So why do we still have more than one regulator in VET

I mean, lets get serious for a second here, ASQA has been the ‘national regulator’ for over 3 years now, and as from 1 April 2015, all RTOs are covered by the same set of standards so why, why are the separate regulators for Victoria and Western Australia.  Can someone please explain it to me because surely it can’t simply be these two states simply trying to flex their states rights muscles, and given that they only regulate those RTOs that only do business in their respective states it can’t be about the generation of income.  I for one am dumbfounded that we still have this ridiculous situation where some RTOs are not regulated by the National Regulator, for what to me at least has nothing to do with quality or costs or anything like that and far more to do with political points scoring and control.

It is not like ASQA is new or that there are different sets of standards (That dumbfounded me as well but that is a different story).  I know when ASQA first started that Queensland took a cautious approach and waited 12 months before referring powers, but it has been over 3 years now people, get with the program.  It can’t be  about quality, because first off everyone is governed by the same standards and secondly surely consistency of auditing and quality is better served by having a single regulator, whose job it is to make sure that all of their auditors apply the standards in a consistent way.

Now I know some people have a negative view of ASQA, but I and a lot of other people in the sector really have found them to fantastic, particularly in the last 12 months and when I see reports like the recent one from Victoria about the state government cracking down on dodgy providers accessing government funding, I can’ t help but ask myself, how many of these dodgy providers are regulated by ASQA and how many are regulated by Victoria.

So unless someone can show me an actual, real, logical, viable reason why we should have two states that are not regulated by ASQA, then Victoria and Western Australian, need to bite the bullet, suck it up, stop playing political games or whatever the hell they are doing and join the rest of us.

The sooner we have one single national regulator for everyone the better.

Anyway that’s just my opinion

Paying for VET – The funding equation

So I have been thinking a fair bit recently about funding in the VET sector and different models and approaches.  A lot of this has been prompted by the release of the new QLD VET investment program and the issues with what has happened with funding in South Australia and the discussions about that, as well as the recent comments by Senator Birmingham and some of the insights which came out of the panel I chaired at EduTech.

As we are all aware there are a range of ways in which VET is paid for in Australia from income contingent loans (yes I know they are not technically funding as such but let’s go with it anyway), to skills shortage lists and priority areas, individual based funding and programs aimed at producing specific outcomes for specific groups.  When we add to this direct funding for public providers in what ever form that takes and apprenticeship and traineeship schemes it is no wonder the average person has difficulty in figuring out who is paying for what.

Firstly lets consider income contingent loans (VET-FEE HELP). I am actually a proponent of this style of ‘funding’ particularly for higher level programs and to be honest if it wasn’t for this kind of system I would never have got the education that I currently have (admittedly my education is from the Higher Education sector rather than VET but the same principle applies).  The advantage to these programs is that it allows people to undertake the study that they wish to, without relying on whether or not that funding is considered to be a priority by the government.  It allows a strong freedom of choice around both what is studied and where and how that study is undertaken.   There are of course problems with this style of system (outside of issues around the cost of a program) the biggest of which is that employment outcomes from these programs may not be as high as they are in other more directed programs.  Why?  Well because people get to choose what it is that they want to study regardless of whether or not there will be an employment outcome at the end of the program.  Is this really a problem though?  I am not so sure that it is, providing people entering into these courses of study understand that there may not be a significant employment outcome for them as a result of undertaking the course, or that they may need to take employment in a different area first, before they are able to utilise their chosen program of study.

What about so-called entitlement style funding, where individuals who meet certain criteria are able to have their training subsidised  by the government.  This funding is almost always tied to those skills shortage and priority occupations lists, which means that while an individual may be able to obtain their training for a very small out-of-pocket expense, they are limited in the areas in which they can study, if they meet the eligibility criteria.  This kind of funding is interesting because it accounts for a fair proportion of the funding provided to the sector by the State governments and different people in different states may therefore have not only different eligibility criteria, but also a different choice of programs which they can undertake, as well as differing choices around providers and co-contribution rates.  The upside of these programs, if well-managed and run would seem to be a much stronger connection to employment outcomes and workforce participation particularly at more entry-level positions, the problems of course are that not everyone will meet the eligibility criteria and even for those people who do, the courses which are available to them, may not the courses which they wish to undertake.

Specific purpose programs (like Queensland’s Skilling Queenslanders for work program) are similar to entitlement style programs, with one key difference, they are designed with usually quite specific outcomes in mind.  If we take the Queensland program as an example, it is heavily focused on youth, particularly those youth are disadvantaged in some way and entry-level qualifications.  It is designed to increase the level of workforce participation in group which currently has a high level of unemployment.  Of course youth (people under 25) are not the only targets of these programs, they are also targeted at anyone who is disadvantaged and who has had difficulty in obtaining work (medium to long-term unemployed).  There are a couple of advantages to these sorts of programs, firstly they are designed and funded with a specific outcome, which usually means more funding for supporting services which may assist students to actually achieve the result that the program is designed around.  Being specifically designed also means that providers and other who are involved also have a very clear idea of what the goals of the program are and what they need to achieve.  The disadvantages are the same of those for entitlement style funding in that there are very specific criteria for participation and in terms of what programs are offered.

