Trainer Utilisation – What does a good model look like?

I posted something on this topic a number of years ago, when there was a lot of discussion around the proposed changes to the TAFE award in Queensland, where trainers were supposed to only undertake face to face teaching duties for 21 hours a week, along with a host of other conditions, including non-contact time, professional development leave and the like.  I thought however it was it was time to revisit this topic again as I have seen a number of discussions about what models of trainer utilisation and employment look like in both the VET and L&D sector.

Firstly some background when I was training in the corporate sector (non-VET) the busiest year I had amounted to training (actual face to face in a classroom training) for 190+ days of the year and over 3000 people.  This averages out at about four days per week with the fifth day usually taken up with travel.  Now admittedly there was not a lot of formal assessment outside of the training itself, that was part of these courses, they were mostly enterprise technology courses on how to use large enterprise systems.  However I can tell you that by the end of that year I was tired and really needed to have my time off, but it was work that was needed to be done and clients were happy with the result.   On the other side of coin, I have had public providers say that we would have to have a number of different trainers to deliver a program of courses over a time frame of a month, because their staff couldn’t/wouldn’t do that amount of amount of training, either at all, or only if they were paid overtime for everything over what was in the award, which would have made the delivery uneconomical for everyone.  Now don’t get me wrong here I am saying that there shouldn’t be awards and that people should not be paid and paid fairly for the work that they do, however surely it seems to me that we need to really think about is what is reasonable utilisation and what does it look like when we need to balance it against the needs of the provider and business and in addition we need to consider the training/assessment work divided as well.

The training/assessment divide is an important one because for any number of reasons staff might be involved either, on a ad hoc or ongoing basis in doing more of one of these types of work during their week plus others.  In previous providers I have had staff who spent most of their time doing assessment work, primarily because the participants were either undertaking RPL or distance learning or other kinds of self paced work and the need for face to face training days was simply not part of the programs there were involved with.  I have had others who had a fairly even spread between the two and then of course those who spent most of their time doing face to face training, either because it wasn’t VET training or because that was their strength and we engaged others to undertake assessment work.

I guess what I am driving at here is should we expect that trainers and assessors are for the most part doing training and assessment type work (and professional development activities where necessary) pretty much all of the time that they are at work or is do we need to outline how much actually time trainers should be doing each of these activities, such as no more than 21 hours face to face in a week and what sort of organisational models support achieving the best outcomes for everyone.  I tend to lean towards not defining the amount of time that staff should be doing each activity, if they need to be delivering training for 5 days in a row that is what they should be doing, if they need to be assessing that is what they should be doing and so on for other activities.  Now some might say well what about time for research or training development or other such activities, if we don’t delineate how much time staff should be allowed to have to undertake these activities, all they will be doing is training and assessment.

I think for me one of the answers to questions such as this is What is the role?  If someone is a trainer and assessor then surely the majority of their time should be taken up by those activities and other activities should work in around what are their main activities.  Given that whether or not you are a public or non-public provider of any kind of training, be it accredited or not, the delivery of training and the associated assessment activities are what in the vast majority of cases produces the income stream that allows the provider to continue, should not this be the aspect that is given the priority in terms of staff utilisation.  One of the solutions to this that has been adopted by a lot of providers both public and private now, is simply to utilise trainers and assessors on a contractual basis, and  there is certainly value to be gained through these types of arrangements for everyone it seems.  I have had plenty of interviews and discussions with trainers who love the flexibility of being able to work on this basis, particularly in the assessment space where they are paid an hourly or per assessment rate and can essentially sit on their couch in pyjamas marking assessments if that is what they want to do.  That being said there are also advantages for everyone in the employee model, where staff can be assigned to other work like program development and similar activities when they are not undertaking training and assessment, but this then requires that the people who are hired as trainers have a range of skills wider than just delivery and assessment and the attitude to match those skills as well.

So if we start to look at what a good model might be, I don’t think that it is a model where there are lots of full-time trainers and assessors delivering a range of different courses and I think this counts whether it is in the VET or non-VET sector.  Multi skilled people, who can train, assess, develop, sell, talk to organisations, manage other staff etc are becoming far more valuable, I think, when we think of full-time employees, as they can be utilised as needed within the organisation.  Now of course to be able to this requires that the organisation itself is not so stratified and siloed that staff cannot be plugged into tasks and project teams where necessary or that the person in charge of the training development team actually talks with the person in charge of the training team and makes these things possible.  All of that aside though I think the days of large groups of full-time trainers and assessors employed by any organisation public or not are at the very least on the way out if not long gone, particularly where those staff aren’t multi skilled across a range of areas.  So that leaves us with alternatives, which we are seeing happening more and more across a wide range of industries, not just training, where administration, management and coordination are handled by permanent employees, while the delivery and assessment activities are done on a contractual basis, usually with a core group of training professionals.  Where development of new resources and programs is either managed internally with project teams made up of internal and external resources or the whole development process is done externally and the provider is the customer and chief stakeholder.  Now these arrangements tend to have the benefit to the provider of only needed to engage people as necessary and not having to unproductive time or having to find other activities for staff during slow spells,  it seems to benefit the employee through their ability to pick and choose and allows them the flexibility to work when and where they want.  Although I am more than happy to admit there for employees, there is or could be the problem of having enough work to pay the bills, particularly where their skills might be part of a saturated market.

