What is Industry Currency?

If a person with a Certificate IV in Training and assessment had not delivered any training for say 2 years, would we consider them to have industry currency?

Why am I asking this question?  Well because the answer that we give has, I think, profound effects on what we should consider industry currency to be in the VET sector.  What if while they had not delivered any training, they had attended two training conferences each year, for example the AITD conference and the VELG conference, would we consider them to be current then?  Now when we start to extend this thinking and ask questions about what industry currency might mean in other sectors the issues start to become obvious.

Take a person who is training a Certificate III in plumbing, who has been a trainer for say 5 years, but who hasn’t actually picked up their tools and done actual work in the industry since they became a trainer.  Are they current?  This of course can be applied to all of the various parts of the VET sector, be it community services, trades, business it doesn’t matter the issue of industry currency is significant, because how can someone train a student in the latest practices and how they are utilised and applied unless they know these things themselves because particularly in some areas, while having the knowledge of how to do something is great, the actual application of that can be more challenging particularly in real work situations.

So what do I think industry currency is, well lets start with what I don’t think it is.  I don’t think going to a couple of conferences or attending a webinar or a course is satisfactory, neither do I think that being a member of an industry association (unless continuing membership is through a CPD process) makes the grade either.  I certainly think they are a start and for someone who has only just moved away from working in their industry to becoming a trainer, this might be enough for a little while, but the longer it has been since a person has actually worked in the sector in which they are training, the less I think these sorts of activities count as valid examples of industry currency.  If you have been a trainer for 10 years and haven’t work in your sector in that time, I struggle to see how you might still be competent.

One of the key components of industry currency for me, and one which I see is often missed is actually going back and working in the industry again, getting a feel for it and the changes around how things are done.  It is easy I think, for us as trainers to get somewhat comfortable in teaching what we know and how we did things, but in a lot a sectors now, best practice, applications, processes change rapidly and while yes we can gain knowledge of these things through seminars, courses and conferences as I said above, sometimes there is a significant difference between the knowledge and the application of that knowledge in an actual working environment.  To give a personal example, I used to do a lot of training in the area of enterprise level applications, particularly in the project and contract management space.  Now it as been 5  or more years since I actually worked in that space at the coal face of project management and the enterprise systems that support billion dollar projects.  Now I have kept up with the literature, attended the odd conference, still possess all the relevant qualifications, played with new products as they have been released and the like.  However I would not and have not for a number of years now considered myself to have industry currency and it would in my opinion take me a significant amount of time to get that currency back.  Why, the simple reason is that I don’t work in that industry any more, I am not immersed in the how and the why of things every day.

Over the past few years I have been lucky enough to be involved with training providers who have been either part of organisations delivering services in a particular sector or who had very tight links to organisations who do, which has given an insight into what real industry currency looks like.  It looks like staff who not only work as trainers but also as professionals in the industry (maybe only once a fortnight or once a month, but still actual work with real clients).  It is being embedded in the sector that they work in, seeing and interacting with clients every day they are in and around the office, whether they are working as trainers or as industry professionals.  It is strong links to the provision of services and how that is achieved; currently for example, the general manager of our disability and mental health services sits in the office next to me and almost every morning we sit in our outdoor area, have a coffee and talk about what is happening in each of our areas and across the sector, which provides both of us with insights, information and actual real world examples of a range of issues which we probably would not get if we weren’t so connected.  In previous roles my counselling trainers either volunteered on crisis phone lines or work directly with clients face to face or both, disability trainers worked with people with disability and youth work trainers were youth workers.  Everyone was essentially an industry professional first, even the staff who had been trainers for 20 years.

Now I acknowledge that for these kinds of organisationally embedded training providers it is perhaps easier to achieve this level of industry involvement, engagement and currency and that for a TAFE or a private RTO where they are not tightly part of an organisation, achieving this may be more difficult, but we have to do better than thinking that a couple of conferences and some PD count for currency.  If you haven’t done actual work in the sector you are training people in more than 2 years I personally think you probably don’t have currency.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

Paul Can be contacted through

Rasmussen Learning Solutions or Spectrum Training

Marketing Vocational Education – Matching ethics and finances

No matter what anyone would like to think , Learning is a business, a business worth 100’s of billions of dollars worldwide and unfortunately where ever you have enormous sums of money involved there are always going to be those who seek to take advantage and utilise unethical practices in pursuit of financial gain.  We have over recent months seen the effects of this in the Vocational Training industry in this country, particularly with respect to VET-FEE HELP and the Educational Brokerage Industry but also in other areas as well.

