Branding Vocational Education – Connecting L&D and VET

So today in my continuing series of pieces on connecting the Vocational Education and Learning and Development communities I wanted to talk a little about brand.  Now I have spoken about the VET Brand before and the need for us to ensure that the VET Brand in this country is a strong and vibrant one, that is both attractive and well-respected.  Now given the current climate and negative press that has been circulating around the sector it seems an appropriate time to talk about it again, all be it from a completely different angle.  Before I go any further however, last time I talked about this there was a number of people from the public provider side of the fence who shouted to it shouldn’t be about brand, it was education and just providing people with a quality education was what was required, almost as if everything else would then simply take care of itself.  As I said then however, in my mind learning is a business, a business which is worth in excess of $150 Billion worldwide and if we don’t start treating the vocational education sector as a business then we will see it eroded on a range of different fronts and despite calls to the contrary brand and the value and perception of that brand are vital ingredients in the equation.

So what do I mean?  Well if we look at the example of Prince2, which I have talked about before as well; why would an organisation or an individual choose to spend $3000 on a Prince2 course when they could spend the same amount and get a certificate IV or even a diploma of project management through the Australian VET system?  While as some commentators have rightly pointed out, part of the reason has to do with the time frames associated with the completion of the program, however one of the other significant reasons behind this choice is BRAND.  Prince2 is a powerful brand, it is an internationally recognised and accepted certification of knowledge of the Prince2 project management methodology.  It is a ‘requirement’ for employment in an ever-increasing range of government and public service positions, as well as in the private sector, so strong in fact is the brand that often experienced project managers with degree level study in the field, find it difficult to obtain roles without it.

So given the choice of sending your staff or yourself to a certificate IV in project management or on a Prince2 course, which one would you choose?

Now we can was lyrical about the quality of outcomes and education in the VET sector.  We can discuss at length, how it should be structured, what components it needs, whether it should focus on immediate job role skills or knowledge for future roles, BUT if there are no students there is no VET sector.  If organisations choose international qualifications and programs over our home-grown accredited training system, then we won’t have to worry about who pays for TAFE infrastructure costs or how much profit is being made by gigantic private RTO’s because there wont be any students and there won’t be a vocational education sector.  Now I am being a little melodramatic here, but sometimes we need to realise that without students there isn’t sector and if students see more value in doing a certification from an American or European training organisation, because it has a stronger brand or is better recognised, and employers and organisations see it the same way, then the value of our sector will continue to erode.

Of course I can hear the cries now;

  • It’s the private RTO’s that are the problem, get rid of them and give it all back to TAFE, everyone trusts TAFE,
  • If only the Training packages were more flexible that would solve all of the problems,
  • TAFE is so inflexible, they make it hard for everyone,
  • The ISC’s cause all the problems they take so long to update anything,
  • If the government didn’t stop changing the rules things would work much better,
  • and so on.

Guess what, it doesn’t matter.  All this arguing is doing is hurting the VET brand.  It is making organisations and individuals less likely to choose a VET program over some other program with a better brand and stronger, cleaner reputation.  We need to pull our socks up, all of us.  We need to stop thinking that what matters to organisations are completion rates, and free or heavily subsidies training or full qualifications, or whatever else it is we are worrying about today.  Organisations care far more about what the training their staff do means to their day-to-day business than they do about subsides and completion rates or pretty much anything else.  If the only reason someone is going on a training course is because it is free or almost free, you can bet the organisations perceived value of that course is fairly low.  If we want this sector to be strong, vibrant and to provide for the needs of organisations and individuals now and into the future, we need to build a brand that both organisations and individuals view as valuable as worthwhile and as meeting real business needs and actually providing some real tangible return on investment.

Anyway that’s my opinion.

 

Paul can be contacted through his website  Rasmussen Learning Solutions

 

 

Prior skills and knowledge and the L&D, VET intersection

Continuing on from my last post and in response to a question from one of the Linkedin Groups I am involved with, I want to look at how the knowledge, skills and experience that a person brings to a role are incorporated in this model.  My initial answer was that this is, could and should be handled through the RPL process of the Training organisation which is involved in the model.  This is I think however not the entire picture of what is going on here and why, because really there are three things happening all of which may be heading towards different outcomes.

