On Industry Currency for Trainers

I came across a gem of a question today in a forum I am part of, which spiked a little thought bubble in my head about industry currency.  I did talk about this subject a little while ago but I think it is one that is worth revisting.  The statement was and I am paraphrasing slightly here – if trainers are not working directly in the industry they are training in how can they be trainers, as they don’t meet the currency requirement.  So why is this interesting, primarily because I have long thought that there are a significant number of ‘trainers’ both in the public and non-public sector for whom if the point was really pressed that currency would be a very large issue.  Why?  Well because they have not actually worked in the sector they are training in quite a number of years and have relied on going to conferences, attending PD sessions and gaining more qualifications (though this is more often than not done through RPL rather than formal study).  Now the standards (1.13) clearly say the following current industry skills directly relevant to the training and assessment being provided.  Now in their fact sheet on this standard it says, Your RTO should ideally ensure that trainers and assessors are regularly exposed to industry workplaces and that they have the ability to participate in workplace tasks, however they are clear that Delivering training and assessment in a workplace does not constitute the development of current industry skills.  Now it is the case that ASQA suggests other activities which a trainer and assessor could participate in to contribute to the demonstration of current industry skills which include:

  • Participation in relevant professional development activities: the implementation guide may provide a list of relevant industry associations. A trainer and assessor could consult with these industry associations to identify relevant development activities they could attend.
  • Participation in networks: this could include attendance at industry breakfasts, workplace health and safety meetings and discussions with employers.
  • Personal development: through reading of industry journals, with subscriptions both online and in print.
  • Undertaking accredited training: including single units of competency, skill sets and qualifications and demonstrating recent completion of a VET training product.
  • Returning to work: that is, working in the relevant industry on a part-time or casual basis.

I guess my question here is how many ‘trainers’ would if were to really dug down into it, have industry currency.  Vocational education is not like teaching, it is not just working through a curriculum (that shouldn’t be taken to in any way diminish the job that teachers actually do), there is a significant amount of technical and activity based skills and learning which are required to be passed on to students, which makes the vocational sector significantly different to the other educational sectors.  Trainers and Assessors in this sector need to have industry skills but more than that they need to have relevant and up to date industry skills, that is, industry currency.  As I said above there are a significant number of providers (both public and non-public) where trainers and assessors have not worked in their industries for many many years as they have been full-time trainers/assessors and have relied on conferences, networks, webinars etc in conjunction with RPL to keep their paper qualifications up to date.  I have to wonder however, how many of these would be able to do the jobs they are training students to do if they were dropped back into the workforce again.

I would be really interested to hear everyone thoughts on this.


Death Knell of the High Growth Mega Colleges

Vocation in Administration, Australian Careers Network in Administration, RTO services group in administrationEVOCCA, shedding staff and campuses, a small number of sackings at Careers Australia and then silence, and Ashley services group trading at way below its high water mark.  One has to ask is the time of the high growth mega provider over?  I think the answer is assuredly yes.  I also think that it will be a long time before the sharemarket sees another VET related IPO, there is a smell about them now and it is not a good one.

To be fair, there are also still some very large colleges out there, but when one looks at the other players there is a difference between a number of those that remain and those that are in various levels of trouble and this difference is growth rate and sustainability.  The bigger players who are left have had sustainable business models, have built there businesses over many years in lot of cases,  and did not expand rapidly on the back of VFH fueled enrollments.

It is highly unlikely that we will see the unbridled growth and expansion that has occurred over the last few years in the sector again anytime soon.  The market and the government have realised the issues and taken steps to stabilise the sector.  As I have said previously it was at least in some cases only the massive influx of money generated by large enrollment numbers, enormous fees and commencement payments that allow this growth to happen.  It was only pie in the sky projections, premised on the unending continuation of both funding regimes and student numbers which made some of these operations look like market darlings, when in reality as we have seen, changes in funding and student numbers, have either ground expansion to a halt or driven companies into administration.

