation

Ian’s success in working offshore is an example of the many opportunities that are available to Australian trainers and he is enthusiastic in recommending it as a career move. “Australia is highly regarded in the region as a source of quality education and training services and in my experience there is a lot of appreciation abroad for what we offer. That reputation is something that vocational educators can capitalise on. Not only are we delivering high standards of education, we are opening the eyes of people in other countries to the culture and attractions of Australia. It’s a privilege and a responsibility that I’m grateful to have”.

Working with the cultural differences

Working in China presents some inevitable cultural differences, but that’s all part of taking on the challenge, as Ian explains. “Of course there are some cultural and  procedural differences that we need to adapt to, but these are easily manageable. It’s a matter of accepting that there is a learning curve in getting attuned to another culture and being willing to be open to different ways of doing things. The bottom line is that we are a guest of the Chinese government and if we are open to understanding more about the Chinese culture while we teach, then we will become better educators as a result”.

Working in China presents some inevitable cultural differences, but certainly nothing to discourage taking on the challenge.

Scaling the language barrier

As you would imagine, language is the most prominent challenge to be overcome in his role, but again it is a matter of adapting the teaching methods to cater for this, as Ian explains. “The students do have reasonable English language skills as it is a pre-requisite for this dual-qualification course, but there can be some challenges in explaining conceptual ideas. Their English tends to be at a conversational level and they are not used to the technicalities of business language. As an educator, it is simply a matter of adjusting by drawing on your experience in  using different techniques and tools to communicate effectively”.

Building rapport successfully

Apart from negotiating the language, Ian has noticed a few other interpersonal characteristics. “The Chinese are generally more reserved in their demeanour and not as outwardly expressive, but they have a strong willingness to learn. In general, they are used to a more rote style of learning, whereas back home we are a lot more interactive in the classroom. This means that it takes a while for them to warm to the idea of being more engaged in the process, rather than simply being told what they need to know. However, I have noted a significant positive change in their active participation over recent weeks. The key is that they are motivated. Most of them are hungry to improve their English language skills and industry knowledge, and have a high degree of respect for western institutions as training providers”.

At a personal level, Ian commented on the students’ warmth and sincerity. “One example happened just last week when I was suffering from a cold and they were bringing in their own herbal remedies for me. That kind of gesture shows the connections that are being built and it’s reassuring to see that response”. Ian added with a laugh, “It may also be because they didn’t want a catch-up class on the weekend if I took a sick day! They do have a good sense of humour”.

The changing face of education in China

Ian says there are a number of institutional differences but he sees this as adding to the challenges of being a professional educator in a global market. “China supports the development of cooperative partnerships with worldwide institutions. The university I work at in Shanghai has arrangements with dozens of vocational and tertiary partners and they are keen to introduce their youth to international educational standards. Their teachers have visited TAFE Queensland Brisbane to learn more about our delivery style, and they are very open to learning new ways of teaching rather than the rote learning method they grow up with. The administrative processes are often different to what we are used to, but it is easy to adapt”.

Acclimatising to Chinese society

So what about the wider challenges of adapting to living in China? There are some distinct differences in daily life,  and Ian characterises it as a positive experience. “The acclimitisation is a little easier in Shanghai which is the most cosmopolitan and modern city in China. English is more prevalent and it has a more global outlook. In some ways, this makes you appreciate the traditional and simple way of life that you still see every day”.

“Of course some things are lost in translation and you come across some humorous interpretations of the English language in street signs and menus. Technologically they are  significantly more advanced than Australia. For example, just about everybody uses an instant messaging service called WeChat which has so many applications in everyday life and there’s a huge uptake of using phone technology such as QR codes for instore payments.”

Acclimatising to beautiful Chinese society

How did Edutemps help?

This is Ian’s second placement through Edutemps and he is appreciative of the help we were able to provide, especially given the international challenges involved.

“Michael and Selena have been very switched on in the way they have handled the placement and follow up. They took a lot of care in matching my skills to the role and things were very clear at every step. It certainly made the transition very smooth and I appreciate their professionalism in making this happen. I would be happy to recommend them!”.