Its Christmas Time

So the end of the year is fast approaching and as the working year winds down I thought I would share some thoughts on the year that was for me and it was a big one. I changed jobs, bought a new house and our youngest child finished year 12, my wife burnt her hand badly and got the flu for 6 weeks and we renovated our new house (not quite finished just the kitchen to go), so really it was one of those years.  It really doesn’t feel like 12 months have passed since this time last year it has been that busy, but I know I am definitely looking forward to steeping on to a cruise boat on Saturday to do tripping around the pacific islands.

This time of year is also a time for thanks to the many people I have encountered throughout the year who have added something to my life, be they old friends or new ones.  So to my LinkedIn friends, people like Jim, Kath, Brett, Phillip your willingness to share your views and opinions, to engage in thought-provoking conversation, and to share you depth of knowledge joy and more people in the VET sector listened to people like you we would be in  much better place.  To all the moderators of the groups including the Department of Industry, thank you for taking the time to provide us with forums where we could discuss things, learn thing, argue and generally chew the fat.

To my twitter and conference buddies, Ryan, Helen, Con and the rest of you, I know I haven’t seen you all as much this year (Sorry Elizabeth I know I missed the AITD conference this year) but I value your insight, opinion and knowledge and look forward to catching up more next year.  To the rest of my twitter friends particularly those on #lrnchat thanks for interesting topics and stimulating conversation.

To the readers of my blog, thank you so much for your interactions and comments. I know that those of you who have your own blogs will understand that sometimes it feels like you are talking to yourself and it is the people who interact with you  that make the difference.

So thank you all very much for being a part of my life and work, for listening to my rants, arguing with me when I was wrong and generally just being good people.

May you all have a wonderful Christmas and New Year and I look forward to catching up at least some of you at some conference next years (at this stage I am probably doing AITD, EduTech and VELG).

Be safe, have fun with your families and most of all enjoy yourselves.

Thanks for the year.

Paul

Reinventing the VET brand – Untarnishing VET in the eyes of the Australian Public

Learning is a Business and Brand is everything

 

The VET brand in this country is tarnished, you only have to look at the numerous newspaper articles and commentary associated with them and across social media, (and yes lets never forget that LinkedIn is the 3rd largest social media site in the world) to see that both in the eyes of practitioners and the general public that there is some rust on the gold standard that was VET in this country (Yes I know Gold doesn’t rust its a metaphor folks).  I, like so many others from both the public and private sector are passionate about this industry, passionate about the good that is created for both individuals and the country as a whole through vocational education.  I believe that both public and private providers deliver (for the most part) outstanding results for their stakeholders and that both are necessary for us to have a vibrant and agile and engaged VET system.  All of this passion though is meaningless, it is meaningless if in the public eye the VET brand is not as polished and sparking as it once was.  What has caused this is also unimportant, be it political point scoring and ideological differences, the rampant pursuit of profit by some private providers or the animosity for some public sector providers about having to be commercially viable and change the way they operate to meet the needs of a new world.

But what about quality you ask.  We need to ensure the quality of the system, we need regulation, we need research , we need data.  Yes yes we do and without a quality product you can never hope to develop a quality brand with good longevity, however quality is not enough.  Research papers on outcomes don’t interest the average person on the street looking to improve their educational or employment options, they are interested in the brand, the perception, they are interested in what John next door says his sons experience of doing an apprenticeship through TAFE was.  They are interested in the fact that Kelly loves the Diploma of Counselling course she is doing through a private RTO, that a friend recommended to her on Facebook.  It is the same at an organisational level, L&D and HR folk and managers and the like, all buy training on perceived value and more often than not that is brand related.  I know, as the CLO for a very large organisation I purchased millions of dollars worth of training every year and a lot of those decisions were based on reputation and brand perception, admittedly there was also a lot of personal knowledge and other factors as well, but here is an example of what I mean.  A business unit spent more than $250,000 to purchase a training program from the US (developed at a US university) plus probably the same amount of money again on training and delivery of the program for under 200 staff.  The content of the program amounted to about 1/3 of the content contained in the related Diploma Level course from the Community Services Training Package.  Why?  The answer is easy the US program has a strong brand and is perceived as begin a valuable certification to have even though in reality the certification is really nothing more than a certificate of attendance, while the VET program was perceived as being well ‘vocational’ so therefore less valuable and the VET brand was simply not as strongly perceived in value terms as the US program was.

