Reinventing the VET brand – Untarnishing VET in the eyes of the Australian Public
December 4, 2014 Leave a comment
Learning is a Business and Brand is everything
The VET brand in this country is tarnished, you only have to look at the numerous newspaper articles and commentary associated with them and across social media, (and yes lets never forget that LinkedIn is the 3rd largest social media site in the world) to see that both in the eyes of practitioners and the general public that there is some rust on the gold standard that was VET in this country (Yes I know Gold doesn’t rust its a metaphor folks). I, like so many others from both the public and private sector are passionate about this industry, passionate about the good that is created for both individuals and the country as a whole through vocational education. I believe that both public and private providers deliver (for the most part) outstanding results for their stakeholders and that both are necessary for us to have a vibrant and agile and engaged VET system. All of this passion though is meaningless, it is meaningless if in the public eye the VET brand is not as polished and sparking as it once was. What has caused this is also unimportant, be it political point scoring and ideological differences, the rampant pursuit of profit by some private providers or the animosity for some public sector providers about having to be commercially viable and change the way they operate to meet the needs of a new world.
But what about quality you ask. We need to ensure the quality of the system, we need regulation, we need research , we need data. Yes yes we do and without a quality product you can never hope to develop a quality brand with good longevity, however quality is not enough. Research papers on outcomes don’t interest the average person on the street looking to improve their educational or employment options, they are interested in the brand, the perception, they are interested in what John next door says his sons experience of doing an apprenticeship through TAFE was. They are interested in the fact that Kelly loves the Diploma of Counselling course she is doing through a private RTO, that a friend recommended to her on Facebook. It is the same at an organisational level, L&D and HR folk and managers and the like, all buy training on perceived value and more often than not that is brand related. I know, as the CLO for a very large organisation I purchased millions of dollars worth of training every year and a lot of those decisions were based on reputation and brand perception, admittedly there was also a lot of personal knowledge and other factors as well, but here is an example of what I mean. A business unit spent more than $250,000 to purchase a training program from the US (developed at a US university) plus probably the same amount of money again on training and delivery of the program for under 200 staff. The content of the program amounted to about 1/3 of the content contained in the related Diploma Level course from the Community Services Training Package. Why? The answer is easy the US program has a strong brand and is perceived as begin a valuable certification to have even though in reality the certification is really nothing more than a certificate of attendance, while the VET program was perceived as being well ‘vocational’ so therefore less valuable and the VET brand was simply not as strongly perceived in value terms as the US program was.
But we do a great job with out own marketing. Yes a lot of providers both public and private do exceptional jobs building their own brands and reputations and if you want to see the effect a holistic branding exercise can have you need look no further the rebranding of TAFE QLD, gone are the boring websites, media, brochures etc and in their place something that seems more vibrant, alive, agile and able to meet the needs of the future. These are all however individual marketing designed to present a sub-brand if you will in the best possible light to enable it to compete with other sub-brands in the same market. The overall brand here is VET, the industry relies on that brand being strong. If the VET brand itself is tarnished or perceived as not as valuable as other offerings either from within Australia or internationally the job of marketing for the sub-brands, us, is so much more difficult.
As I have said on numerous other occasions learning is a business, someone always has to pay for it, be that the government, organisations or individuals the money has to come from somewhere and people talk with their wallets, be that through individual choice of service provider, organisational return on investment calculations or the quantifiable outcomes of government funding it all comes down to perceived value in the end and the strength of the brand people are purchasing. If we want a strong, successful, well-respected VET industry in this country not only do we need to make sure the quality is right, we need to ensure that the message that the VET system, however it is accessed, should be the first choice that people make and the choice that they continue to make for their educational and employment options and the only way to that is