Naming and Shaming, Risk Assessment and Contract management

So as we have seen throughout the media over the past week a number of RTOs have been allegedly caught with their fingers in the honey pot so to speak, with a number shut down, Victorian training contracts removed from others and yet others (publicly listed) with class action claims launched against them.  While I support all of this and think that it is good to see that those providers who are not playing by the rules, or in some cases it seems even playing the same game as the rest of us are being called to account, as I have said previously

It should never have come to this!

Now I know that there will be people out there (yes Senator Lee Rhiannon I am looking at you and others) who will no doubt claim that this is all because funding was taken away from TAFE and non-public providers were allowed into the sector etc.  However that is simply rubbish!  What caused this was not competition, it was not opening up the market place, it was a complete and utter failure of a number of state and federal governments to actually manage the funding contracts they had with providers properly.  

Others will of course try to blame the regulator ASQA or its Victorian or WA equivalent, but again I am going to call rubbish!  Now it is true that the regulators may have some burden to bear in this, perhaps their risk management or auditing regimes could have been better, but lets not forget something here.  It is not ASQA who chooses who gets to deliver government-funded training, it is the various state governments.  They contract providers to deliver, they pay the money and they are the ones that are responsible for managing the entire process and making sure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen.

Now don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting that the providers themselves are not responsible, should not be called to account and are not the reason this has happened.  If all providers did the right thing then there wouldn’t be this situation either.  That being said, particularly it seems if we look at Victoria, there has been a catastrophic failure on the part of the government departments to properly manage these contracts.  There shouldn’t be discussions about improving outcomes, transparency and accountability now, that should have all been done even before the contracts were ever handed out in the first place.  Did the department in Victoria not have any kind of robust monitoring and contract management processes around this, did they not look at the outcomes reports and various bits of data?

Sure it is good that this is getting cleaned up.  It is good that providers who have had their contracts removed are being punished, but maybe, just maybe the government could also think about naming and shaming the people who were in charge of the management of these contracts as well or at the very least actually making sure they are doing the jobs they are being paid to do.

 

Anyway that is just my opinion.

How did you get here? How did you become a trainer?

So while reading through some LinkedIn posts this morning I came across a post on how trainers are recruited, what people looked for and the like.  There was also a number of people who commented that they were having difficulty finding work in the Learning Sector, because they didn’t have enough experience, but they couldn’t find anywhere to get experience.  One of the people who posted asked how people started their career in training or learning or whatever you want to call this space in which we work which prompted me to think about a couple of things.  Firstly how I got started in this industry and secondly the differences for people trying to get into this industry today.  So first off I thought I would share my story about how I got here and then look at how things are different today.

I started in the sales and motivational training arena many, many years ago with a large financial services and insurance brokerage and then moved through a range of HR/L&D roles all with differing levels of actual training delivery, across a range of employers and industries.  A lot of it was contract work or startup work (before startups were all tech and cool).  I work in cleaning, manufacturing and distribution, project management and IT.   I had a couple of short stints with TAFE in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, while I was finishing up some university study and after having a break from working on a range of large projects including the Sydney Olympics.  Once university was wrapped up and my head had got over the horror of the Olympics, I went on higher level degree work and teaching at university. After that I went back to training, mostly non-accredited, where I was training between 1500 and 3000 people a year and managing a team of trainers, and at the same time did an RTO initial registration and start-up with the organisation I was working with.  I then moved into enterprise level L&D in government, managing accredited and non-accredited training across a range of teams.  From there I moved to the same kind of roles in the not for profit and community services sector, though the connection with VET was much more pronounced.  All throughout this though and even now I still train, in some roles there was a lot, in others not much, and now as with the last couple of jobs, I have the luxury of training pretty much only when I want to actually train.

I had no qualifications when I started, but to be completely fair and honest, pretty much no one did (I fear I am giving away my age here a bit as well) as the BSZ only came into being towards the end of the 90’s and I only got that after a long argument about how stupid it was that I could teach at Uni but not a TAFE (Yes, yes I know there is a difference).  There was also way back then, less separation between L&D and HR, a lot more cross over of skills and way less specialisation, so it was much easier to move organisations or change roles.  There was also less unemployment it seemed, but you know rose-colored glasses and all of that.  So this all got me thinking about people trying to get into the adult post-secondary training/learning industry today and whether if I was starting out today a journey like mine would be possible or if the whole thing was far more complicated now.  The other thing I got to thinking about is how I hire people today to be trainers or L&D people and what my hiring practices meant to people who were trying to get a start.

