How long does it take to be Competent?

Nominal Hours, Time Served and Competency

How long does it take to be competent?  I have had several discussions recently (yes I do tend to get myself involved in a lot of discussion, you may have noticed that by now) about work placements, trainee and apprenticeships, job readiness and how long it actually takes for someone to be considered to be competent at a task or with a skill.

There has been a lot of discussion over recent times about the what could be call ‘time served’ apprenticeship model, where student were expected to spend 3 or so years working while training in their chosen trade.  Criticisms of this have been made on the grounds that at least some of the students could have been deemed and in fact were competent long before their apprenticeship time was up.  At the other end of the scale we have seen criticisms of the ‘2 week industry placement’ that we are seeing in the delivery of some aged care and community services courses where concerns are raised about whether that is enough time for someone to demonstrate their competence in a range of situations.

There are lots of areas, psychology for example, where not only is there a need for students to undertake a lengthy internship prior to be recognised as being competent practitioners, but quite strict guidelines for continuing professional development in order to maintain such recognition, now admittedly the breadth of skills and knowledge required to be a registered Psychologist may be much wider than those required for a Certificate III in Aged Care, however we still need to ensure that whoever we grant qualifications to are actually competent in the range of skills we say they possess.

Our staff, on average take about 8-12 months to complete a Certificate IV level qualification.  They attend on average two days of face to face training every 4-6 weeks, and work on the assessment tasks from the Units of Competency covered in the face to face training, while they are back in the workplace.  A large number of these assessment tasks involve their managers or supervisors observing them undertaking tasks and activities and providing them with feedback on how satisfactorily these tasks were undertaken.  There are written tasks and projects, interview, role plays and a range of other activities which they undertake in the presence of an accredited assessor.  Importantly by the end of this process I am confident that every person we say is competent and issue a qualification or a statement of attainment to is actually competent.

Could we do it quicker;  Yes certainly we could.  Would I be as confident; No I don’t think I would be.  Why; because it would be much easier for someone to slip through the cracks so to speak.

Could we do 2 weeks straight of face to face training and then send them back into the workplace to do their assessments?  We could but I fear we would have substantially lower completion rates and I think the learning transfer back into the workplace would not be as effective.  I say this because even after two-day of face to face training most of the staff have more than enough information to keep their minds spinning for  4-6 weeks and I think that trying to cram more information in there may well be counter productive.

So I am interested to know how long do you think it takes before we can really be confident to say that someone is competent and how long should it take a student to complete say and average Certificate IV qualification.


About pauldrasmussen
Paul Rasmussen is one of Australia’s most widely read Vocational Education and Training Commentators. He provides deep, unbiased analysis and insights not only on topical issues, but also on the underlying structure and policy which supports the industry. His writing and analysis has been praised for its uncompromising and thought provoking style and its ability to focus on the issues of real importance to the sector. He has advised various government departments and ministers, training providers, public and private organisations, not for profits and small to medium enterprises on the VET sector and the issues and opportunities facing it. He is one of Australia’s most awarded learning professionals and a regular speaker at a range of conventions and forums. His extensive experience in vocational education, and learning and development coupled with formal qualifications in philosophy, ethics, business and education management allow Paul to provide a unique view of the road ahead and how to navigate it.

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