VET vs University – A continuing Divide.

As some of you who have been reading my blog for a while will be aware I have always been troubled by the seeming divide which exists between VET and University education in this country.  This came up again recently when the very articulate Lauren Hollows  asked this wonderful question on Linkedin; “Why does it have to be VET or HE?”.  Quite early on in the life of this particular iteration of this blog, I presented a similar thought.  Lauren’s post and the ensuing discussion prompted me to think a little more about this problem and why it is that there seems to be a divide between Vocational Training and University Education.

Lets jump in the time machine and go back to the dim past when I was in the final years of high school and looking at what I was going to do with myself post secondary school.  The choices were pretty clear-cut back then, you left at year 10 and got a trade, you went on to year 12 and University or you just went and got a job. somewhere and to a large extent what we know now as the VET sector now was still a few years away.  This I think is still some of the problem today, a lot of people not involved in the industry, who are now parents etc saw this divide, you went to  TAFE to do a trade or you went to university and of course the unspoken thought was that the reason you left at year 10 and went and got a trade was that you weren’t going to get good enough results in 11 and 12 to get accepted into University.  Now whether or not that was ever true, the mindset was there and still is, people still view VET as a choice you make when you can’t get into university.

Let’s fast forward to today though, this is not the case anymore and hasn’t been the case for some time now, sure VET education can be seen as an alternative education pathway, but it is also a supplementary or complimentary pathway.  As a lot of the respondents to Lauren’s post said, myself included, a lot of people now have qualifications from both sectors, all of which provide them with different learnings and different skills and knowledge.  So why then do we still hear comments like “I have a degree why would I was my time getting a Certificate IV/diploma?”  We hear them because I think we have failed, all of us, the Government, the peak bodies, the providers to truly explain the post secondary education system in this country to people, and to explain it to people in such a way that makes sense to them and shows them the value of education regardless of what ‘sector’ that education comes from.

We have a single framework in this country for qualifications and we have had it since 1995.  The Australian Qualifications Framework outlines who the whole system works and what each level from Level 1 (Certificate I) to Level 10 (Doctoral Degrees) work and what the skills and knowledge at each level is.  I would hazard a guess however that very very few parents and student and probably not a lot of teachers and guidance officers were terribly aware of the content of the AQF and even fewer would understand how the system works and what all of it means and there in lies the problem.

What we need to do in this country is to embark on an education process, a process designed to explain to people simply and easily how the system works.  If we ever as a country truly want to have an engaged workforce built on ideals of lifelong learning, then we need to do this we need to this, we need to explain to people the choices that they have and how they fit together.  If we don’t there will always be a divide between the various educational sectors in this country and that would be a crying shame.

TAFE and the contestable marketplace – Some thoughts

So many of you saw my little rant the other day, so I thought to be fair what I might, or perhaps should do today is discuss my thoughts around a contestable training market place, how it affects TAFE and what might need to happen to change things.

There are a couple of things I need to make clear first off,

  1. While I have been around the L&D and VET industry for quite a while I haven’t taught at a TAFE in a very long time, but I have been involved with them in a number of different roles I have had over the years,
  2. I don’t believe solutions like the one suggest in the Greens pre-election policy paper (we need to give TAFE $2 billion and restrict the private sectors access to funding) are well thought out, viable, in the best interests of VET education in this country or solve the problem),
  3. I believe that there are in some cases strong social justice, equity and workforce participation issues, particularly in regional, remote areas for TAFE’s to be provided with additional funding to allow them to serve that function,
  4. There should be one regulator for everyone public, private, enterprise, regardless of State with which everyone has to comply.
  5. I have had some very interesting discussion with some wonderful people from a number of TAFE institutions about how they these changes are effecting them.
  6. Despite what we might think education is never free, someone (either the user or the government or someone else) always pays.  However that being said I also believe that education should be ‘free’ to the end-user (within reasonable limitations)