I also think the days of the roll up company, where a parent company owns multiple providers are, if not over, very close to it.  With the regulator focusing on what have clearly become high risk indicators and lenders seemingly unwilling to back high market valuations, it seems that we will be back to mostly small to medium size operators, generally in niche or specialised markets, producing sensible and sustainable growth and profits for all of their stakeholders while at the same time producing the high quality student outcomes that the non-public VET can actually produce.

Personally I think this is a good thing, the larger you are the more difficult it is to provide high quality training to everyone, in every course, all of time.  This has long been one of the problem for the public providers, where they were to some extent expected to do just that and the variation in quality even between different faculties in the same TAFE, was sometimes astounding.  Yet the non-public side of the sector (or at least those who attempted to become mega providers) failed to see this lesson, the wider the range of programs you have the more difficult it is to ensure the right staff are in the right place, with the right qualification, at the right time, providing the right training and assessment with tools that have been properly validated.  I know, I ran an enterprise provider and L&D department that was responsible for the training needs of nearly 36,000 staff and volunteers.  Just ensuring that all of the necessary information for each student is captured is truly a nightmare of epic proportions let alone anything else.

So while I feel deeply sorry for the staff and students who have been and will continue to be effected by this correction, it was as I have said for many months now a correction which had to occur and a correction without which the VET sector both public and non-public together could not begin to move forward to actually again begin to make a difference in the lives of people who come to us.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

Labor want a review into the VET sector in Australia

So the big news around the place this morning is the announcement from the Federal Labor Party that if it wins office in the next election it will launch a major review into the Vocational Education and Training sector in Australia.   A full review of the sector is certainly well over due, particularly as we have seen the amount of funding provided to the sector decline over the past few years and certainly not keep up with the schools or university sector.  However, it needs to be an actual proper review.  A review that puts aside our entrenched bias, ideological and political agendas and simply focuses on one key question, what do we need to do in order to ensure that the VET sector in this country is able to provide value for Australia for many years to come?  Now the rhetoric in the announcement about evidence based approaches to policy making and the terms of reference for the review which can be found in the Shadow Ministers press release seem promising at least in terms of an impartial review , but will we really get that?  We have seen both Labor and Green politicians jump on the ‘Stop TAFE cuts’ bandwagon, which is being heavily pushed by the Education unions with both parties already in various forums suggesting that the answer to problems in the sector is to simply pour more money into TAFE.  So I would call on both Bill Shorten and Sharon Bird to emphatically promise us that any review into the  VET sector is actually an impartial one.  One that is prepared to BBQ sacred cows if that is what turns out to be necessary.

So how can this kind of impartial review be undertaken in a way which will convince the sector that it is transparent and not simply a justification of pre-existing ideologies.  Firstly there needs to be representation from all of the parts of the sector public and non-public. The terms of reference need to not preference any particular part of type of provision, which they currently seem to.   There needs to be a chair or whoever is tasked with leading the review who is truly impartial.  The person needs to be someone who the sector can trust is not driven by ideological commitments, someone who does not have commitments to either the public or non-public parts of the sector.  An academic perhaps, I think would be suggestion a number of people could make, however again I would caution this choice as  as we have seen from a lot of the writings of the academics in the sector at the moment there seems to be, at least to my mind,  a bias towards public providers and I a not insubstantial amount of cases connections to either the education unions or the public VET sector.   I actually think that in order for this to be a fair, impartial review that whoever leads it needs to be from outside the sector, preferably with few, if any actual links to it.

Any kind of advisory panel associated with the review also has to be well-balanced and consist of both those from industry and the provider side of the picture,  BUT  please not just the big players.  I for one am sick and tired of seeing advisory panels in this sector stacked with managing directors or the like of very large providers, massive industry groups and worse union leaders or worse academics who have no idea of how the sector works as they have never actually worked in it.  Given that when we take the big players both public and private out of the picture the average provider has less that 750 students there is a massive disconnect if the only people who advise the government are the large providers. And the same goes for industry groups, there needs to be representation from those people at the coal face of employing graduates from the sector and to be honest I have really understood why the unions actually need to be at the table at all in these discussion but that may just be me.  Too often these kinds of reviews become rarefied academic affairs rather than something which produces an actual tangible and usable model for the future.