Traineeships and Apprenticeships are a slightly different fish from the other styles of funding, primarily because before being able to access these types of funding one must be employed or employed as part of the program.  They also in most cases carry an incentive component for the employer in order for make it more attractive for them to take on a trainee (and the additional costs which may be associated with them) than may have normally been the case.  The advantages to these programs are obvious, people are employed as a result of them and they are specifically aimed at the student completing the qualification in question and continuing to be part of the workforce.  The problem with these programs tends to be the amount of paperwork and regulation involved for all parties concerned.

Then finally we have direct funding to public providers.  I am going to be really open here and say that I think that the vast majority of funding for VET should be contestable.  It should go to the provider who is chosen by individuals and employers, sectioning off parts of funding programs specifically for the public providers simply limit choice and creates state-run monopolies.  That being said however I sincerely believe that there should be funding provided to TAFE, it should however be transparent, not hidden under quotas and things like that.  It should also be for specific purposes, where there is market failure, or where there is a lack of providers, or specific skills or facilities are required.  There should also be funding for the up keep of government-owned assets (where those assets are being utilised or are needed for the future.  However like with non-public providers operational expenses should be met through the utilisation of  contestable funding and fee for service delivery.

So the question which comes from all of this for me is what works best and is there any realistic way in which we could simplify things to make things easier for everyone.  Problematically I don’t think there is, each of the styles of funding have a specific purpose behind them, which also means that it is difficult to determine whether one type of funding is better than another.  I do however think that often entitlement style programs are the most problematic, primarily because of the occupation and course lists which support them.  For these style of funding programs to be effective there needs to be a tight link between the courses on offer and the needs of the workforce, because if there is not they are doomed to not meet the needs of anyone.  The other issue with these style of programs is getting the eligibility criteria right, one of the criticisms of the higher skills part of the QLD VET investment plan is that holding a Certificate IV  in anything disqualifies you from gaining funding for a diploma or above level qualification, regardless of whether or not it is a qualification in the same sector.   Now I am not suggesting that these types of funding aren’t useful and don’t have a place, they do, governments just need to be very careful about the programs they subsidise and the criteria for students.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

Queensland VET Investment Plan 2015-16

Well Minister Yvette D’Ath and the team at DET in Queensland have released the Queensland VET investment Plan for 2015-16 on Friday.  And I have to say that the Minister has delivered on everything that she promised.  This is particularly delightful given the recent debacle which occurred in South Australia

Firstly the current PQS RTOs have had their contracts renewed until 30 June 2016, which provides some, certainty and stability in the market place that had been missing over the last few months.

So what has the government and what does the plan look like.  As with previous years the majority of funding is in the form of demand driven arrangements, the key points are as follows;

  • a network of quality registered training organisations (RTOs) pre-approved by DET (pre-qualified suppliers) to deliver eligible training and assessment services.
  • choice for individuals and employers to select the qualification, and the pre-qualified supplier, that best meets their needs in terms of delivery strategy, value for money, and potential for securing employment
  • published subsidy levels for all subsidised qualifications or skill sets reflecting the level of government contribution toward the cost of training, influenced by priority and relative cost to deliver
  • co-contribution to the cost of training by individuals, employers and/or industry.

This demand driven funding is backed up by programs such as Skilling Queenslanders for work and direct allocations of funds to the public provider TAFE.  This is all very much in line with what the government and the Minister have been discussing over the last couple of months.

However talking about the model for delivery is very different from funding that model, so to coin a phrase, ‘Show me the money’ and to be completely fair the government has in my opinion stepped up.  There is a total increase in VET investment from $615-754 Million, with and extra $50 million going into the contestable demand driven Certificate III guarantee program.  With $20 Million extra to User Choice and $5 million more to both higher skills and public provider grants alongside the $60 million Skilling Queenslanders package, we are seeing a substantial and well-rounded program of investment from the QLD government, with importantly I think for everyone no surprises.

The only thing I would point to as a slight disappointment is the eligibility problem that I have spoken about before, but given the thrust of the program and the underlying principles are primarily about those who are unemployed or under employed, I can understand it and live with it.

So all in all congratulations against the Minister and the Department for a sensible, well funding, VET investment program.  Well Done.

 

 

Is a $15,000 Diploma better than a $5,000 one?