It also doesn’t matter whether we are talking about public providers (TAFE) or non-public ones, there is still always going to be a need to work within budgetary constraints, ensure there are sufficient students in courses, make sure that the business you are running (and lets no kid ourselves TAFE is a business whether they want to think of themselves that way or not) is sustainable and can provide for the needs and expected outcomes of students and stakeholders.  So the question becomes how do you manage to do all of this, provide a high quality service, a sustainable business and still uphold your ethics.

My number one rule is a simple one

Don’t use Brokers or Educational Consultants

 

So why not, well from my point of view Brokers or educational consultants bring nothing to the table except either the necessity to increase the cost to consumer of your course or decrease the amount of income that comes to you.  Of course the argument for their use is that they bring in far more students than would be possible without them.  However the question which need to be asked is are the students appropriate for the programs you are offering.  Do they come to you already properly pre-screened or is all that is happening (and I think this is more often than not the case) they are simply getting a name on a form and directing the person to you and then you, the provider, is having to do all of the work.  So the question really needs to be asked, what is it that they are actually providing, are they doing something which the provider can not do internally and what is the quality of what they are doing.  If it is just a numbers game, trying to get as many people on the books to generate as much income as possible then why not, but if  the provider is actually interested in quality students and quality outcomes for those students then in my opinion they are much better staying away from brokerages.

So if providers are not going to utilise brokers and consultants then what can they do to ethically market their programs.  Well for a start there is the old stalwarts of reputation and word of mouth.  Now of course these two options are not going to line your coffers with gold, but then again if that is what you want you probably stopped reading much earlier than here.  As with any business the having a reputation for good high quality service will make it much easier for your business to be sustainable and it will generate the second one, word of mouth.  If students are happy with their experience and they get the outcome they wanted, then they will tell other people and those people will  think of you when they are in need of the service you provide.  To give you an example, a student who graduate from us last year, went on to be the manager of a large community services program and because of the experience he had learning with us, when he need to have 50 staff trained he didn’t even consider going anywhere else or even talking to anyone else he came straight to us and engaged us to do the work.  He also recommended us to other in the organisation which generated another 30 students for us.  That is 80 students as a direct result of one person having a positive experience and getting the outcomes they wanted.

Which brings me to my next point, don’t neglect your past students, you have got their details stored in your systems, remember them and they will remember you.  It is important to remember that this isn’t about selling to them. don’t just send them details of your upcoming training or special offers or things like that, actually remember them.  Many years ago I worked for a training provider who used to email all of their past students on their birthday and held a monthly birthday draw for cinema tickets or dinner out or the like.  85% of their business was either repeat business or direct referral from previous students.  I even saw on more than one occasion, ex students mark, friends, work colleges and family into the office  so that they could sign up for a program, and CEO’s of large companies ringing up and saying ‘I did your training about 10 years ago and it was fantastic, I still use it today and I need you to come out and deliver it to all of our executive and senior management teams.

Never underestimate the power of past students

 

Also too many training providers keep looking for individual students, isn’t it better to talk to one person and get 5 students than to have to talk to 5 people.  Build relationships and network with organisations, offer them more than just training.  Offer the L&D and HR people support with funding and training needs analysis and finding them suitable training providers if you can’t give them what they need.  When they do need what you have to offer they will come back to you, because you didn’t try to sell them something the didn’t need.  Be different, if you are the third person to call me this week offering me the same of boring diploma of management or certificate III program then you are going to get the same answer that they everyone else got.  Not interested.  Know what you are good at, explore niche markets, build a value proposition and give people what they want and need, not just what you can provide, there is a very big difference.

Ethically building a reputable sustainable business takes time, just being in this industry for the money provides outcomes for no one, so in the immortal words of Google ‘Just don’t be evil.

 

Musings on Vocational Education and Training in Australia

First off this is a blatant plug  :)

So for those of you who are interested I have just publish a collection of edited extracts from this blog and several other places around my thoughts on the Vocational Education and Training Industry in Australia.  It is published over on Amazon for a very reasonable price, so if you want to have a copy of my musing on VET over the past couple of years pop on over and get yourself a copy.

musings

 

Also while you are over there think about picking up my short work Chasing Butterflies – Evaluating the organisational impact of informal learning.

 

chasing

 

or if by some strange coincident you happen to be interested in Human genetics, philosophy and ethics then also feel free to pick up this wonderful piece of work.