But we do a great job with out own marketing.  Yes a lot of providers both public and private do exceptional jobs building their own brands and reputations and if you want to see the effect a holistic branding exercise can have you need look no further the rebranding of TAFE QLD, gone are the boring websites, media, brochures etc and in their place something that seems more vibrant, alive, agile and able to meet the needs of the future.  These are all however individual marketing designed to present a sub-brand if you will in the best possible light to enable it to compete with other sub-brands in the same market.  The overall brand here is VET, the industry relies on that brand being strong.  If the VET brand itself is tarnished or perceived as not as valuable as other offerings either from within Australia or internationally the job of marketing for the sub-brands, us, is so much more difficult.

As I have said on numerous other occasions learning is a business, someone always has to pay for it, be that the government, organisations or individuals the money has to come from somewhere and people talk with their wallets, be that through individual choice of service provider, organisational return on investment calculations or the quantifiable outcomes of government funding it all comes down to perceived value in the end and the strength of the brand people are purchasing.  If we want a strong, successful, well-respected VET industry in this country not only do we need to make sure the quality is right, we need to ensure that the message that the VET system, however it is accessed, should be the first choice that people make and the choice that they continue to make for their educational and employment options and the only way to that is

BRAND

Industry Engagement in Training Package Development Discussion Paper – Some early thoughts

As most of us know the Department has released its consultation paper on the development of training packages and how packages may be developed going forward now that the ISC’s are being disbanded in the middle of next year.  I don’t intend to discuss a lot of the background and supporting discussion here suffice to say that I definitely endorse the position that ‘one of the aims of the review is to ensure more direct industry involvement in the development and review of training packages.  I want to focus on the three options put up for discussion and I guess point in direction that I am tending to lean towards.

Option 1 – Purchase training package development as the need arises: Training Development Panel

While I like the what appears to be the high level of flexibility of this approach I am concerned about a number of things, most importantly the perception that large or well-funded sectors may have much better ability to have their training packages reviewed at the expense of small or less well resourced sectors.  I am generally in favour of the technical writers being independent and without vested interest, I am not sure however about how much industry engagement is actually going to happen, how it will be handled and how it will flow through to the technical writers.

Option 2 – Industry Assigns responsibilities to preferred organisations

I like this option, it is currently the one I am leaning towards it tends in my view to represent a solid mid-point between the very open first option and the third option or what is currently the case.  In this option Industry would be given the opportunity to form committees to represent their skill needs and to develop and maintain the packages.  These committees would manage and coordinate the operation of the approach.  The committees would be the engagement point with the industries they represent and would identify the skills and needs.  They would then utilise the training development panel to take these needs and skills and codify them into training packages.  This seems to me to be the approach which best marries the needs of industry, (this model should I  think provide a high level of engagement) with development needs.  It is also less like to be effected by sector size or resources in terms of recognition of sectoral need.  In addition, without a standing edifice that we currently have with the ISC’s costs associated with development may be reduced.

Option 3 – Government contracts for Designated VET sector bodies

Isn’t this what we already have albeit with talk of reducing the number of bodies.  There would need to be substantive change in the way industry engagement is done and managed in these new bodies to make me feel comfortable with this as a preferred option.  The system is currently cumbersome and slow to react to the needs of industry and reducing the number of sector bodies would I think only increase the difficulties we currently see with the system.

So there we go.  For my mind at least and from a purely pragmatic point of view I guess Option 2 is the best option.  It seems to me to be the one that has the best ability to provide robust industry engagement, which should therefore provide us with the skills and knowledge needed for workers in the industry sector in question, both current and future requirements.  These skills and knowledge can then be developed, by the training development panel into packages with meet the standards, which can then be verified by the committee as meeting industry requirements.  It strikes me as an approach which could be very agile (in the project management sense) which should therefore return solid results for everyone.

 

2014 ATD (ASTD) State of the Industry Report

Well for those of us fascinated by L&D statistics and the meaning and implications behind them, ATD (Formerly ASTD) have just released their annual state of the industry report for 2014.  So what does it have to say and what implications can we draw from it.

So what did it cost?