A number of people have commented that they have found it difficult to get work in the industry, because while they have relevant qualification they don’t have experience, primarily experience in training and assessment and these people have legitimately asked well how do I get experience if no one will hire me.  This is I think particularly telling on the assessment side of the picture.  The only place were VET assessments are done, are in the VET sector, so where else are you going to get experience except in the sector you are trying to break into.  It is relatively easy to get experience in delivery of training or presentation skills, but experience in assessments is far more difficult to come by.  I have occasionally done deals with people, mostly ex students or people otherwise connected with the organisation around giving them experience in assessment work and training delivery, but only in cases where the skill set they had, was one that was useful or where we needed someone to meet a particular niche need.

I don’t necessarily pay a lot of attention to qualifications though when I am looking to hire a new trainer.  I have found over the years that unfortunately too often people who look good on paper unfortunately don’t stack up that well in the interview stage.  As part of the interview process I always insist that someone who is going to be in a training role, even if it is only a small part of the role, delivers a 15 minute presentation on a topic of their own choosing, first up, before the formal interview process begins and I am always stunned by how many people who look good on paper fail at this step.  Skills and attitude are way more important to me than qualifications, particularly TAE qualifications.  I can get you up to speed and am more than happy to invest the time to get you through you TAE properly if you are good at delivery and have the right set of other skills and the right attitude.  So what do I look for;

  1. Relevant, recent industry experience (if you have been a trainer for 10 years and haven’t had any real industry hands on experience in that time I am probably not going to hire you)
  2. Good front of room skills (you had better engage me in first 5 minutes of your presentation time)
  3. Great Communication skills
  4. A real willingness to work (don’t start asking me about how much time you spend in class vs how much assessment or things like that, because you will do the work that needs to be done, and if that means you spend a week or two doing nothing but delivering training that is how it will be)
  5. Some actual knowledge of the VET sector (if you don’t know the basics of how it works why are you even here)
  6. Qualifications (industry first and then Training)

And finally it will help if you know someone who I know or am aware of, because I am going to look at your LinkedIn profile (you had better have one) and if there is someone linking us in some way who I can ring and have a chat to about your skills then that will help a lot.  I don’t really trust references that much unless I know them.

Now I can see the people who were talking about not having experience thinking well I am never going to get a job, but think about what I am interested in.  I want you to have skills in the industry that you want to train in, good communication skills and a willingness to work and what sells me in the long run is your 15 minute presentation and whether you really are willing to work and trust me if you aren’t willing to work you won’t make you first 3 months.

Two things I say to people who want to be trainers or work in learning roles

  1. Figure out why you want to do this, what is it that drives you to be part of this profession
  2. Figure out what you are good at and just how good you are at it.

Why, because this profession isn’t for everyone, I have seen so many people over the years, come and go, struggle to find work, or be unhappy with their roles simply because they never figured these two things out.

 

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

 

Would you invest in TAFE?

So I have been talking recently about the concept of federalising VET funding and what that would mean for various parts of the sector and offered some thought about how the State owned public providers, TAFE, could adapt to a funding mechanisms where they were not necessarily prioritised by the State government that owned them, and how different models might work out.  So over the weekend, while building our new chicken coop, (there is no connection, I just do my thinking in strange places), I was thinking about various options.  Given that TAFEs are state-owned entities this limits to some degree the amount of flexibility they have in terms of raising funds to be used for various purposes,  I thought to myself, if there was an opportunity to invest in TAFE would I be willing to take it.

So here is my question for the day.  If through some mechanism, share market float, private equity arrangements, or some other model, people were able to invest in TAFE would you and more importantly would you need to know or what structure would need to exist in order for you to be willing to do this.

If we were to look at the concept of an IPO or share market float, where for example the Queensland state government retained something over 50% of the ownership of TAFE and the rest of the TAFE was open for the Queensland public, or Australian public to purchase an interest in (in the form of shares), would you invest and would the general public of Queensland look on it as an opportunity to be part of the education of the state and be willing to put money into the system.

