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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Vocational Education, Formal and Informal Learning, and Organisational Development

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Connecting L&D and the VET Sector

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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