Firstly we see that spending on training for organisations has gone up, not by much, around 1%, but still it has gone up to an average of $1208 per employee.  The interesting thing about this number is that it is much higher for smaller organisations (less than 500 staff) at $1,888 and much lower for large organisation (over 10,000 staff) at $838 per employee.  Much of this can be put down to larger organisation being able to take advantage of economies of scale when it comes to development, maintenance and delivery costs of training and have the same dollar spend spread over a large group of employees.

We see also that learning hours used is about 31.5 hours per employee across the board which is relatively the same as last few years.  An interesting wrinkle to this average is that medium size companies (500-9,999 employees)  only come in at about 27 learning hours used per employee and while this might be interesting to attempt to investigate further, it may simply have to do more with the relative size of the data samples then any other actual trend.  Again we also saw that direct expenditure on learning as a percentage of revenue again remained relatively stable at around 1.2%.  The vast majority of this spend is, as it has been for many years, made up by the internal costs to organisations for the delivery of training, remaining again in the mid 60% range.  With external services (27%) and tuition reimbursement (10%) making up the balance.

 

So what did we deliver and how?

The three content areas that made up more than 34% of all the training delivered were;

  1. Mandatory and Compliance Training
  2. Managerial and Supervisory
  3. Profession or Industry specific

with the bottom 3 areas being;

  1. Executive Development
  2. Interpersonal Skills and
  3. Basis Skills

As far as delivery methods for training goes the winner and continuing champion by a long margin is of course – Instructor Led Classroom Based.  Yes folks yet again, face to face classroom bases training got the gong for being the most frequently used delivery method at 54.6%.  Not a bad effort for the old-timer in my opinion.  To be fair to the up and coming, much-lauded new world of learning deliver self paced online learning came in second with 17.9% and the most important game changing learning and development technology mobile or m-learning came in with a massive 1.7%.  All right I apologies for being a little facetious there, but I think what these numbers show is something quite simply for all of the rhetoric about mobile learning being the most important development in L&D ever are simply well not stacking up at the moment at least. Even when we throw all of the technology based delivery methods together they still only account for about 38% with the balance being taken up by options like self based print based learning (which by itself and I find this incredibly interesting  accounts for 4.75% of delivery, three times higher than mobile learning).

So what is this all mean.  Well I think for the most part we as an industry should be happy with the results.  We are seeing consistency in spend and the kinds of training being delivered.  There seems to be no great surprises (well except for those who tout M-learning as the next big thing, ok I will stop now) and seems to be to be much what you would expect from a stable, mature industry that know what its goals are.

 

 

 

 

 

If not Industry Lead then what. Training packages, VET and the industry connection

With the VET reform process has come a lot of questions around the creation, development and management of the Training Packages which make up the VET system and there are currently two discussion papers released by the Department in relation to this.  Now even at this early point in the discussion there as been some robust discussion around the training packages, their content and their development.

When I start to think about this issue a couple of things come to mind for me, the first is, that I am not terribly interested in how the Training Packages were originally developed, they are what we have and the discussion should I thing focus on what is the best path forward from here.  I don’t think there is much appetite out there for the wholesale reinvention of training packages, but please correct me if I am wrong.

The other thing that sits heavy on my mind is this;

If not industry led, then what?

As most of you know I am a strong supporter of the VET system in this country and it capacity to increase workforce participation, provide a skilled workforce for the current and future needs of industry.  However the only way in which it can meet the needs of industry is if industry are the central to informing what the required skills and knowledge.  If we look at the first principle from which the reform process is being undertaken  namely;

The national system of qualifications must provide a reliable signal to employers about the skills an individual has, and must be underpinned by industry-defined occupational standards that:
• reflect the technical and generic skills and knowledge that are required in jobs;
• provide a basis for consistent assessment of competence in those skills
across the training system;
• provide a mechanism for the national portability of those skills; and
• are flexible enough to cater to the needs of different individuals, employers
and industries, including as these change over time.

A couple of really important things come out of this first principle for me and these are the ideas of providing a reliable indicator to employers about the skills of individuals, the technical and generic skills and knowledge required for Jobs and flexible enough to meet changing needs over time.

For me as I have always said, the VET system is about at its base vocational outcomes, it is about providing matching the skills and knowledge of students to the needs of the industries in which they are going to be employed and for me if the skills of the graduates do not map onto industry need and expectation then the system has failed.