NO

Whether a Diploma of Counselling for example costs you $5,000 (and sometimes even less) or $15,000 the qualification you get at the end is the same.  They are both assessed against the same criteria with the same evidence requirements and delivered by a providers that all operate under the same standards and the same legislation.  They are identical.

Let me tell you a little story, in 2012, when I was the Chief Learning Officer at a very large NFP which was also a RTO, who not only did internal training, but also a fairly high volume of training for external clients as well, we increased our scope to include some new Diploma and Advanced Diploma level courses at the same time as applying for funding under the then National Workforce Development fund.  There was a huge amount of discussion at the time about pricing, what was fair and reasonable, where the market was, what level of funding the government would accept and a range of other issues.  So in the long run we settled on $5,000 for our Diploma level Qualifications and between $8-10,000 for our advanced diplomas, which was pretty much the standard in the sector at the time.    That was 3 years ago.  

We have seen a 300% rise in the costs of Diploma’s in 3 years

I mean really, even house prices don’t go up that quickly in an inner Sydney suburb.  The real rub here is that nothing else apart from the cost has changed, nothing at all.

So back to my initial question.  I get really quite upset when people say that a $15,000 Diploma is better than a $5,000 one.  The Diploma’s and advanced diploma’s at the provider I now run, range from $3,500 to $9,000. We are of course part of a larger community services organisation, we own our own facilities and have quite a lean flat structure and the reason we try to keep our prices lower is because we believe in community inclusion and that everyone deserves a chance to be able to do the things in life that want and need to help them grow and prosper and that includes learning. We as a NFP make a modest surplus because after all we need to be sustainable (it’s not for profit not for a loss after all), have state of the art equipment in all of training facility, and in terms of our online services,  pay our staff well and have outstanding completion and employment outcomes for our students, both are over 90% .  The only difference between a Diploma with us and Diploma with someone else is the profit margin.

Well that is not entirely true, I would stake our training and outcomes against all comers.  Our training is done within an organisation that delivers, mental health and disability support, counselling, health and fitness and a range of other services.  Students are embedded in culture of community services from the time they walk in the door, and this is the case with almost all of the NFP providers out there.  Now I am sure that there are some shonky providers at the lower price end of the market, just as I am sure there are some high quality providers at the high profit end of the market, but judging the value and worth of a qualification in the price you paid for it (even if that price is a loan you are never likely to repay) is an exceedingly stupid way to decided on where you are going to get a quality education.

Anyway that is just my opinion.

Intersecting VET and L&D

In response to some discussions around models for the delivery of non-accredited training along side nationally accredited training and why L&D departments choose non-accredited training over accredited I thought that I might pull some of the threads of posts and bits and pieces together so that they were all in one place.

The Learning and Development and Vocational Education Disconnect

Australia has one of the best Vocational education systems in the world.  It is well generally well respected and provides both individuals and organisation with nationally accredited outcomes and qualifications, which are transportable across industry and provide a mark of competence against a defined set of criteria.

So why then do organisations make choices like these?

  1. $3000 for a Prince2 Course over $3000 for a Certificate IV in Project Management
  2. $250,000 for the C.A.R.E program as opposed to a Certificate IV in Child, Youth and Family Intervention.

This paper will look at the reasons behind the choices that are made by Learning and Development professionals working in organisation, the drivers and considerations and how that effects the usage of the Australian Vocational education system.  It will also consider the drivers from the VET sector, both at strategic and coal face levels that tend to perpetuate and reinforce the decisions made by organisations.  The disconnection between these two sides of the equation will be evaluated and model developed which can assist both organisations and training providers to be better able to communicate and meet learning needs, both at an organisational and individual level.

In order to do this it will be first necessary to look at what motivate the purchasing decisions of organisations with respect to training.  What causes an organisation to choose one learning program over another, this is of particular interest when the price points of the various learning programs in question are often very similar.  In addition to the choice of program there will also be a discussion around the choosing of providers for the delivery of learning programs and how the choice of provider can affect the purchasing decision.  The purpose of training from both the organisation and the individual will also need to be considered.

Once the organisational side of the equation has been considered we will move to the provider or VET side and consider both the strategic and coal face positioning which tend to put the VET sector at odds with the need of industry and organisations.  In order to do this there will need to be a consideration of what is the purpose of training from the point of view of the VET sector and the business and funding models which have been adopted in the sector as this it will be seen, is one of the key issues in translating VET training into organisational learning. In addition issues around the pricing of programs, delivery methods, facilitator qualifications and experience, reputation and brand will also be considered as again all of these have the effect of creating a disconnection between needs of the organisation and VET sector.