For me I think it is 1 and 6 from this list that bite for me when we start to talk and think about contestable markets and how it might alter the place of what has been seen to be the public educator in the VET system.  One of the things that has always worried me about TAFE has been the sheer size and amount of physical infrastructure that they seem to have, a lot of which, if we extrapolate from the findings of the Queensland Training Task force a number of years ago is vastly underutilised.  This creates a system where funding for education is actually funding for the maintenance of buildings and infrastructure.  Now their may be good social and economic reasons why in some areas it is necessary to maintain underutilised infrastructure, such as the need to provide specialised training equipment to meet a regular though not constant need, or because they are the only education facility within a certain area.  However why are we maintaining or in some cases even really maintaining standard classroom facilities when the overall utilisation rates are say below 50%.  This is not to suggest that there should be just enough classrooms for students, there should be room for growth and allowances made for contractions in student numbers etc, but underutilised space is costing money that could be redirected to the actual cost of student learning.  Now I know that this rationalisation of resources is occurring in a number of TAFE environments and I know it worries some people.  However having to consider how to best utilise limited space is a dilemma that a lot of private and enterprise providers face every week. We have two training rooms, so we can theoretically conduct 10 classroom based trainings a week, however in reality we only do about 6-7, mainly because one of the training rooms is bigger than the other so we try to fit our bigger classes into there first, we also have a number of other groups and activities where go on in the the rooms, study groups (formal and informal), one-off workshops, staff presentations and programs, which means that the building is about 90-95% utilised each week (at least during working hours).  It would be great to have another classroom, but that would drop our actual utilisation down to 60% or less and it seems difficult to justify that cost on the grounds of ‘if we build it they will come.’  If we decided we wanted to provide some training that required specialised equipment or resources the costs would be even more significant.  What would be great would be if TAFE and private provides worked together to get the most out of all of their resources.  I would gladly lease space at our campus once a week for a TAFE to run a program and I would gladly lease space over in another suburb from a TAFE to run our programs there.  I know it would make life easier for our clients who live in another area to get to face to face class.

Most private providers run fairly lean in terms of management  and administration.  I think even the staunchest TAFE supporter would have to admit that TAFE management and admin is not lean.  Now I know that they have large user bases and provide a range of services and programs, but still there seems to be a lot of duplication and a lot of layers of management.  The problem with this of course is the speed at which a TAFE can react to the need or a request from a client as opposed to how quickly a small to medium or even a quite large-sized private provider can react.  This is a problem that just TAFE needs to grapple with however a lot of very large businesses and government departments face the same problem, lean, agile businesses, with flatter management structures and well delineated autonomous decision-making at all levels are adapting and responding to markets in ways traditional companies and government departments simply can’t.

The other big challenge is simply that of change itself, as someone commented to me the other day, there are a lot of people in TAFE who are there because they believe in public education, they believe in TAFE and have worked in an environment for years which mapped very closely to their values and ideology.  A market driven system is seen as changing this, as putting their personal values and ideology at odds with the values of the system they have worked and believed in for years and this change is therefore quite stressful.  I was mildly criticised for being a little less than empathetic when I suggested that change is inevitable and in the world outside of TAFE and Government, if you can’t work within the value and ideology of an organisation then you are going to have a hard time and it is probably better to leave before you are asked to leave.  Even though I take the criticism on the chin, I stand by my statements, there are no jobs for life any more and change in both inevitable and in most cases necessary, we need to either accept that or move on to somewhere that fits better for us.  I also think that a lot of long-term TAFE facilitators might be pleasantly surprised to find that if they came over to the dark side of private providers how many of these providers might be a good match for their values and ideology.

So what is the answer, I don’t know, but I think that TAFE needs to be leaner, more agile and responsive, less infrastructure and resource heavy and more focussed on the needs of not just students but of organisations and employers as well.  They also need to be for the most part self-sustaining, if a TAFE isn’t getting enough students to pay the bills, they need to seriously think about their future.  As I said to someone the other day, old TAFE is dead, and everyone needs to either embrace the new TAFE direction or get out of the way.




I wish TAFE people would just stop whining (Rant Warning)

I really am starting to get sick of TAFE staff right from the top to the coal face complaining about how hard their world is!

Right now that I have offended half my audience.  It seems like every week now there is a new article in a newspaper or somewhere else about how tough TAFE are doing things and how complicated the market is for them now that they have to compete with private sector training providers.

I for one am sick of it.

I tell you what, all of you who are complaining about your life in the TAFE system and how hard it is now that you have to compete with private providers, come and work with a private provider.  Come and work somewhere where your existence depends solely on being able to find enough students to pay the bills, without the support of government for infrastructure and the like.  And I don’t care whether you are a big commercial provider or a niche market one, it is all the same, there is no support out there, if we fail we fail end of story.  There is no government that is going to bail us out, or restructure us to assist us with continuing to operate, that is just not going to happen.  