As most of you know I like to play games with ideas like this in head, so I would be really interested in hearing the thinking of other people about this little kernel of a concept.

 

 

Would a Federal VET funding system be good for TAFE?

So I wrote a couple of days ago about the discussions that are happening around the idea of the Federal government taking over responsibility for Vocational Education and training from the various states and what that would mean.  One of the points I talked about was the idea that essentially under a system where funding and regulation are the responsibility of the Federal government, TAFEs become simply another provider within the system, albeit one that is owned by the state rather than by some kind of non-public entity.  A small amount of criticism to the idea or use of words, that TAFE would be ‘simply another provider’ was raised.  Central to the criticism is the idea that TAFE being just another provider devalued the social value and functions that TAFE provided and its special responsibilities as a publicly owned provider.  It would be my contention however that a federalised VET funding system would, if there are in fact special responsibilities in terms of social functions and value for TAFE, make the provision of these functions easier and in addition far more transparent than what they currently are.

The idea that TAFE has some special responsibilities, social functions and value in excess of the responsibilities of non public providers is often raised as a reason why TAFE needs to be protected, needs to have some percentage of funding allocated to it and outside of any contestable model which might be being utilised.  Now while I am sure that there are areas in which some TAFE institutes do have these social functions and responsibilities I have never been completely convinced by this argument, particularly when used to justify funding allocations, primarily because while it is quite often talked about in terms of support for people with disabilities and other special needs, providing community hubs and various things like that, a lot of what is discussed is provided by a range of other organisations.  Non-public VET providers, particularly those not-for-profit providers, do substantial work with disabled and disadvantaged people in assisting them to achieve their educational and other goals.  There are also numerous community sector providers (non-VET) who provide substantial amounts of social value and function in communities and in a lot of cases the services and outcomes provided by both these types of organisations are often better then those provided by TAFE.

No withstanding that however, let us assume that TAFE or at least some TAFEs have special responsibilities or functions in terms of social and community value.  A federalised system would it seems, create a situation where these functions could be properly resourced and funded , by the state governments, without that resourcing and funding being rolled up or conflated with funding for the provision of vocational education outcomes.  Essentially a federal system would be responsible for the regulation of all registered training organisations and for providing a pool of funding which would be allocated under some type of contestable model to meet the skills and training needs of both the nation and where necessary particular states.  Given that the states were no longer involved in the allocations of funding for training and were simple the owner of a number of providers of vocational education there would be no need for funding at a federal level to be portioned off into that which was solely for TAFE and that which was available for all other providers.

This is the case because like any other training provider, the operational costs for the delivery of VET services should be covered by the income they generated through the provision of those services, be that through the delivery of funded training, fee for service or income contingent loans.  Capital expenditure, maintenance of infrastructure and any additional functions should be provided either from additional revenue raised through the provision of educational services or in the case of TAFE from the state government.  This would then allow the state governments to allocated state funding to TAFE institutes for the provision of these special responsibilities and social functions, over an above the income which the TAFE generated through a contestable federal funding model.

This would have some additional side effects as well.  It would make what funding was being allocated to public education providers, and for what purposes extremely transparent, which would in turn indicate what the special responsibilities and functions that public providers had were and what they cost.  This would then allow the government to determine whether or not using an educational provider to provide these special social functions or values was the best way of achieving their social goals or whether it might be the case that in most cases TAFE should simply be a training provider and the other functions were better off being provided in some other way.  This transparency would also show the true costs associated with delivery within the public providers, as being responsible for their operation expenses through the generation of training income would show whether or not they needed to be supported even in this area and whether,  depending on the particular institute that was the best use of resources or if in cases where they were seen to be unable to cover their operational expenses through the delivery of training services and where there were no other substantive reasons, or the situation was not likely to improve, hard decisions about their continued existence and form might need to be asked.   The costs in terms of capital expenditure, maintenance etc. would also be clear.  In essence a federal funding system for VET, where state owned TAFEs were simply another provider, would actually improve the system of public provision, by allowing TAFEs to concentrate on what they should be doing, that is the business of delivering educational outcomes and the State governments to simply act as the capital support mechanism in a way that was far more transparent than it currently is.