With the disconnection considered and understood and the issues which cause it out in the open, the discussion can move to looking at a range of strategies, particularly from the Training organisation side of the equation which can assist to overcome this disconnection.  There will also be a limited discussion as to what could be done on the L&D side to assist in overcoming this disconnection, but as we will see this is a problem which is best address at the VET sector side of the equation as they possess a level of flexibility (even if they don’t know it) which can easily navigate creating a better connection.

Once all of this has been discussed a model will be presented which can assist all of the stakeholders involved in the process to better understand the part they play and to provide a framework upon which to build their own unique structures.

Issues for Learning and Development Staff

 

Organisational learning is an unwieldy beast at the best of times and the Learning and Development professionals who attempt to herd this group of cats are always looking for ways to meet the needs of the both the organisation and its staff.

So let us go back to the initial question that I posed right at the start.  Given that Australia has a robust and well respected vocational education system, why then do organisations make choices like these?

  1. $3000 for a Prince2 Course over $3000 for a Certificate IV in Project Management
  2. $250,000 for the C.A.R.E program as opposed to a Certificate IV in Child, Youth and Family Intervention.

If we consider the first example, why would an individual or an organisation choose to spend the same amount of money on a program that in its own words, simply provides a methodology for project management over a course which would provide them with the actual skills and knowledge needed to run a project?  In example two, why would an organisation spend a large sum of money of training that has been developed in another country, does not have rigorous assessment and competency standards attached to it and while used widely, is not considered to be the industry standard, rather it is just one model amongst a number of models and offers staff little transference of skills should they move to another organisation which does not utilise that model?

There is as would be expected not a single answer or factor that is behind choices like these however there are a number of commonalities which we can consider and address in order to ensure the best possible chance of connection between the two sectors.

The first and probably the most obvious reason or factor present in decisions like these, relates to timeframes.  Most L&D departments are under pressure to deliver programs in quite short timeframes, (Can I have that as a half day?) which I have explored in other works.  There is almost always a pressure from the business to ensure that staff are not taken ‘off the job’ for more time than is actually necessary.  In this way a program that runs for five consecutive days and then is finished may be preferable to a program that runs for 6-12 months even if it only runs one day a month.  The logistics around making staff available are easier for one off programs.  In a lot of cases particularly where the person is in direct client facing roles, other staff have to be moved around or rostered in order to allow for a staff member to go on a training course.  It is also often the case with VET training that there will be work that the staff member is required after the delivery of the program itself to meet the assessment criteria of the program.  This then in a significant number of cases leads to the staff member applying to have some of their work time allocated to completing their study which in turn puts addition time and resource pressure on the business manager.

The other time related factor which often comes into play here as well is that of the time commitment necessary from any managers, supervisors or team leaders involved with the staff who are undergoing training. With most professional development programs as opposed to national accredited programs there is little or no involvement needed from the supervisory staff of those undertaking training.  However this is in most cases not the same situation when we look at VET training.  There is almost always in the case of VET training a requirement of ‘on the job’ observation or training which needs to be undertaken with the staff members in question.  This is often further exacerbated where the manager or supervisors are not in the same workplace as the staff requiring supervision and observation and by the by the fact that often these activities have to happen on more than one occasion for each participant.

There is also the issue of the time involved for the individual L&D staff members, with professional development style programs there is often not a lot of additional work which they are required to undertake.  Again this is often not the case with VET training, in particular where the training program being delivered is not simply a generic program.  There is time spent consulting with the RTO around the content of the program, looking at what needs to contextualised to the particular business unit or units who are being trained, signing off on paperwork, which it of particular relevance where VET training is being delivered through a funding or subsidy program such as an apprenticeship or traineeship scheme.

Even if we just consider the issue of time it can be seen why a lot of organisations and L&D units would opt for short course professional development style programs, where the time and resource costs are quite low over nationally accredited training.

Learning and Development staff are often asked by the business what the Return on Investment (ROI) was for training that was delivered, either in terms of particular programs or as whole.  Unfortunately one of the things that RTO’s in general do not do particularly well, and we even see this at a national level is terms of the kinds of data that is collected, is evaluate their training well.  In fact it seems that the data that is often collected is often not the data that organisations are even interested in.  We find that completion rates data is collected almost all of the time, yet only 33% of organisations view it as being valuable data.  Yet we see that data around job and business impact is rarely collected but is rated as extremely valuable by organisations.

Often training providers in the professional development market have developed systems to make it as easy as possible for them to collect the kinds of data that organisations view as valuable and have large stores of this data which they can utilise to be able to show that there are (or appear to be) very solid business reasons in terms of ROI and other measures for an organisation to invest in their training programs.  When the collected by most RTO’s or even by the government through agencies such as NCVER is put against this data it is lacking and does not offer a compelling case for and organisation to choose VET training over professional development training.