If individual TAFE’s can’t sustain themselves (except in environments where there a very solid social participation reasons) then why are they being supported by the government, for the most part, private providers would be more than willing and able to step into the spaces left.

TAFE, do not do a better job than private providers just because they are a TAFE, they are not only providers of VET training in this country and it is about time they just stopped whining, accept the fact that they have to compete and get on with it.  Just like in my opinion TAFE in Queensland is doing, and interestingly I rarely here the comments we here from the southern states about having to compete with private providers from the QLD TAFE sector.

Also if you are a TAFE teacher/trainer, stop complaining about how hard you work.  Trainers and Facilitators in the private sector work much harder.

Technology – Helping or hindering learning?

Mobile Learning is the next big thing!

We need to gamify that content to engage the learners!

Stunning bite sized e-learning will promote just in time learning on the job!


Sometimes these days when I listen to all of the chatter at conferences, online and at meeting and events etc  about the world of Learning and Development I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t perhaps just sounding a little bit like the new song by Weird Al


Weird Al Yankovic – Mission Statement


and I have to admit it worries me.  It sometimes feels to me like the direction of our thinking is being push or nudged in certain directions by the needs and wants of vendors, both of content and systems, rather than being driven by the needs and wants of learners.  This should not be taken to be a criticism of vendors in general (what is it they say ‘some of my best friends are vendors’) , it is their job to promote their products and services as much as they can and to be fair L&D folk seem to love new technology, new ways of connecting and new things to explore, I know I do.  However isn’t in the long run the outcome for the learner and in a lot of cases the organisations they work in what is important.  I see lots of stuff about how new technologies help learners in Higher education, school etc and this seems to be used as evidence that the same things will work in organisations or in other types of learning environments and as I have said before I am not quite so sure that is the case.

I am happy to accept that there are instances of organisations fully implementing these new technologies and having fantastic results, there seems to be a number of ‘case studies’ and ‘anecdotal evidence’ to suggest that it can be successful.  However there also seems to be quite a range of stories out there about it not working for one reason or another, usually because user engagement was an issue, or to paraphrase that statement – staff didn’t want to do organisationally required learning in their own time,  they wanted to do the training in a face to face environment, or they wanted something really hands on, not simulated.

I guess what I am saying here is that flipped learning might be great in K-12, MOOC’s might work for universities, gamification might engage GenY learners, but do these things actually work or work as well in organisational settings, or are the expectations, needs, wants and outcomes of the people we train and the organisations work with, not a great match for some of these things despite what the ‘research’ might say.  After all how unbiased is an article or paper on the virtues of gamificiation if it is written or sponsored by a gamification vendor.

Sure it is great to explore all of the new and wonderful ways in which we can engage learners and provide truly outstanding outcomes for our clients, but in the long run shouldn’t how we deliver learning be based (at least in part) on who the learners want to learn.




Learning Spaces or Spaces to Learn – What can we learn from delivering training to the homeless.

The concept of where and how learning programs are delivered has been on my mind a little bit lately, particularly since a particularly good presentation I attended recently on the interface between homeless persons and training delivery.  One of the key points which was bought up during the presentation and subsequent conversations was the fact that if we take a group of people like those who either homeless or at risk of homelessness, we will tend to find that there are a raft of other issues that sit with and around the issue of homelessness and all of these issues will have a significant impact on the delivery of training programs to people within these groups.  These impacts are things like;

  • a mindset of failure particularly around academic/scholastic pursuits
  • uncomfortableness in traditional learning environments (classrooms)
  • limited ability to travel to get to training venues
  • limited support network
  • possibility of having to move a significant distance from where training is conducted to secure accommodation
  • limited financial means

These issues and a range of others mean that it is difficult if not impossible to deliver training within what could be considered traditional environments.  This means that learning programs need to be adapted and delivered in different ways such as;

  • within the environment where the person already is and is comfortable
  • shorter sessions to allow participants to take care of their other priorities (it is difficult to concentrate from 9-5, but imagine how much more difficult it would be if you were worried about finding a bed for the night)
  • a wide range of learning activities to engage participants in a variety of ways
  • changing assessment models to ensure that all participants are able to display in competence in ways that are most effective for them

The thing is when I started to think about developing and delivering learning programs, particularly workplace programs it struck me that most of the adjustments that I was considering were things that we should be doing anyway.   We spend large sums of money on creating physical spaces for people to learn in, or online platforms delivering state of the art gamified elearning, when in reality the participants are probably going to learn more from a 2 hour session held in the staff room, coupled with solid support tools to allow them implement the things they have learnt.