If Labor, or any other party is going to do this then they need to do it properly, they need to put aside their politics, ideology and sacred cows and undertake a review that looks impartially and transparently at what this sector needs going forward and if it doesn’t produce recommendations which match to what they would have desired they need to suck it up and actually do what is good for the country and sector.


Anyway that’s just my opinion.

One rule of some another for TAFE!

The VET sector in this country is regulated by a set of standards which are supposed to apply to all providers whether they are public, that is a TAFE or a private provider.  However after revelations this week about the Kangan Institute having left sensitive student files in an abandoned campus for

5 Years.

It is abundantly clear that all providers are not equal!

 In fact in this case if it wasn’t for the fact that the local council issued a notice to the Victoria department of education to do something about the state of the campus because local residents were scared to walk past it, the files may well have sat there forever.

This unequal treatment is clearly the case at least in Victoria at the very least, which of course has not yet managed to get its act together and hand over regulation from its state based regulator to ASQA so regulation of its providers is still provided by a body which is funded by the State government which, oh that’s right, also owns the TAFEs.  Can anyone else see problems with this because I certainly can.

For a system which is supposed to regulate all providers in the same way and according to the same standards it seems while private providers certainly are being held to account as can be seen by the list of ASQA audit decisions,  looking at the same table clearly tells us that TAFE is not being held to account in the same way.  There does not appear to be one single reference to any TAFE in Australia ever having been sanctioned by ASQA.  Now to be fair Victoria and WA  are not regulated by ASQA, but I have to say that I seriously doubt if we were to look at the audit decisions of those sate regulators that we would find any adverse decisions against TAFEs under their jurisdiction either.

Now please do not get me wrong here, I am not attempting to bag TAFE  or suggested that most of them do not do a great job, those of you who have read this blog for a while will know that I am a supporter of the public VET system.  However are we actually to believe that of all of the TAFEs, are all so perfect that there has not ever been even conditions applied to their activities by a regulator anywhere, when clearly given the revelations above and a range of other issues that have surfaced over the past few years with other public providers, this is not the case.

Now let us for a moment consider what the ramifications might have been of the Kangan Incident had rather than it being a public provider, it had been a  private provider who had left sensitive student documents strewn around an abandoned office.  I don’t think we need to consider this too deeply to say with a fair amount of certainty that if this had happened at a private provider that they would have been DEREGISTERED. 

So the question which sits in my head now is what will happen to Kangan and the staff and management responsible for this massive, ongoing, systemic failure.  My guess would be nothing.  Kangan won’t be closed, (Can’t close a TAFE that would have devastating effects on the community), the management and staff who are responsible won’t be fired (they might be lightly chastised though), the government, Kangan or anyone else involved won’t take responsibility and probably wont even acknowledge it happen or even apologise to the students whose records and personal details they treat so carelessly.  What will happen then?  There will be a review and some policies and procedures will be updated, TAFE, the Unions and maybe even the Victorian State government will come out and say that has clearly been caused by competitive funding which has stripped TAFE of the resources which it needs to operate properly and that it is all the fault of the private providers in the system.

The situation where TAFE is treated differently from all other providers, even though they are all governed by the same standards, simply because they are a government-owned entity is ridiculous and needs to stop.  If a TAFE does something worthy of deregistration it should be deregistered, or at the very least suspended from delivery of VET qualifications until it gets its act together.  If the problem is in one of its schools or campuses, or courses then stop them delivering.  It is really as simple as that.

We have a single set of regulations it is about time that everyone was actually regulated in the same way.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

The State of VET survey

Hi all I am working on creating a report similar to that which is created by ASTD (now ATD) for the general L&D community but tailored directly to the Australian VET community about current feelings and faith in the VET Sector in Australia.  It would be really awesome if those of you who were interested in where we are now as an industry would click on the link below and answer as many of the questions as you can or you wish to.