The question that comes out of this for me is, if the system is related to vocational outcomes, the needs and expectations of industry, how can this be achieved without the strong, connected and engaged input from industry.  One of strong criticisms of the current system is that it struggles to keep up with changes in industry and employer  practices.  This along with an apparent mismatch (in a number of qualifications) between the skills and knowledge of graduates with the needs of employers and overly complex and bloated training packages shows what happens when is not as engaged and connected to the process of development as they could be.

So if at least part of our goal is to ensure that graduates of the VET system have meaningful employment outcomes from their qualification and that industry and employers get the skilled workforce that they need both now and in the future it seems to be absolutely necessary for industry to be a the leader in the development of what is required in the various units and qualifications that make up the training packages and that means that there needs to be more, better, consistent and real, actual engagement  and consultation between industry and whoever ends up developing the packages themselves.

The business of Learning – Setting a maximum retail price on VET training

As a lot of you are aware there has been a massive implosion in the Vocational Education System (at this point mostly confined to Victoria and previous market darling Vocation), but it has got me thinking about the business of vocational education again and how best to ensure that business and industry as well as participants and governments, get the best deal, the best bang for buck so to speak.

Now as anyone who has read my blog will know I am a firm believer in the system that currently operates in Australia, I believe there is a place and a necessary, place for both private and public education providers in the VET sector, I also believe that it is in the public good for Governments to make education as affordable and as accessible as possible for every member of our society.  This of course does not just mean the VET sector but across the entire educational landscape from preschool through to university and everything in between.  Education is good for this country.

Education of course has to be regulated, we have to ensure that our providers, both public and private are not simply becoming degree and diploma factories, churning out students without regard for quality of learning, or that what they are teaching has any relevance to the industries in which these graduates might hope to gain employment, we have to know that our electrician’s, support workers, nurses don’t just have a piece of paper  which says they are competent, but that they are actually competent and competent in the things that their respective industries need them to be competent in to work.

On top of this someone has to pay, and I have said this on a number of occasions previously, there is always a cost involved in education, which needs to be paid by someone, be that someone, the individual, business’s or industries, the government or someone else.  There is always going to be a cost.  There is a cost if we try to deliver VET sector training only through public educators like TAFE, there is a cost if we utilise private providers to enable the streamlining of the public system, There is always a cost.  As I said earlier I believe in the system we currently have, I think having a mix of private and public providers to meet the needs of participants and industry is important, it provides flexibility, innovation and if properly organised value for money.  I also think that given the public good of an educated populace it is difficult to see that user pays system is one that can be justifiably adopted.  One only has to look at the American experience to see the problems their tertiary system is encountering, rising levels of debt and the inability of a significant number of Americans to be able to afford to access the education they want and need are but two obvious ones.  It is also obvious though that the Government cannot be held responsible for the funding of every possible permutation of educational wants that people have, particularly in the VET sector.

Why do I say particularly in the VET sector, well the answer to that is pretty simple, it is in the title, vocational education is education that prepares people for specific trades, crafts and careers at various levels, this to me means, and always has, that there needs to be a vocational, employment outcome related to the education that is undertaken.  Now this should not be taken to mean that every person who undertakes a VET program should either be working, or be tied to a specific post study role, before they are allowed to undertake training.  It does however mean that we shouldn’t be providing funded places for people to do study, just for the sake of it, in areas where there is little or no likelihood of them gaining employment, the much spoken about situation from a few years back where there many many more people studying to be personal instructors than there were roles or one could suggest even need is one example.  Of course this only applies to funding, if you want to a course in underwater basket weaving you should be allowed to, you should just have to pay for it yourself.  And lets not even start to talk about VET FEE-Help and the outrageous prices being charged by some providers, both public and private for Diploma level courses, however when the dollar amount set by the government for direct funding for a diploma course is a quarter of what some of these institutions are charging there seems to be something wrong with the system.

Now I understand that there are financial viability issues across the board for both public and private providers however here is an idea about costs and pricing that just seems to make sense to me.  Why isn’t there a recommended or even maximum retail price set by the government for various programs, this price could then be used to set the direct funding that the government was willing to provide for that particular program, if any, but it would set the maximum price that institutions could charge for a program.  How would the price be set, well that is probably the tricky part, but it is something at governments currently do, they set the level of direct funding which they are willing to pay for particular courses, so by extension establishing a fair maximum price from there should not be exceedingly difficult.  The relationship between the funded price, where one existed and the maximum price would be representative of industry need, employment opportunities and other such factors.