Yes it would be a substantial change to the mindset of both those in the government and those managing TAFEs and some of them might not survive at least in their current form, but a federalised system would also have a effect upon non-public providers as well and those who were not able to cope with the change would not survive.  All in all a system of federal regulation and funding where all providers are essentially playing on a level field is one it seems  likely to produce solid outcomes for everyone involved.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

A Federal system for Vocational Education?

I for one have been for a long time now a proponent of the Federal government being in charge of Vocation Education in Australia, so as you might expect I have reacted quite well to the news recently that there seems to be once again support for this notion both Federally and by the States.  As I said I have for a long time thought that a set up where the federal government is in charge of the regulation and funding of a national system of vocational education makes sense.  It should make it easier to navigate the morass of funding that currently exists and changes whenever you attempt to work across state boarders whether from an RTO perspective or from an organisational perspective.  Having a single set of rules and criteria would certainly make a difference.

One of the significant things I think having a Federal system would do is to change the States from being on both the provider and funder sides of the equation.  Currently all of the states fund VET in their state, however they also provide vocational education through their network of TAFE institutes.  Moving all of the funding for the delivery of training to the Federal government would have the effect of TAFE becoming another provider in the market, simply a provider which is owned by the State government and the state government could then determine from its overall budget what amounts it wanted to allocate to the resourcing and infrastructure of their TAFEs.  It would see a transparency around what money being given to TAFE from the State government was actually being used for.  Now that is not to suggest that a federal system might not earmark a certain amount of money for delivery by public providers, but what it would do is clear up the sometimes muddy waters around what is support for delivery and what is support for infrastructure.

The other significant thing it would or should do is as I said at the start even out the currently differences in what is funded and to what level.  As I said a couple of weeks ago I was amazed when I found out that in Victoria every AQF qualification is funded, the amount of money simply varies, which is unlike Queensland and other states where funding is allocated to what is seen to be the needs of that State in terms of skilled workers now and into the future.  Having one set of funding rules across the country would work for everyone, it would make it easier for organisations (particularly those who work across the entire country or a number of states) to access funding for their staff training, which is as anyone who has ever worked in a L&D role in such an organisation will tell you is currently a brain melting nightmare.  It would work well for providers both niche and large.  For example we are one a small number of providers who deliver a particular qualification, currently someone from Queensland can obtain the qualification for around $100 (it is funded in QLD), where as someone from NSW (where it is not funded) would have to pay $3,500 for the same qualification.   The management of funding contracts at a provider level would also be much easier, no longer perhaps having to produce multiple reports for different states with different rules and requirements.  A federal system should have the effect of smoothing out a range of the issues which currently make funded programs across states difficult to manage for everyone.

So what are the downfalls, well there could be some issues where their might be a mismatch between the needs at a national level in terms of skills and the needs at a state level.  On a nation level there could be a shortage of appropriately qualified aged care workers say but WA might have a massive over-supply.  Conversely there could be no national shortage of plumbers but serious shortages in QLD.  Not that these kinds of issues could not be relatively easily addressed, it is just that given that we are such a large country it may be the case that such differences arise.  Although on a side note seeing these differences at a national level rather than at a state level might encourage the federal government to provide incentives for say aged care workers in WA to move to other states or plumbers to move to QLD.

I also don’t think a federal system would affect programs like for example Skilling Queenslanders for work, where the additional money in the program is not going to providers but to community organisations to support the learning activities of their cohorts.  There kinds of programs could still be funded on a state by state basis dependent on need, the funding source for the provider would simply change for the state to the federal government.

It would or should remove this ridiculous situation we currently have where while most of the providers in the country are regulated by ASQA, two states still regulate a portion of RTOs in their state.  All providers both public and non-public would be just that providers for a national system, providers with one set of regulations and one set of rules around funding.  I for one really hope it gets legs and gets over the line.

 

Anyway thats just my opinion.

Is there something wrong with how TAFE Institutes are being managed?