The issue of data is one that also ties into another big issue which is that of brand and reputation.  If we consider Prince2 training, 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?  One of the most powerful and 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. When we consider the Brand strength of VET against this background again it can be seen why organisation and individuals would choose Prince2 over VET.  Now while it may be true that the brand strength of individual providers or particular programs could be quite high, when faced with an initial choice about which program to choose the overall strength of the Prince2 brand overshadows the strength of the overall VET brand.  Add to this the issue that a lot of people in organisations and even in L&D departments do not understand the VET sector and how it works and are often confused by the rules and regulation, the choice seems even easier to make.

Given that L&D departments, even very large ones, are often both resource and finance poor in relative terms, one might think that offering a government subsidised training program or a program that came with financial incentives for the organisation itself, may well swing the pendulum back to the RTO side of the equation.  Unfortunately there are a number of reasons why this is not the case.  One of these is of course perception of value.  If something if free, incentivized or subsidised then there is always the possibility of it being seen as being less valuable, though of course this is not always the case.  This however is not the main reason here, the main problem is that of business or organizational fit and need.  When I was running an L&D department responsible for the delivery of training to more than 35,000 staff, it was not uncommon for me to receive between 3 and 10 phone calls a week from training providers, both RTO’s and not.  The difference between the two groups approach was very stark, in most cases the RTO lead with words around free training, government subsidies, and incentives for the organisation, essentially they were selling the money.  They were wanting me to buy the programs that they were funded to deliver now there is nothing wrong with that at all, except I was necessarily interested in putting staff through a whole Diploma of Management when all they really needed was a course on communications skills.  Now the approach from the other training organisations was more often than not the exact opposite.  They asked me what it was that our staff needed, what was the biggest issue we had and questions like that.  Also where they couldn’t meet the need that we had, they would point us in the direction of someone else who could rather than attempting to fix us into the box that they had already drawn.  The point is that for organisations in particular and even for a significant number of individuals it is about business need, it is about the skills and knowledge they require, it is not about the qualification.  Also and this is very much and organizational mindset but it also applies to individuals as well, they would rather spend the money to get exactly what they want, rather than get something that is not  exactly what they want but is free.

When we take all of these issues, in conjunction with the perception that VET programs are difficult at access administer and manage (whether it is true or not)  it is easy to see why both organisations and individuals might choose non-accredited professional development programs.

So why choose VET

So given all of the issues above why would an organisation choose to send its staff to a nationally accredited VET programs, what would prompt someone to choose a certificate IV in project management over a Prince2 Foundation program.  The answers are as you would expect fairly straightforward.

One of the most significant reasons for organisations choosing to have their staff undertake VET programs is the robustness of the system, particularly in terms of assessment of competence.  Unlike the vast majority of professional development programs which staff attend, accredited training has actual assessment which the student is required to undertake, which are then marked against standardised criteria to determine that persons competence.  This is particularly attractive to organisations who work in areas which could be considered to be high risk or where parts of the business deal in high risk areas.  Should something tragic occur within an organisation which results in the serious injury or death and the organisation needs to testify about the competence of its staff, being able to say that staff had undertaken nationally accredited and been deemed competent, is far more potent than saying that they attended a 2 day course with no assessment of competence.

Probably the next most significant reason for choosing a VET program is reputation, not the reputation of the VET brand in general, although the stronger the general VET brand is the better, but the reputation of the individual RTO and its relationship with the organisation.  Most managers and organisations and even L&D specialists have very little idea of who provides good training by just looking at a website, talking to a sales person, looking at government statistics or reading a brochure.  It is all really the same at that level there is no difference and everyone can claim to be the best at what they do.  If I had a dollar for every time someone had sent me an email or pick up the phone and asked me “So is this training course any good?” I would be a far richer man than I am.

Now if the program costs $50-$100, it’s a half a day and only one person is going the risk is not too great.  You could even use them as a test case, to evaluate the program and report back.  However, what it the training is $3000 per person or 250 staff want to do it.  That changes the ball game very rapidly, and as the spend goes from thousands to tens of thousands and sometimes even beyond the need for there to be something, other than just a certificate (even a nationally accredited one) becomes more and more important.

This is why reputation in the marketplace, connection and networks are so vitally important.  If you are just one of five people who rang the L&D person this week offering them free management training, there has got to be something that is going to separate you from the rest.  If there isn’t you are not going to get past the first phone call.

Part of building that reputation or making yourself stand out and be different is to do the other things that L&D people, managers and organisations want you to be able to do.