So I would be really interested in two thing;

  1. What models different people use in the market place to manage their staff, particularly their training and assessment staff, and
  2. What people think the best model is.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

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The New system for Training Product Development – Some initial thoughts

The Federal Government yesterday released its new system for the development of Training Products (note the interesting change in terminology) for the Australian VET system.  The New system is very much like Option Two from the original consultation paper which I have supported as being the most sensible of the three options that were under discussion.  So what does the new package look like; below is a copy from the diagram which can be found here.

2015-04-22_093144

 

The differences between this model and the old model, in which the Industry Skills Councils (ISC) controlled both industry engagement and the development of the packages is easy to see.  Under the new system Industry engagement activities, environment scans and the oversight of the development of training products would rest with Industry Reference Committees (IRC), while the actual development of the packages and other associated support activities would rest with the Service Skills Organisations (SSO). All of these bodies and activities would be overseen by the Australian Industry Skills Committee (AISC).    An outline of the new system can be found in this factsheet.

So what do each of these bodies do and what does it all mean.

The IRC’s  ‘provide the industry engagement mechanism at the centre of training product development. They provide the forum for industry engagement, an avenue for feedback on industry trends and a conduit for promoting VET.  Industry reference committees or similar representative arrangements underpin the current arrangements by industry skills councils to guide and provide input on industry demand for qualifications. Committees would be set up on an as needs basis. Some may operate on a standing basis and meet regularly given the priority of training for the sector or the rate of change to training products. Some may be stood up for a specific purpose and would be time limited’.

The SSO’s  ‘will be incorporated entities with professional boards overseeing their operations and services to industry reference committees. The organisation will receive funding to provide technical, operational and secretariat support to industry reference committees assigned to them. In addition to supporting industry reference committees discharge their responsibilities, the service organisations will also:

  • be responsible for facilitating the development of training products on behalf of their IRCs, including engagement across industry and the training sector;
  • provide quality assurance of training products and conduct the training product development process in accordance with the approved IRC business case;
  • manage the training products through the endorsement process on behalf of their IRC;
  • upload training products and other materials, including procedural information, onto ww.training.gov.au; and
  • prepare support materials and services as agreed with their IRC, to help with quality training delivery’.

So essentially what has occurred is that the industry engagement and consultation process, in particular what packages and qualifications require updating etc, has been split away from the process of the actual development of the package.  Personally I think this is a good thing, I along with others in the sector have been critical (too greater and lesser extents depending on the ISC) of the level of industry engagement underpinning the development of recent training packages as well as the make up of, and in some cases seeming lack of ‘new blood,’ for want of a better word, in the boards and executive committees of these organisations.  The IRC concept where the committee is either a standing committee (where there is evidence of the possibility of rapid change in terms of training needs), a short-term ad hoc committee, or a time limited committee which is formed for a particular purpose, allows for a level of flexibility which I feel is not currently part of the existing system as well as enabling these committees to be convened with members with substantial industry and training experience in the sector or qualification/s which are going to be under review.  This should decrease, in my opinion, what we have seen in some sectors where certain segments of that sector have been somewhat over represented in the memberships of some of the ISC’s.

So people have suggested that they can not see the space for trainers and assessors within this structure, for me though there is plenty of space and opportunity for trainers, assessors and other VET people within this system, even more perhaps than there was in the old system.  Training and Assessment people can, and in some cases should be members of IRC’s particularly where they have dual skill sets as both industry professionals and VET Professional or where the qualification is one that relates to training and assessment.  There is also space for them in the work of the SSO’s who are responsible for the development of the Training Products, products should not be developed without the input of VET professionals as well as industry.  Are they stated categorically as members in certain areas, no, but then again really no other groups of people are formally recognised as needing to have membership at any of the levels.  What this new system should provide however is better ability for input to given, by all areas relevant to the development of a Training Product.