 

Ethical

What’s wrong with just being a trainer?

I am proud to be a trainer!

I am a trainer at heart and I have been for quite a long time now.  In fact since the 90’s I have trained more than 20,000 people in subjects as varied as how to use outlook or word, how to manage multi million and multi billion dollar projects, how to help people in crisis, how to be better counsellors and support workers and pretty much everything in between.  I know what good outcomes look like and I know that the work I do and have done is valued by organisations and individuals across the globe.  But you know what,

I am sick and tired of people saying that trainers need to be better educated, or better skills or have more educational theory pumped into them!

I am particularly sick and tired of it when the people saying it are academics or researchers, self-styled educationalist guru’s or whatever pithy title they want to have for themselves, who have for the most part never or at least hardly ever actually set foot in a training room and delivered training.  The vast majority of trainers who I know and have worked with, and trust me there is a lot of people who fall into that group, are absolute professionals, who are highly skilled not just in delivering training but in their field or fields of excellence as well.  They are not someone who has just spent time at university learning how to teach curriculum from a book, but who have never actually been out in the work place doing what they teach.  No these are people who not only know their industries and the skills and knowledge that that industry needs but they also know how to pass it on.  And I am not just talking about the VET sector here either I am talking about the whole training and L&D industry professionals delivering solid outcomes to people and organisations every day.  On any particular day these people might be teachers or educators or coaches or mentors or facilitators or what ever is required, but like me at heart they are trainers.

Now teaching is typically defined as, “to cause to know something, to guide the studies of, to impart knowledge or to instruct by example, precept or experience.” where as  training seeks “to form by instruction, discipline or drill” or “to make prepared for a test or skill.” Training usually has a more specific focus than teaching, which seeks to instil a deeper knowledge over a longer period of time. Training, on the other hand, seeks to help people master a specific skill, or skill set, until they are able to execute it efficiently, and training is what I do and that is what most of the people I know do.  We give people the skills and knowledge they need to perform tasks and job roles both now and in the future, to help they get employment, improve their position or just simply be better at what they do, and here is the thing, that is what the people that we work with want, whether they are organisations or individuals, they are not particularly interested in me assisting them on their lifelong learning journey or to assist them to engage in an immersive andragological educational experience, they want the have a particular sets of skills and knowledge either for something they need to do now or something they want to do in the future.

Now I know that there are going to be people reading this who go, ‘well you just have a very limited viewpoint on what this sector is’ or ‘well that because of the way things are structured, if we had more educationalists (or whatever) involved and a different structure things would be different’  or ‘You just don’t understand your just a trainer.’

Dam right I am just a Trainer and I for one am proud of that fact.

 

Anyway that’s just my opinion, Happy Easter Folks, have fun and be safe.

A registration board for the VET sector?

Do we need a Trainer and Assessors registration board?

 

After my previous post and a number of comments and discussions in a variety of forums, I got to thinking about this idea of a registration board for Trainers and Assessors in the VET sector.  Now I know this idea has been floated before, and that there are several groups out there who have or are attempting, as membership organisations, to utilise this idea to lift the general level of professionalism in the industry.  But lets face facts, unless membership of an organisation is linked to some kind of regulated authority to train, then there is always going to be a systematic failure.  There are registration boards for Teachers in all of the states, statutory bodies, set up to regulate and determine who is appropriately qualified and suitable to teach in a our primary and secondary school systems,  so do we need something like that?  A single national registration board for all trainers and assessors in the VET sector.    While I think in the long-term that might be a very good idea, I think there might be an alternative which at least in the shorter term may have a significant effect on the professionalism of the industry.

A registration board for all Trainers and Assessors delivering a Training and Assessment Qualification!

So if you want to be able to train others in the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment or above or any qualification from the TAE package, you would need to be registered by a single national board which provided you with an Authority to Train.  It should like most other boards of its ilk, charge membership fees which would be used to cover the expenses of running the board, and have clearly defined membership entry and maintenance requirements.  These requirements should revolved around skills and knowledge as well as experience.  Imagine the difference that would be made overnight if the ‘TAE registration board’ required 5 years of training experience before you were able to apply for membership to allow you to deliver a TAE qualification.  Gone instantly would be the incidents of doing a weekend TAE this weekend and then teaching the same class the next weekend.  A skills and knowledge component, perhaps an exam could be added into the mix for initial registration, as well as strong on going CPD requirements including delivery thresholds, peer supervision and mentoring requirements, then add to this penalties for non-compliance including suspension and de-registration and even just at this level, directly aimed at those teaching TAE qualifications this would have a rapid and marked effect on the quality not only of the TAE suite of programs, but a knock on effect to all other qualifications as well. This added to increased regulatory pressure at an organisational level would should see the quality of the qualification and the sector lifted quickly.