Firstly we have the person who comes to a role with a set of skills, knowledge and experience, some of which may be directly applicable to the role in question while others may not.  Secondly we have the organisation whose goal is to, at least at a base level, ensure that all of their staff have whatever minimum set of skills and knowledge they have decided is applicable.  Thirdly we have the RTO who is trying to tie all of these threads and others together and translate that into formal outcomes.  Now I have discussed some ideas around how this third piece might be achieved here, but I will discuss additional ideas here as well.

Lets start with the organisation whom the person is employed by.  There are two issues here, the first is that all organisations have a level of expectation in relation to the skills and knowledge of their employees and seek to have all of their employees at that level.  Additionally however even with industry transportable skills, there may be quite large differences in the way those skills are utilised or play out between different organisations.  For example it may be the case and often is that two different community service providers may be ustilising totally difference delivery and care models.  Both of these models will use and rely on the same set of skills and knowledge, however those same skills and how they relate to service delivery and care, how they are used and at what level will depend on the model and the employees place within that model. So these issues then in turn lead to the need to train people in ‘how we do things here,’ it also points to one of the biggest complaints organisations make about staff they hire who have been trained ‘generically’ by a provider; while they may have certain skills and knowledge they don’t possess the organisational mindset around how these skills are used.  This in turn of course leads to over training of staff, needless refresher courses and a range of other activities that are done in the name of compliance, but ultimately just cost the organisation money.

From the point of view of the individual coming into a role with an already established set of skills, they rightly or wrongly feel that they have the requisite skills and can, again rightly or wrongly be quite adverse to receiving training in those areas they already feel skilled in, giving rise to the cries of ‘I did this in my last organisation,’ or ‘I learnt all of this at uni.’

However, and I spoke about this a couple of years ago at the Edutech conference, a lot of organisations both big and small already have a lot of the information they need to manage this interface between employee, organisation and provider much more easily than they do, but either don’t know they have it or don’t know what to do with it.  A great many organisations out there capture resume, training, and qualification data on their employees when they commence and through their time with the organisation, but few of them use this data to its full potential particularly with respect to training needs analysis, skills and knowledge assessment, or even RPL or credit transfer and competency assessment.

If this data is properly stored and mined it can provide a wealth of information, particularly when added to more formal assessment, as to what training is necessary for each individual to undertake.  To give you a conceptual idea of what I mean, we could collect a whole range of information from a new employee, including things like qualifications, training they have under taken, responses to skill and knowledge questions, any testing which took part, in essence a whole range of information.  This information could then be filtered against not only internal training requirements, but accredited training requirements to form an individual map for each employee and their managers of that person journey from induction to qualification.  Of course this won’t be all that is required, particularly at the accredited qualification end of the scale, but having a map like that would assist everyone, the employee, the organisation and the RTO to produce the outcomes that all of the stakeholders require.

Vocational Education, Formal and Informal Learning, and Organisational Development

I wrote last week about the connection between L&D and VET and asked why L&D departments chose non-accredited training over accredited training even when the costs involved were much higher.  Two of the strongest comments that came through from the discussion were around the time it took to get people through an accredited program.  This was not necessarily a criticism of the system as it was well understood that the time it took was directly related to the robust nature of the Australian VET system.  The second comment was around the complexity and amount of paperwork which was involved in the system, particularly in relation to government-funded initiatives.

So I thought today I would look at how some of these issues can be addressed though a model of training delivery which incorporated, organisational learning and VET into the one picture.  This model has been utilised very successfully by a number of Enterprise RTO’s as well as by organisations utilising external RTO’s.  In order for this to work successfully there needs to be close collaboration between the RTO and the L&D department, which is why this tends to work so well within an enterprise environment, but as I have said with good collaboration it works equally well with an external provider.

The first idea behind this model is a simple one – L&D departments are going to run non-VET training for their staff.  The second idea is just as simple – it doesn’t matter where you learnt it as long as you can show that you are competent.  If we take these two ideas and combine them together into a model, this becomes a very powerful.  The organisation can deliver the training that it wants and needs for its staff and its staff can work their way through the system to end up with a Nationally Accredited Qualification if they want, or at the very least a set of Units of Competency.