  1. Customisation, and
  2. Integration

Let’s look at customisation first.  A lot of the training providers talk endlessly about their ability to customise a program to meet the needs of an organisation.  How many of them actually do, I think unfortunately, or fortunately for those who do, not many.  Often customisation means nothing more than choosing different electives, although not too different or there might not be someone able to train them. Just changing electives however is not customisation, customisation is building the training program in such a way that it achieves the goals that the organisation wants.  It is about using their documents, their policies, their procedures.  It is about building a program that produces a participant who has the skill set that the organisation requires and is able to utilise them.  The complaint about this kind of customisation is that you still have to do what the training package says, they have to be assessed on the performance criteria.  That is true, but I don’t think that anyone ever said that that was all a program had to contain.  It doesn’t say anywhere in the packages that you cannot add additional information or assessment or training.  What it say is that this set of skills and knowledge, assessed against this set of performance criteria is the evidence that is required to deem this person competent in this Unit of Competency.  The other issue that is often bought up is where there is something in the performance criteria that for whatever reason the organisation doesn’t do or do completely differently.  An example of this is a unit of competency around strength based practice in support work and counselling.  There is a process mentioned in the performance criteria which while correct and used by a lot of practitioners, is probably not used, described differently, used differently, by equally many practitioners.  So (leaving aside questions whether or not the criteria should actually even be in the unit) what does customisation look like here for an organisation that doesn’t use it as to meet the performance criteria you can’t leave it out.  You simply do both and assess both, and tell the students that one is preferred method where they work now, but there are other organisations which prefer to use the other method.  Is it a little more work?  Yes, but it will also make the organisation much happier than saying well we have to teach them this method because that is what the training package says and then let them come up with a solution around how to train their staff in their preferred method.

Customisation is actually an enormous strength within the VET system as opposed to many of the other proprietary training programs that are out there, most of which can’t be changed and customised to suit particular circumstance, because the material is copyrighted and licensed and often the people delivering the training have no say in the content because of this and in order to meet the criteria of the provider that owns the program they have to do things in a particular way, over a particular number of hours or days.  Everything is tightly controlled.  This should not be taken to mean that we can and should ignore the rules of the VET sector, things like Volume of Learning, rules relating to assessment and evidence, however the space circumscribed by those rules allows us much more latitude to be able to develop and deliver a program that meets the needs of our clients than most licensed training would ever be able to do.

The other enormous strength of the VET system in Australia is its ability to integrate with what is already being delivered and done within an organisation as well as with training which comes from other sectors of the market, outside of VET.  This is because for the most part the Australian VET system is content free, it does not worry where your knowledge comes from or how you acquire it, it is simply concerned with a student’s ability to meet the demands of the performance criteria.  This makes it extremely flexible and able to integrate into a wide variety organisational training plans and structures.

The concept of how integration works is quite simple.  It relies however on combining what I said above, that it doesn’t matter to the VET system where you learnt something, just that you can show that you’re competent and the fact that L&D departments are going to run non-VET training for their staff.  In fact in most organisations the amount of non-VET training which is run far outweighs the amount of accredited training that is delivered.

So if we look again at the example of the community services organisation which is utilising an overseas training product to ensure their staff have the skills and knowledge that they feel they need to have.  Now at a very basic level we can take the training product in question and whatever assessments form part of it (if any) and map this information across to for example a Diploma of Child, Youth and Family Intervention.  Now certainly we may need to add additional assessment pieces, including things such as workplace observations in order to ensure that we have enough evidence of competence to meet the requirements of the training package.  From there staff can go through the non-VET training just as they would have previously, undertake the additional assessment tasks which are necessary and any other work and assessment which may be necessary and then at the end of the process not only have they successfully completed the training the organisation requires, they have obtained a nationally accredited outcome from that training as well. This is of course a win from everyone who is involved in the process.  The staff get a transportable, recognisable qualification, the organisation gets it staff trained in the program that they require and the RTO gets business that it would not have otherwise got.

This concept of integration can be taken much further however.  Rather than simply looking at the outcomes of any particular course or program we can look at the overall picture of training within the organisation and create a model of delivery which further improves the outcomes of process.

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

2015-02-23_113932

 

So how does this all work?  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. Alongside 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, and 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

 

Now admittedly in order to make this sort of model work effectively there needs to be very close collaboration between all of the stakeholders in the process, particularly the RTO and the L&D staff.  However, once implemented a system like this delivers a wide range of outcomes for everyone involved.  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.

 

Challenges for VET providers

There are a number of challenges which exist in trying to intersect the needs of L&D with the needs of VET providers and unfortunately a lot of these challenges relate to the mindset of the people involved on the VET side of the equation.  As I have suggested earlier one of the problems is that the VET sector often thinks in terms of Qualifications and what is funded and what is not and try and sell the qualification they think might be the best fit, or more often than not the qualification that they have on their scope rather than providing what it is that the business needs.  So the question that VET providers need to ask themselves is a simple one ‘Are you the same as the last guy?’