One final word, some people have also commented on the use of the word training product, rather than training package for me the change is not something substantial it simply reflects as it notes in the fact sheet that the term training product refers to both the package and the qualifications that reside within that package.

Anyway that’s my opinion.

 

Paul can be contacted at

Rasmussen Learning Solutions or

Spectrum Training

 

What is Industry Currency?

If a person with a Certificate IV in Training and assessment had not delivered any training for say 2 years, would we consider them to have industry currency?

Why am I asking this question?  Well because the answer that we give has, I think, profound effects on what we should consider industry currency to be in the VET sector.  What if while they had not delivered any training, they had attended two training conferences each year, for example the AITD conference and the VELG conference, would we consider them to be current then?  Now when we start to extend this thinking and ask questions about what industry currency might mean in other sectors the issues start to become obvious.

Take a person who is training a Certificate III in plumbing, who has been a trainer for say 5 years, but who hasn’t actually picked up their tools and done actual work in the industry since they became a trainer.  Are they current?  This of course can be applied to all of the various parts of the VET sector, be it community services, trades, business it doesn’t matter the issue of industry currency is significant, because how can someone train a student in the latest practices and how they are utilised and applied unless they know these things themselves because particularly in some areas, while having the knowledge of how to do something is great, the actual application of that can be more challenging particularly in real work situations.

So what do I think industry currency is, well lets start with what I don’t think it is.  I don’t think going to a couple of conferences or attending a webinar or a course is satisfactory, neither do I think that being a member of an industry association (unless continuing membership is through a CPD process) makes the grade either.  I certainly think they are a start and for someone who has only just moved away from working in their industry to becoming a trainer, this might be enough for a little while, but the longer it has been since a person has actually worked in the sector in which they are training, the less I think these sorts of activities count as valid examples of industry currency.  If you have been a trainer for 10 years and haven’t work in your sector in that time, I struggle to see how you might still be competent.

One of the key components of industry currency for me, and one which I see is often missed is actually going back and working in the industry again, getting a feel for it and the changes around how things are done.  It is easy I think, for us as trainers to get somewhat comfortable in teaching what we know and how we did things, but in a lot a sectors now, best practice, applications, processes change rapidly and while yes we can gain knowledge of these things through seminars, courses and conferences as I said above, sometimes there is a significant difference between the knowledge and the application of that knowledge in an actual working environment.  To give a personal example, I used to do a lot of training in the area of enterprise level applications, particularly in the project and contract management space.  Now it as been 5  or more years since I actually worked in that space at the coal face of project management and the enterprise systems that support billion dollar projects.  Now I have kept up with the literature, attended the odd conference, still possess all the relevant qualifications, played with new products as they have been released and the like.  However I would not and have not for a number of years now considered myself to have industry currency and it would in my opinion take me a significant amount of time to get that currency back.  Why, the simple reason is that I don’t work in that industry any more, I am not immersed in the how and the why of things every day.

Over the past few years I have been lucky enough to be involved with training providers who have been either part of organisations delivering services in a particular sector or who had very tight links to organisations who do, which has given an insight into what real industry currency looks like.  It looks like staff who not only work as trainers but also as professionals in the industry (maybe only once a fortnight or once a month, but still actual work with real clients).  It is being embedded in the sector that they work in, seeing and interacting with clients every day they are in and around the office, whether they are working as trainers or as industry professionals.  It is strong links to the provision of services and how that is achieved; currently for example, the general manager of our disability and mental health services sits in the office next to me and almost every morning we sit in our outdoor area, have a coffee and talk about what is happening in each of our areas and across the sector, which provides both of us with insights, information and actual real world examples of a range of issues which we probably would not get if we weren’t so connected.  In previous roles my counselling trainers either volunteered on crisis phone lines or work directly with clients face to face or both, disability trainers worked with people with disability and youth work trainers were youth workers.  Everyone was essentially an industry professional first, even the staff who had been trainers for 20 years.

Now I acknowledge that for these kinds of organisationally embedded training providers it is perhaps easier to achieve this level of industry involvement, engagement and currency and that for a TAFE or a private RTO where they are not tightly part of an organisation, achieving this may be more difficult, but we have to do better than thinking that a couple of conferences and some PD count for currency.  If you haven’t done actual work in the sector you are training people in more than 2 years I personally think you probably don’t have currency.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

Paul Can be contacted through

Rasmussen Learning Solutions or Spectrum Training

Marketing Vocational Education – Matching ethics and finances

No matter what anyone would like to think , Learning is a business, a business worth 100’s of billions of dollars worldwide and unfortunately where ever you have enormous sums of money involved there are always going to be those who seek to take advantage and utilise unethical practices in pursuit of financial gain.  We have over recent months seen the effects of this in the Vocational Training industry in this country, particularly with respect to VET-FEE HELP and the Educational Brokerage Industry but also in other areas as well.