So what is the model.  Below is an example of how the concept can work within a community services organisation.

2015-02-23_113932

 

All staff at all levels of the organisation go through a standard general induction, the standard who we are and what we do style program.  Once that is completed each business unit then has a separate induction program specific to their own needs and training requirements.  A small number of Units of competency can be built in at this level, the completion of which along with the rest of the induction program can be linked to the probation periods and extensions.  Once the induction training is completed there will be a set of training programs that everyone in the organisation will be expected to undertake, from generic programs  like Fire safety and Workplace health and safety to more organisationally focussed program such as in this case, mental health awareness and strength based practice. Along side this training there will also be business unit specific training which is also required, a disability support worker for example would need behavioural awareness training, where as a senior manager might be put through a more rigorous financial accountability program.  There will then be a range of programs delivered by and for the organisation which are available to all members of staff, these might be things like communication skills, crisis intervention skills, computer skills, and a range of other programs.  Once staff have completed all of the mandatory programs (both generic and unit specific) they can then undertake any of the training available within any policy constraints put in place by the organisation.

So all that has happened here is that the organisation and any associated training providers have simply delivered the training that they would have normally needed to deliver.  However if the RTO (be it internal or external) has mapped all of the training being delivered and looked at the assessments and what gaps are needed to be filled in order to meet the requirements of training package, what has actually happened is that the staff member has progressed quite a long way towards a qualification.  Now they may need to do some additional assessment work, on the job training or skills observations by their managers and supervisors, but they will, if they wish and this system seems to work best if it is voluntary for any extensions over what is mandatory, have accumulated a group of Units of competency.  From here the staff member can sit down with the RTO, their manager and anyone else who may have relevant input look at the range of qualifications that the units they currently have could lead them to and what they need to do to achieve them.  What this means for the staff member is that they may be able to achieve a number of qualifications, rather than just one, by doing a much smaller amount of additional work.  This also provides both the organisation and the staff member with a little bit more flexibility in terms of talent and career development options as well.  Someone who is moving towards a management track can be encouraged to take more management based units to fill out their qualification, rather than practice based units which might be more applicable for a frontline worker.

There are a number of very useful things which happen within this system (particularly when any additional assessment or learning is made voluntary)

  • organisational training can remain the same, additional assessment are simply plugged in for those staff who wish accredited outcomes
  • staff with existing qualifications do not need to do additional assessment over and above what is organisationally required
  • provides flexibility in the talent management pipeline
  • allows staff flexibility in terms of qualifications and training
  • reduces the cost of delivery and the time off work costs associated with accredited training.

A more generic example of the model can be seen below.

pathway

 

The adoption of a system such as this allows for all of the training both informal and formal that is undertaken by staff and delivered by the organisation to be utilised towards a qualification or set of units of competency.

Does our VET system work? I actually think it does.

So as most of you know I was out at the VET Reform consultations in Brisbane today.  (Thank you to Assistant Minister Birmingham, Peta, and the whole Vet Reform Taskforce crew, job well done.)  It was an interesting morning with a lot of conversation and discussion and a couple of comments and ideas actually stuck in my mind and I while I was digesting them on the way back to the office I asked myself a question.  “If I was building a national vocational education system what would it look like?”  The answer I came up with was something pretty much like what we have.  A system where the training is developed and maintained by industry bodies to meet the needs of the industries they represent.  A mix of public and non-public providers to deliver the training to meet the needs of organisations and individuals.  Government funding to assist with the priority areas for the ongoing workforce needs of the nation and a single national set of standards which governed the delivery of these qualifications by all providers.  So pretty much what we already have.

Now I am not saying that how the system operates is perfect for everyone and that there are not issues at some of the points along the way, but overall I think we have the structure right.  Not everyone agrees that the ISC’s are the right way to develop and maintain packages, a more ad hoc committee structure might work better, but I don’t think anyone is arguing that we don’t need to have the industry connection.  We are not debating the overall structure at a high level we are just debating exactly what the best way to achieve it is.  Sure there are providers and individuals (both public and non-public) out there who may not be doing the right thing, but that is an issue of governance not the structure.  Funding for programs may not always be what everyone thinks they should be, but again, that is about funding and Government priorities not structure.