Ask yourself this, ‘Are you just another provider delivering Management, Community Services, Hospitality, construction or some other set of qualifications? Are you actually doing something different or are your programs, approach, materials and delivery just the same as the RTO or TAFE down the road?  If they are than you might have a problem.  If your selling point is price, or that the training is free or heavily subsidised then you might have a problem as well, simply because you are not, in most cases the only choice out there that organisations have.

  • What is it that you do that is actually different from the RTO down the road?
  • What is it that you do exceptionally well?
  • What are the Big, Brand Ready skills of your people?

Providers also need to look at what they are ‘selling’ and how it is packaged.  Are you the fifth person this week who is going to talk about the Diploma of Management, or the first person to talk about your customisable leadership and management development program?  Here is an example of what the right branding and wording can do for a program.

Boring – Community Sector team leadership skill set

  • Long winded and difficult to get buy in for because no one knows what it means
  • Low price point due the sector always claiming to have insufficient money
  • Low numbers of attendees

Rebranded – Health Leaders Program

  • Partnered with Gym (they provide the healthy)
  • Accredited outcomes are optional, participants choose to be assessed
  • Marketed the skill and knowledge outcomes not the unit outcomes
  • Strong Brand – ‘Strong – Skilled – Successful
  • Much higher price point (claims of having no money disappeared)
  • A tailored experience for all participants and organisations
  • Extension of market to outside of community services
  • Much higher attendee numbers

A few simple changes and a realignment of thinking took the program from one which had an intake of about 30 participants per year at about $695 per participant to one which enrolled 160 participants last year at an average price point of $3260 per participant.  All of this because it was targeted at a perceived need for organisations rather than as simply an accredited program.

Now I am not suggesting that rebranding and repackaging something is always going to have this effect or that this kind of process is appropriate for everything and every kind of program it does being to point out something important.  There is an old saying that comes from the world of sales which is

Sell the Sizzle not the Steak

Remember the steak is the qualification or accredited outcome, the sizzle however is why it is important to the organisation or individual.  The other point to be made here is that cost and subsidies are often less important that organisational need and fit.  So what is the sizzle and what isn’t

The Sizzle isn’t;

  • We put 20 staff through a Certificate IV in Frontline management;
  • All of our support staff have a Diploma of Counselling; or
  • 75% of our managers have completed a Certificate IV in Project Management.

Why aren’t these the sizzle?  Well because whoever has paid for this is likely to ask and expect answers to things like;

  • What is our percentage increase in sales as a result of that program;
  • Have we seen a decrease in client behavioural issues;
  • Good, so we have seen a reduction in cost overruns and are meeting project deadlines?

So don’t start by telling L&D people what qualifications you offer or what subsidies are available, ask them instead what their biggest issue is right now and show them how you can solve it.  However, there is an important addendum to this and that is if you can’t solve it and solve it well – tell them and walk away, unless you know someone else who you know can solve it.  Remember if you hand them off to someone who you know and trust to help them, they will remember you both.

EduTech VET Leaders Congress – A Quick Roundup

So the EduTech VET leaders congress is over for 2015 and as most of you know I was the chair of the congress for the two-days.  So I thought for both those of you who were they are everyone else I might give a quick roundup of some of highlights and some of the more interesting discussions that came out of the congress.  One of the most interesting talks of the two days I think was Simon Breakspear’s talk on Wednesday morning on equipping VET teachers to harness digital technologies.  What particularly resonated with me was that just adding technology to a course or a program does nothing to help learning or completions, there has to be a purpose to the technology and it has to linked to the outcomes of the course.  We should always be asking ourselves how does this technology assist learner outcomes.

Also really interesting were the last two speakers on both days of the congress, who both talked about working with disadvantaged groups  of learners and the challenges associated with particularly building those basic level skills which are often missing for a lot of these clients.  Given that we do a lot of work with that client group, it was good to hear some of the solutions that others had come up with, particularly utilising video conferencing as means of delivering training to groups in different locations, having the facilitator in one location and the learner groups in other locations, so that they still get both the experience of working together as a group and the face to face facilitation model of delivery that is often really needed with these groups.

The other really interesting talk for me was Phil Loveder from NCVER talking about the future trends for the sector approaching 2020, as  lot of people at various streams of the conference said openly, between now and 2020 there is not going to be a lot significant changes it will be just a continuation of the directions we are currently heading.  It was also interesting to hear that the VET courses that currently have the most enrollments, community services, construction, retail, health are the same areas where there is going to be increasing demand as we approach 2020 , which seems to bode well for us to be able to meet the jobs needs in those areas.