And to be honest I think the problem might be us, it is far more challenging to deliver training in a staff room, a homeless shelter or a skate park where there are a range of other things happening in the background, than it is to deliver the same training in our lovely state of the art training room.  Walking though an instruction manual or workbook with a participant is far less fun for us than creating sexy video content or gamifiying our learning programs, but does it make the participant more comfortable and able to learn better.

We need to be able to create spaces for people to learn, that fit with what they need, not with what makes us comfortable.

NCVER NoFrills 2014 – A short Review

So as some of you are aware I attended the NCVER NoFrills Conference in Melbourne last week.  For those of you who aren’t aware of NoFrills, it is a more ‘research’ based conference than most other conference, no surprising really considering it is run by NCVER, the repository of VET data.  This of course means that a lot of the presentations are more scholarly than would be found at a regular conference and have in a lot of cases substantially more rigour associated with their findings.

The Keynote by Steve Sargent on Thursday threw up some interesting points including the one that High wage, low skills jobs are at very high risk of being automated, digitized or outsourced.  I don’t think it was necessarily a revelation as I think a lot of people understand that this is on the way and that the workforce is changing. It was interesting to see that the jobs least like to disappear were those where there was strong person to person interaction required as part of the job, two examples being dentist and personal trainer.

After the keynote it was off to the concurrent sessions, now given there is only one of me, I can only comment on the sessions that I attended, and also given my interests and the sector I inhabit you will notice a decided lean in particular directions.

I attended the two conjoined shall we say talks on students with mental illness and disabilities and approaches to improving their access to and interaction with the VET and Higher Ed systems.  While the content was good, unfortunately the speakers themselves were not fantastic or terribly engaging, that being said, they are not the professional speaker types I am used to interacting with.

Two things came out of these sessions for me, one was the fact that the project team had only looked at how mental illness and disability was handled in a University and a TAFE, there was no data, because there had been no consultation with private and enterprise level VET providers at all.  This was a significant disappointment because it leads to the second point that I got from the talk which was that private providers (both large and small) seem to do a much better job of interacting and catering for students with disabilities and mental illness, than at least the TAFE and University involved in the study seem to.

This fact, that private providers can and are doing things better, more flexibly and with more focus on the outcomes the students needs was also driven home in the afternoon session focusing on VET outcomes for homeless people, where all but one of the providers involved in the case studies look at where private providers.  The reasons for this was that the private providers were more willing to be flexible in terms of their delivery and assessment, how things were packaged, even where they delivered, than the TAFE’s were.  Now this shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of TAFE, there are systematic issues within TAFE with make it difficult for them to be as flexible as a private provider.  However it does show that despite all of the criticism that is levelled at the private RTO market and the view that TAFE does it better, that that is simply not the case.  Private providers can and do in some cases do things better and more effectively than TAFE does.

The other really interesting session for me was Kira Clarke’s research into VET in schools and the problems associated with it delivery currently, particularly in relation to how it is being presented by teacher against how it is viewed by students and employers.

So all in all day one was good and I enjoyed it, though as I tweeted just after lunch, at least in the sessions I was in one could have been forgiven for thinking that it was only TAFE that delivered VET and no one else, which is sad.  There did seem to be a little more involvement for private providers later in the day and on Friday, but it is a real shame that there is not more involvement from the private sector in the research side of VET.

Then again as I thought later, are those of us on the non-TAFE side of the fence, to busy to engage in research projects, don’t see the value, or don’t have the staff to undertake them, whatever the reason it would be nice to see more input.

Current state of VET reform in Australia

Originally posted on North Metro VET Network:

The following is an extract from keynote address by
Sussan Ley  – Assistant Minister for Education
‘Current state of VET reform in Australia’ delivered to the 8th Annual Skilling Australia Summit, Tuesday 01 July, in Melbourne

The full transcript can be found here:

Our current conundrum 

The current state of play presents many problems – but it also presents many opportunities.

I hear the frustrations: the frustration of teachers who are acting as career advisers and don’t have time to focus on the career element of their teaching load;

the schools who tell me they can actually lose funding if they take on VETiS;

the employers who want block release (ie weeks rather than single days) for students undertaking work experience or apprenticeships;

and the schools who are trying to juggle the various interests embedded in their timetabling;

as well as the employers who tell me they have to pay…

View original 642 more words


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