We have a good, if not great system here, let’s make sure we don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.  Sure we can do things better, but is the system ever going to be perfect, no, no system ever is.  What we need to ensure is that we have a robust and sustainable system that provides the necessary outcomes for all of the stakeholders, everything else is just tinkering around the edges.

Connecting L&D and the VET Sector

We talk about VET as being industry led and aimed at the needs of industry and skilling of workers, yet in most organisations L&D departments spend large sums of money on non-accredited, sometimes overseas based programs to meet their staff training needs.  A few clear examples are

  1. Prince2 Project Management Training VS Certificate IV or above in project management
  2. The C.A.R.E and Sanctuary Models in Youth work VS Certificate IV or about in Child, Youth and Family intervention.

Why is an organisation happy to spend $250,000+ on a program from the USA, with no accredited outcomes, but not willing to spend the same amount on a VET program that provides or if well-constructed is able to provide the same kind of learning outcomes and more.

Why do organisations send staff to a 5 day Prince2 course costing close to $3000 dollars when they could undertake an entire Certificate IV in Project Management for the same or less?

While some of the answer here lies with brand, reputation and portability of qualification (particularly with say the Prince2 program which is recognised internationally), some of the answer also lies squarely at the feet of the VET sector and while some of the issues have to do with the construction of the training packages, how they are developed, others are directly concerned with how the VET industry interacts with organisations.

There is a lack of understanding of how VET works within industry and organisations, it is often viewed as being inflexible and focused on full qualifications, while what industry wants in flexibility and the ability to access and train their staff in particular skills or skill sets.  The VET industry also seems to fail at capturing and utilising well, all of the formal and in particular informal learning that occurs in organisations and converting that into accredited outcomes.  L&D departments have specific business goals that they need to meet and the VET sector needs to be able to intersect with those goals and offer solutions that are appealing in both in terms of outcomes and in terms of budgetary considerations.   Trying to sell an L&D manager a certificate IV in business program on the basis that it is government subsidised fails even though the cost might be much less than other options because it is not what they want.  They want time management for some staff, excel training for others, communications skills for yet others and they know that trying to sell the concept of a full qualification to the operational managers in the organisation will fail for the same reasons.  It is not what they want.

While full qualifications may make sense to individual students looking to participate in the workplace, improve their employment options or to make themselves more attractive in terms of promotions, it is rare, (or at least this seems to be the case anecdotally), that even with customisation of content and the importation of units to try to meet the organisations need, there are still gaps and things that are not needed.  I can’t count the number of times I have heard people say ‘Can’t we replace that Workplace health and safety unit with something more relevant?’  or ‘Why are these units in here, that is not how we do business, can’t we change them?’  Unfortunately as I have  before this often turns around on students who have done a generic program through a provider and are out looking for a new role or career.  On the surface the qualification looks ok, but when the potential employer looks into the units before deciding to make and offer or worse they find out later through an incident, that something that they consider critical to the operation of their business wasn’t covered, the whole qualification looks worthless as does the sector in general.

But what can we do about it how can we better connect the world of L&D to the world of VET.

Measuring outcomes in Vocational Education – Are we doing enough?

With the deadline for Total VET activity reporting fast approaching us my mind has turned to how we evaluate outcomes in Vocational Education in Australia, or at least the data that we collect nationally which seeks to provide us with information on the Vocational Education Industry in this country.  Now we all know and love the Learner Questionnaire and the Employer Questionnaire, but really what are we capturing here and is it really giving us any real useful information.  Lets be honest, when we look at the Questionnaire’s, even the employer one, they really nothing more simple level one satisfaction (smile) sheets and anyone who has been in the L&D industry for even a few weeks knows how resounding useless smile sheets are if you want to convince anyone about anything that has to do with training.  Now I know that these are only one source of data, but if I had used that sort of data to convince an executive team as to why they should invest in a learning program I would have been laughed out of the boardroom.