The panel discussion on Tuesday where we discussed funding issues in the sector also raised a number of important issues, including on from Rory O’Brien about the difficulty that TAFE in NSW had had in adapting to the new Smart and Skilled program particularly around the reporting requirements required for payments to flow through under the scheme.  There was also quite a good discussion about the need to rethink entitlement lists of priority occupations as a means of funding, unless they were really actually tightly linked to job outcomes and needs and perhaps program style funding, which was designed to address particular needs either within participant groups, or within employment areas seemed in a lot of cases to produce better results, particularly where there were arbitrary limits put on the number of people who could receive training under various entitlement lists.  The point was made that it seems strange that given that something like the Certificate III in Disability and other community services qualifications were clearly an area where there would be significant growth and need for new, trained, employees in South Australia for example the Disability qualification  had only been assigned 200 entitlement places, while other programs were growth was already slowly had substantially more or unlimited places.

One of the things that overall we kept hearing through the two days though was that while there is going to be significant growth in online learning and delivery across the board (Craig Weiss in a recent talk suggested that by 2020 about 90% of all training would be being done online and Craig is right more often than not when it comes to these things), we need to understand why we are doing things online.  There needs to be a purpose to online delivery and it needs to link strongly to the learning outcomes that we want from the course.  Technology for technology’s sake doesn’t improve outcomes.

So if you are in or can get to Melbourne next year make sure you get along to EduTech 2016.

 

Education Brokers and the Facebook scenario

Firstly this is not an attack on the Educational Brokerages in Australia, it is more of an explanation and discussion on how the system works and why.

Everyone complains about Facebook, almost all of the time.  They complain about changes to the interface, the way it deals with what turns up in the news feed, how many ads they see, what the company does with all of the data it collects and who actually owns that data (I will give you a hint it’s not you).  The problem is that all of these complaints and issues grow from a mistaken belief about the place of Facebook users in the grand scheme of things.  As a lot of people often suggest if you want to find out why things are being done in the way they are being done, follow the money.  So if we follow the money in relation to Facebook, we quickly realise that Facebook users are not in any real sense of the word Facebook clients, they are in fact simple objects within a data set and consumers to be advertised to.  Facebook’s real clients and the people who they are really trying to keep happy are their advertisers who generate all of the income for the site and their shareholders.  Now while it is true that if you have happy consumers you are probably more likely to generate better income, when you have a billion users a lot of people have to not only complain, but stop using the system before the company would take notice.

So if we apply the same logic to the Educational Brokerage sector in Australia we can quickly see what is happening.  In fact all we have to do to find out who is important to these organisations is to ask a really simple question, which is of course, who pays them?  The answer, of course, is equally simple, they are paid by training providers to provide them with students.  So the income stream for brokers is tied completely to the continuing recruitment of students for their client RTOs.  If there client RTOs are unhappy or there are not enough students, or the costs are to high, or compliance issues start to impact and they leave the relationship, then the broker either has to find other clients or increase the number of students being recruited for the clients it still has to address the income shortfall.

Make no mistake however, as is the case with Facebook users, potential students are not the clients of brokers, they are simply the consumers of the service they provide.  They are in reality very little more than a product with a certain value attached to it, which is generated when they are ‘sold’ to a provider.  The value of a can of beans to Woolworths is that someone will pay money for it.  The value of a potential student to a Broker is that someone (a training provider) will pay money for them.  The more money a provider is willing to pay for a student the more value that student has to broker.

Now to be fair this should not be taken to suggest that potential cash value is the only driving motive for brokers nor it is to suggest that potential students don’t have a cash value for RTOs who don’t use brokerage services because they certainly do.  It simply suggests that as with Facebook the person who does not pay for the ‘service’ in this case the student is always going to be a secondary concern to the needs of the person who pays the bills, in this case the training provider.  When we add to this the concepts of the Brokers themselves being independent contractors, and or working either entirely or partially for commissions, we can easily identify the pain points within the system.

Is someone working on commission going to recommend a Cert III or IV course to a student which might generate $600 worth of income or is there the temptation to recommend the diploma level course which will generate $3,000, particularly when the RTOs (who remember are the ones paying the bills) might make $15,000 from the Diploma course as opposed to $3,000 for the Certificate IV.  Again it is important to note that I am not saying that this is the driving force behind all of these operations, but when we start looking at the money we can see why people might prefer to recommend a Diploma over a Certificate IV or even utilising VET-FEE HELP over accessing direct government funding.  As someone from a brokerage said to me a while ago, ‘our business is recruiting diploma students, it is up to the individual to decide if it is the right option’.  Now while this is true, I would suggest it is also true that even for people who are deeply involved in the VET sector funding arrangements can be complicated to say the least, and for a potential student having a ‘personal learning consultant’ recommend undertaking a Dual Diploma of counselling and community services, which they don’t have to pay anything for up front, becomes an easy thing to agree to because well it sounds good and seems much easier than trying to figure out the morass of funding available.

So here is a question for everyone to ponder.  What would the role of the broker be if the person who was paying them was the student, if their income was generated by creating the right result for a potential student rather than being driven by the training provider?

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