Now people might argue against this proposal in a number of ways.

This is industry is already over regulated

I am not sure of this for a start, but even so the vast majority of regulation at this point in time sits at the level of the RTO.  Trainer registration sits at a personal, not organisational level.  It is something that is managed by a person for themselves.  Individuals can choose whether or not they wish to be registered and have an Authority to Train or not.  Trainers and Assessors not delivery TAE qualifications would not be required to undertake registration, although there could either initially or over time a registration process developed for those who did not deliver TAE products.

The cost of a TAE qualification would go up

Probably, but is that a bad thing?  Is a $300, 2 day, Certificate IV in Training and Assessment really worth the money it is printed on for anyone?

Who would run it

The simple solution in my mind would be the regulator (ASQA).  Given that it needs some kind of regulatory force behind it to be effective, it either needs to be the current regulatory body or some of other statutory body.  I suppose it could be an independent organisation, but issues of continuity always concern me in these cases.

It is another expense for the Trainer 

I, as I think most reputable training organisations would be more than happy to pay the registration fees and associated costs of our TAE trainers or in terms of a new employee who came with registration, renewals of the registration for as long as they worked for us.  However that aside it would be an expense, yes, but it seems one that anyone who was interested in the quality of training and assessment would be willing to pay.

 

The single most important thing about this however, is that it needs to have regulatory force, it needs to be built into the standards that Training providers delivering TAE qualification may only employ registered trainers to deliver those qualifications.  No working under supervision arrangements or anything like that, you either have the registration and the authority to train or you don’t and if you don’t you can’t be employed in a role relating to the delivery of TAE qualification.

 

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

 

 

Fruit of the poison tree – The problem of non-competent trainers

So what happens when a trainer or assessor who is not-competent assesses someone as competent?

 

So I have been involved in a number of discussions recently about the quality of delivery and assessment of the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and the resulting competence of ‘trainers’ as a result of that.  Now before I go any further here it is important to note that this is not just something that is occurring in the non-public sector, but across the board, we are seeing it seems just as many people coming out of TAFE lacking the skills and knowledge they should have as we are from the non-public providers.  A lot of the conversation has been around the problems of finding good, competent capable staff out of what seems to be these days an absolute tidal wave of rubbish.  People who can’t present, don’t know basic things like the principles of assessment, or how to unpack a unit of competency.  Now of course over time some of these people are going to become competent despite their original non-competence, but there still exists of course the problem that at the time the certificate was issued they weren’t competent and therefore should not have been given the qualification in the first place.

Now there has been much discussion about what should be done about this and how it can be addressed, but there seems to be a consensus that at some point the regulator must have to step in and cancel or withdraw a whole pile of qualification which were issued where they should not have been.  Now whether or not this will actually happen is certainly a matter for conjecture, however a recall of this nature would have quite a significant effect on people who had built careers on these qualifications which have been found to be soiled.  This is even more problematic for those who were actually competent in first instance but whose qualification is called into question by association or for those who have become competent since the issuance of the certificate.  Now the argument could be made that  given that they are now competent or were competent originally the withdrawal or cancellation would not prove to have an adverse effect because they  would simply need to provide evidence of that competent to acquire a ‘real’ qualification. The big question which pops up then however is who is going to pay for that. If the person in question undertook their qualification in good faith, and then at a later date the regulator removes that qualification then it would seem that either the company that issued it (which is probably then out of business) or the government should be responsible for the costs of re-assessment. Of course it could also be suggested that very few people do a 2 day certificate IV or a 5 day diploma in good faith or that they can be unaware that after a 6-12 month program where they are struggling that they are not actually competent.
On top of all of this though sits the issue of ‘Fruit of the poisonous Tree’ as they say in the US. If someone who has a qualification but who is not competent, assesses the competence of another person then it is not a reach to suggest that that persons competence and resulting qualification may also be questionable.  We have already seen a significant number of qualifications from one provider cancelled and a range of others from both public and non-public providers called into question, now not to question the competence of those people who assessed these qualifications, but it would seem to me to necessary to investigate that issue as well as the providers from which they gained their qualification.  Now let’s explore what might happen is ASQA starts to cancel, withdraw or recall certificates from even one Certificate IV TAE provider, let alone more than one.  Even if not all certificates are ‘recalled’ it throws into question the veracity of all of the qualifications issued by the provider even those non-TAE qualifications.  Further it must call into question two things,