This would not only stop what seems to be rampant profiteering in some areas but would also provide potential students with another indicator of how useful or not the qualification they were considering might be in getting them a vocational outcome.  for example;

  • If the cost of a Diploma of Counselling was set at $6,000, but the funding level was say $500 this would be an indicator that this was not a high priority course or that there were not strong employment outcomes from undertaking this course, however
  • If the cost of a Diploma of Disability was set at the same level ($6000) but the funding was say $5000 this would indicate that this was a much higher priority course with much stronger employment outcomes.

Now I know there are going to be people out there that say but you can’t do that, that is restricting the market, or that we provide a better service or a laptop or additional resources or whatever, and my answer is a simple one, so what.  A system like this would weed out, in particular, the VET FEE-HELP profiteers, it would allow students and employers to have a real idea about the potential outcomes of programs  and well maximum or even recommended retail prices are set all over the place on things and everybody else seems to survive, what are we as an industry any different.

Let me know what you think

Diploma’s or Certificate – Employments outcomes v Qualification level (The problems of Australia’s debt fuel Diploma industry)

Given a number of discussion I have had recently around Vocation training (VET) in Australia and in particular the rise of debt funded diploma industry I thought I might take a look at some actual figures and see whether or not getting a Diploma (AQF level 5) made any significant difference to employment options and outcomes, or whether it was the case that a lower AQF qualification, in particular level IV or III actually had the same or better outcomes in terms of employment.  So to the figures.

As most of you know NCVER is the place to go to look at statistics relating to the VET industry in Australia.  Now it is important to note that this data is around 12 months old, but still I think worth looking at now if only in the context of us then being able to comment on the new data when it comes out.

If we look at the student outcomes to total VET activity by key measures table it seems to be at least to my eyes beginning to tell us some interesting stories.  If we look at table 21 – Key findings for graduates by qualification firstly what do we see?

 

We see that the biggest proportional increase in employment before and after training at 8.9% is at the Certificate II level with the Certificate III (7.8%) and Certificate I (6.9%) not far behind.  The lowest performers (and significantly lower are Certificate IV and Diploma or above Qualifications at 1.6% and 1.7% respectively.

When we look at table 22 which represent module completer’s rather than graduates we see that the situation is even worse with what appears to be almost 1% fewer people employed out of those that started but did not complete a diploma level course again with the result better at a certificate III, II and I level.

And the trend continues when we look at Improved employment status after training for those employed before training,  at a certificate III and II level  21% of respondents were employed at a higher skill level while only 14% and 10 % for Diploma’s and Certificate IV’s.  Of those not employed before training 51% of Certificate III graduates were employed after the training as opposed to 43% at a Diploma level.

 

So what does this all mean?

Well and I am happy to take any challenges to this as I am now making some assumptions, what I think it shows is that if you are unemployed your best choice in terms of what training to undertake in order to maximise your ability to gain employment is to undertake a certificate III level qualification.  It also seems even if you are employed and you want to improve your employment outcomes a certificate III is still the better option.  This becomes even more relevant when we start to consider the relative costs of certificate III vs Diploma programs.  Certificate III, negligible cost to participant due to direct government funding arrangements versus up to $20,000 debt through government study assistance for a diploma.

It seems to me, and this has been my position for a long time, when we look at the vocational education system in this country and how it relates to that group of people who have for whatever reasons not gone on to tertiary education, it seems that the best approach is to undertake lower level courses (certificate II and III) courses to maximise the opportunity of gaining employment and then whilst employed access higher level training qualifications to improve overall job position.  This use of the system seems to be supported in general (particularly in QLD) by the structure of government funding, where Certificate III level qualifications are heavily subsidised for people without qualifications, yet higher level (IV and V) qualifications require participants to already be employed in the sector they wish to study in.  Also given that gaining a higher level qualification first, rules out the possibility of individuals or employers being able to fund lower level qualifications, it really does seem to me to be the case that you are far better off, starting at a lower level of qualification and working your way through the system, than starting higher up the ladder and hoping for an employment outcome.

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