Last week I wrote a piece asking why TAFE is so stressful for Trainers which generated a huge amount of discussion.  One of the single biggest things that was raised by people was  the issue of management and the skills and attitudes of those in management roles at TAFE institutes and the effect that this had on the morale and stress levels of teachers.  Now as I said in the last post, I am not attempting here to cast this as a them and us discussion or to in some way discount or belittle the work that TAFE does, or suggest that some of the changes that have taken place in the VET landscape over the last few years haven’t had an effect on TAFEs, however as some once said, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck you can be pretty sure its a duck.  So when a lot of people who are either currently working or have worked in TAFEs talk about the fact that what is causing them stress is how the institute is being managed and the attitudes of managers.

Now to be completely fair I do know a number of people in senior people in leadership positions in TAFE QLD, and have always found them to be incredibly competent and committed to the sector.  I don’t however know very many institute people or people from TAFE in other states, so much of what I am going to say next comes from things that other people, (who work or have worked in TAFE) are saying.  Now please don’t get me wrong here either managers at all levels of TAFE are between a rock and hard place, they are expected to manage their little part of the world, but by the same token constrained massively by things like outdated awards, pressure from both internal and external stakeholders, increasing competition and very little control over their budgets and staff in a lot of cases.

That being said, given the responses of people currently inside of TAFE there does seem to something wrong with the way at least some TAFE institutes are being managed.  There seems to be feelings from staff that their managers are disconnected from the issues they are facing on the ground, more concerned with their own positions and the prestige and perks that comes with it, particularly the higher up the ranks the manager is or just simply not good managers who are at least perceived to have got the position they have simply because they had been there forever.

So given that there is a perception (both internally and externally) that there is something wrong with the way a least a number of TAFE institutes are being managed, what is the problem, why does it exist and what can be done about it?

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

So why is TAFE so stressful for trainers?

So I have read a couple of articles recently about how being a teacher at TAFE is so stressful, particularly at the moment and over the weekend I was having a discussion with a friend of mine (who doesn’t work in the sector) who only half-joking suggested that VET people had the life because they got all this extra time off that people in other job didn’t on top of their actual working hours being really flexible and things like that.  I corrected him and said that conditions like that really only existed in the public system and that most people working in VET in the non-public arena didn’t have those kinds of arrangements and really just worked the same kind of hours and had the same conditions as pretty much everyone else.  I found his response to this quite interesting he said,

Why? It’s no wonder that TAFE is stuffed then.

It actually got me thinking a little bit about this whole situation and in particular the rhetoric from the education unions about how working conditions for TAFE people have been so badly eroded, are under attack and how TAFE teachers are so stressed because of it.  Now this is not a swipe at TAFE teachers in general as I know that the vast majority of people who work in the TAFE system, like those in the non-public system are hard-working, committed people, who just want to achieve the best outcomes they can for their students.  However I am legitimately wondering what is so stressful;

  • Being asked to be at work every day of the working week?
  • Not getting 10 weeks leave a year?
  • The possibility that you might be made redundant?
  • Having to teach more than 3 days a week?
  • Being asked to do some more work?

Outside of the TAFE system this is simply called having a job.  Now I know that I am being a little naughty here and little tongue in cheek, but I really do want to know what is so stressful.

One of the other stressors that has been raised is the concept of increased casualisation of the TAFE workforce.  Sensible business practice suggests that you only employ enough staff permanent staff to cover the standard ongoing workloads, if there is more work, or specific skills or knowledge that is required that is not currently in the organisations, you hire it in, usually on casual, or contract basis, this is what happens everywhere.  It is a waste of organisational resources to have people sitting around with nothing to do, while you are still paying them, just on the off-chance that you might need them 3 months down the track.  As a lot of you know I ave been around the L&D, VET and organisation learning scene for quite a while now in a variety of roles and often these roles were contract roles (3-24 months) to do specific jobs, using my specific skill set.  This is also the case for a substantial amount of the people I know who work in the sector, with the exception of a few who have had long-term enterprise level positions, I think for most of us our careers have been a mix of permanent, part-time, casual and contract work, it is the way the industry works except it seems in the TAFE sector.   It seems to me that the only part of the VET sector where there appears to be this concept that a role would be a job for life, is the TAFE sector.

So here is my question;

Why are TAFE teachers so stressed?

Is it just that they are used to a certain level of conditions and expectations, or is it that really they aren’t and it is just a beat up by the unions or are there some actual stressors outside what would be expected if you worked outside the TAFE system?  I don’t know, but I would love to know what everyone else thinks.

 

Anyway that’s just my opinion

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