It also doesn’t matter whether we are talking about public providers (TAFE) or non-public ones, there is still always going to be a need to work within budgetary constraints, ensure there are sufficient students in courses, make sure that the business you are running (and lets no kid ourselves TAFE is a business whether they want to think of themselves that way or not) is sustainable and can provide for the needs and expected outcomes of students and stakeholders.  So the question becomes how do you manage to do all of this, provide a high quality service, a sustainable business and still uphold your ethics.

My number one rule is a simple one

Don’t use Brokers or Educational Consultants

 

So why not, well from my point of view Brokers or educational consultants bring nothing to the table except either the necessity to increase the cost to consumer of your course or decrease the amount of income that comes to you.  Of course the argument for their use is that they bring in far more students than would be possible without them.  However the question which need to be asked is are the students appropriate for the programs you are offering.  Do they come to you already properly pre-screened or is all that is happening (and I think this is more often than not the case) they are simply getting a name on a form and directing the person to you and then you, the provider, is having to do all of the work.  So the question really needs to be asked, what is it that they are actually providing, are they doing something which the provider can not do internally and what is the quality of what they are doing.  If it is just a numbers game, trying to get as many people on the books to generate as much income as possible then why not, but if  the provider is actually interested in quality students and quality outcomes for those students then in my opinion they are much better staying away from brokerages.

So if providers are not going to utilise brokers and consultants then what can they do to ethically market their programs.  Well for a start there is the old stalwarts of reputation and word of mouth.  Now of course these two options are not going to line your coffers with gold, but then again if that is what you want you probably stopped reading much earlier than here.  As with any business the having a reputation for good high quality service will make it much easier for your business to be sustainable and it will generate the second one, word of mouth.  If students are happy with their experience and they get the outcome they wanted, then they will tell other people and those people will  think of you when they are in need of the service you provide.  To give you an example, a student who graduate from us last year, went on to be the manager of a large community services program and because of the experience he had learning with us, when he need to have 50 staff trained he didn’t even consider going anywhere else or even talking to anyone else he came straight to us and engaged us to do the work.  He also recommended us to other in the organisation which generated another 30 students for us.  That is 80 students as a direct result of one person having a positive experience and getting the outcomes they wanted.

Which brings me to my next point, don’t neglect your past students, you have got their details stored in your systems, remember them and they will remember you.  It is important to remember that this isn’t about selling to them. don’t just send them details of your upcoming training or special offers or things like that, actually remember them.  Many years ago I worked for a training provider who used to email all of their past students on their birthday and held a monthly birthday draw for cinema tickets or dinner out or the like.  85% of their business was either repeat business or direct referral from previous students.  I even saw on more than one occasion, ex students mark, friends, work colleges and family into the office  so that they could sign up for a program, and CEO’s of large companies ringing up and saying ‘I did your training about 10 years ago and it was fantastic, I still use it today and I need you to come out and deliver it to all of our executive and senior management teams.

Never underestimate the power of past students

 

Also too many training providers keep looking for individual students, isn’t it better to talk to one person and get 5 students than to have to talk to 5 people.  Build relationships and network with organisations, offer them more than just training.  Offer the L&D and HR people support with funding and training needs analysis and finding them suitable training providers if you can’t give them what they need.  When they do need what you have to offer they will come back to you, because you didn’t try to sell them something the didn’t need.  Be different, if you are the third person to call me this week offering me the same of boring diploma of management or certificate III program then you are going to get the same answer that they everyone else got.  Not interested.  Know what you are good at, explore niche markets, build a value proposition and give people what they want and need, not just what you can provide, there is a very big difference.

Ethically building a reputable sustainable business takes time, just being in this industry for the money provides outcomes for no one, so in the immortal words of Google ‘Just don’t be evil.

 

Musings on Vocational Education and Training in Australia

First off this is a blatant plug  🙂

So for those of you who are interested I have just publish a collection of edited extracts from this blog and several other places around my thoughts on the Vocational Education and Training Industry in Australia.  It is published over on Amazon for a very reasonable price, so if you want to have a copy of my musing on VET over the past couple of years pop on over and get yourself a copy.

musings

 

Also while you are over there think about picking up my short work Chasing Butterflies – Evaluating the organisational impact of informal learning.

 

chasing

 

or if by some strange coincident you happen to be interested in Human genetics, philosophy and ethics then also feel free to pick up this wonderful piece of work.

 

Ethical

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