If we look at the well know Kirkpatrick model of evaluation with its four levels

  1. Reaction.
  2. Learning.
  3. Behavior.
  4. Results.

realistically here all we are doing is evaluating reaction.  We are not really looking at anything that comes close to the other 3 steps, at least not on any consistent regular basis.  Now of course, someone could suggest that levels 2-4 and even level 5 (ROI) if we want to include that is something that should be done in the organisations that are sending their employees to be trained and that is a fair point and I would suggest that most organisations with L&D units are already doing this.  However, what about all of the people who are undertaking training not at the behest of their employer, they may be unemployed, casual, wanting to change careers, we seem not to be collecting and analysing any higher level data on these people.  We also seem not to be asking those employers who are collecting robust data on the learning of their employees for their data either.  Now admittedly in Queensland, and this may be the case in other states as well there is some collection being done of employment outcomes for students undertaking funded programs, but really if we are trying make a better system don’t we need some real data to allow us to make decisions about what is working and what isn’t.  (if we are collecting this data and someone knows about it and how we are doing it please let me know)  I come back again to the point that if I was to try and justify an organisational L&D budget on the kinds of data that is being collected on training, I would be told to go away and come up with some real figures.

So what should we be capturing, If we look at the Kirkpatrick model (I will talk about some other options later)  we should at least be capturing whether or not the student actually learnt something, where the learning objectives met, and how much change has there been in their skills, knowledge or attitude.  Now of course to do this properly, we need to collect data before and after training, and it could be suggested that by virtue of the person going from not having a qualification to having a qualification (becoming competent) that there is an increase in knowledge, but is this actually the case, has their actually be a change in the persons skills, knowledge or attitude.  With the data we are collecting at the moment we just don’t know we are making assumptions, but without good data those assumptions could very well be wrong.

What about whether or not we are seeing any changes in behaviour, are the learners putting what they ‘learnt’ into action in the workplace, are their behaviours changing as a result of the training that was delivered to them.  This is not something that can be answered with a smile sheet at the end of training, or an employer questionnaire with general questions about perceived improvement.  This is data that needs to be collected once the learner has been in the workplace for a while, once they have had time to adjust and integrate their new learnings into their work environment.

Then of course there is the question of what the result was, did this training improve anything organisationally, on a state level, on a national level.  Was it good for the organisation, the country, the learners, the bottom line, whatever.  We need to figure out what areas we a seeking to see improvements in and then track and see whether or not we are seeing those improvements.  Again this is a step up in complexity in terms of the types of data needed and how we might collect it.

Finally of course there is the question of Return on Investment.  It lets us begin to answer the question, has the billions of dollars the government has handed out in VET-FEE HELP and other programs and the money spent by business and organisations on top of that has been worth it, have we got the return on that money that we expected or did it just swirl away into a black hole where it didn’t improve anything which we would consider enough to measure.

Is all of this easy to do? No.  Am I suggesting that the reporting requirements on RTO’s change so that they are required to capture a whole range of additional data over a timeframe long after the student has finished their courses?  No.  Am I suggesting that perhaps we need to do a yearly survey, akin to the kind done by ATD (what was ASTD) on the state of learning, and include employers, organisations, training providers and learners and try to ask them some serious questions?  Maybe.  Am I suggesting we need to do more with this so called big data thing that has been talked about so much?  Maybe.  I don’t have a definitive answer, I just think we need to be doing more if we really want to capture the true outcomes from our Vocational Education system.

 

My First 90 days #first90 – A repost from linkedin

I wrote this piece a couple of days ago on Linkedin and thought I would share it hear as well.

http://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-first-90-days-just-yourself-first90-paul-rasmussen

 

#First90

It is really tempting I think whenever you are starting a new role to want to show yourself in the best light, to be the best person you can be, to try and really fit and become part of the company culture. The problem is that sometimes what we end up doing is giving people a false impression of what we are like, of how to approach us and of how we work.

My single biggest piece of advice is that from day one follow just one simple rule

Be Yourself

Why? You are either going to fit or you are not, and the company hired you so they must have at least thought there was a good chance you were going to fit and in the long run if it is not going to work out for either you or the organisation would not it be better if everyone realised it as early on as possible when everyone can cut there losses with the minimum of damage.

There is also another much stronger reason for adopting this simple rule as well. You just might find that your job becomes far more than that, it becomes some where where get to enjoy what you do, form strong relationships and most of all actually have one.

 

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