  1. The competence of any person deemed competent from someone with a ‘recalled’ qualification
  2. The hiring and assessment practices of any providers which employed a person with a ‘recalled’ qualification

It is as I have indicated above a ‘Fruit of the poison tree’ scenario, none of the decisions about competency can be taken at face value and from there it is ‘turtles all the way down’

So what can be done about all of this, well , one solution (which will probably never happen) is to license only a very select number of providers both public and private to assess VET sector competence, rather than the almost open slather that we have at the moment and support the sector (through funding) to have everyone re-assessed. It would be a mammoth and costly task.

Another solution would be a formal licensing process for VET sector professionals assessed by an independent 3rd party with strong ongoing CPD requirements. This would also solve the problem of PD and currency for trainer and facilitators.

The other thing that sits in my head along side of all of this is the skill and knowledge sets (and qualifications) of those in education management roles an what we expect them to be. Ethical, experienced and appropriately qualified CEO’s and education managers in training providers would not allow the delivery of poor quality or substandard qualifications, and not hire non-competent people thus over time improving the quality of the training being provided and the industry as a whole.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

 

Career Progression, Professional Development and VET

I wrote about this topic almost 12 months ago, (I don’t want to be a trainer all my life) but a couple of conversations I have had recently have got me thinking again about the whole concept of career progression, talent management and succession in both organisational L&D and the VET sector.  As I sit back and look at the world of Learning and Development and Training, after having been involved in it for quite a lot of years, in all parts of the industry, accredited and non-accredited, public and non-public, delivery, management, strategy, in very large enterprises and small ones, I realise that the path I took to get to where I am was (like with most of the other people I know) quite crooked, there was very little in the way of straight line progression in terms of moving from one role to another and gradually climbing some career progression ladder.  Not that these days it seems there is really that linear progression in terms of careers which were very much part of the generations before us.  The other thing I noticed was that there was very little in the way of mentoring or talent management in any part of my career.  I was essentially left to my own resources.

Which brings me to the subject of professional development and how it ties into career progression and talent management.  It seems to me that the world of Professional Development in the VET sector is divided into two distinct streams;

  1. How to be a better trainer (which includes look at this lovely new piece of technology)
  2. How to meet compliance standards

Now some might try and paint their PD programs to make them look like they are something else, but in reality at least from what I can see the vast majority of PD falls into these two categories.  Please note that I am intentionally avoiding talking about any PD that relates to industry currency that is a whole different ball game altogether.  So my question is where are the professional development programs around leadership, ethics, management (not compliance management, management), mentoring.  There are a whole range of skills that just don’t seem to make it onto the PD offerings for training professionals.  Now I know what some of you are going to say, that sort of stuff is available through other avenues and generalist programs and you are probably right, but wouldn’t it be nice, I dare say even useful to have leadership, management and ethics programs that focussed on the sector.  I certainly think it would be.

In order to do that however we would need to know what career progression looks like in this sector, and I am not sure that we do.  One of the problems is of course one that exists in any sector where there are practitioners and administrators/managers, and much like in the social sciences practitioners  at some point have to choose, whether to stay a practitioner or do I want to be a manager.    Trainers and facilitators have to choose as well, do they want to stay heavily involved in the teaching side of the profession or do they want to move over into administration and management.   This is why in a lot of organisations, particularly as the organisation gets bigger, more and more of the management staff coming from the administrative/co-ordination/compliance side of the business than the training side, the move seems a lot easier to make.  And make no mistake this is not just the case in the non-public side of the sector, even in the public (TAFE) side we see the same thing and they have a very structured environment with all of these levels and things for trainers to traverse, but again at some point the trainer has to choose and in the case of TAFE added to the change in focus from actual training to administration which comes with any move like this there is also in a lot of cases a loss of ‘perks’ such as non-contact hours and the like, things that people from the administration side have never really had anyway so they won’t miss them when they move.  The other thing we need to know is what makes a good manager in this sector, what is the skill set of  someone in Educational Management?  We also need to know how to take someone who is a good trainer and help them to become a good manager and we cant do this if we don’t know what we are aiming for.  Then of course it is just a simple matter of getting people on board with the idea of doing something for their staff other than sending them to a conference or a two day program in flipped learning and that more than anything may actually be the biggest challenge.

Michelle Ockers

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