One of the reasons I am doing this is that over the years many of us have found the kinds of information which is provided by places like NCVER don’t really capture the amount or type of information which those of us with in the industry actually would like to see.  So hopefully with all your help this will.  Also if you have any other questions you would like me to think about adding into the mix for next time let me know.

I will leave the survey open for a couple of weeks, or until people stop visiting it and then I will  pull all of the data together and share it with everyone.  Please note all of your responses are completely anonymous.


The State of VET in Australia Survey



Ethics and the VET sector

I sort of touched on this subject last week when I talked about sustainability and growth in the VET sector, however I have found myself thinking more about the concept of professional ethics in relation to education management and the VET sector more over the last few days.   As some of you know my academic background is in philosophy and ethics, particularly professional ethics and bioethics. so the whole concept of ethical behaviour within business and professional entities of something for which I have a soft spot. With that view behind me I thought I might try to delve deeper into this whole issue of ethical behaviour within the VET sector.

I think one of the key issues here is a simple one.  It would be my suggestion that the primary goal and therefore what we should use as a starting point here is the concept of providing quality student outcomes.  If we put the provision of quality student outcomes as the core tenet of what we are supposed to be doing then I will suggest that everything else falls into place.  The real problem I would also suggest is when this central tenet become diluted for some reason, primarily as we have seen the pursuit of profit over the provision of quality student outcomes.  There does exist however a certain tension particularly with for profit providers, but in reality with all providers both public and non-public between generating suffice income to remain sustainable and providing the quality outcomes for students.

The issue of quality outcomes for students, or more correctly higher quality resources, has also be put forward by some as justification for the 300-400% increases we have seen in the cost of a diploma over the last 5 years.  Now certainly some of that increase has come from, at least in some cases the provision of better quality resources to students in an attempt to drive better quality student outcomes, however in the vast majority of cases I find it difficult to see how the quality of student resources and as a flow on from this the quality of student outcomes has improved by the same 300-400%.  In fact again in most cases the resources I see today are pretty much the same as the ones I saw 5 years ago.  They may have been prettied up and digitised or designed or delivered by someone of note, but the content and the assessment seem at least to me to remain the same.

Back to ethics however.  If we decide that the central tenet of what we are doing as educational providers is providing students with the best possible outcome what comes from that?  Well at least a few things I think.  To produce the best outcomes students should be;

  1. Enrolled in courses appropriate to their literacy and numeracy skills.  This to me is a no brainer.  If your LLN skill are not sufficient to undertake a diploma you should not be enrolled in a diploma,
  2. Enrolled in courses which map onto their desires with respect to education and employment outcomes.  Enrolling someone in a Diploma of Counselling, when the person just wants to work in the community services sector is probably not appropriate, as a certificate III qualification is probably going to be more useful to them in terms of finding work,
  3. Enrolled in courses which offer the student the best value for money.  Why enroll a student in a $15,000 diploma level course when a certificate iii or iv course which is funded may offer them similar or better employment outcomes for a fraction of the real cost,
  4. Provided with the support and resources they require in order to have the best possible chance of actually completing the qualification.  The number of times I have heard of students being signed up for online diplomas and once their name was on the dotted line and they had been given access to the ‘learning portal’ they never heard from the provider again boggles the mind and
  5. Provided with quality trainers and assessment materials with meet the necessary standards.

Now let’s think about this for a moment.  If providers were to put this sort of thinking front and center, before thinking about how much that student is worth to them or how much profitability there is I tend to think that most of the problems we have been seeing would rapidly disappear.  It is only, it seems to me when the notion of increased profits, or expansion, or profile or something else is put before the needs of the student and the provision of student outcomes that we get ourselves in trouble.

This is not to suggest that profitability, good business practices and sound financial sustainability run contrary to the provision of quality student outcomes.  Nor is it to suggest that students should be provided with so much, that sustainability takes hold and the provider goes under or in the case of public providers requires a bail out of sorts from governments.  Sustainability and student outcomes can, should and must go hand in hand whether the provider is a public or a non-public one, but keeping this idea of quality student outcomes first, puts us on the right track overall.

Anyway, that’s just my opinion.


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