Time for reflection.

Well 2017 has been a big year.  It has been a big year for me personally and professionally, moving out of the world of VET (at least directly ) and into a more traditional learning and development role.  This was a little bit of a watershed moment for the year as I hadn’t realised the extent of what could be called background stress comes hand in hand with living and breathing the running of an RTO and being neck deep in the VET sector in general.  To be back in a more traditional Learning role, even though it has a different set of challenges and stresses, does not have that ongoing, background stress that I think so many of us in the VET sector feel almost constantly.

Even though I have moved away from the day to day of the VET sector, as most of you know, I have still tried to keep my finger at least somewhat near the pulse, which surprisingly has been a little easier when away from the general hustle and bustle.  It has been a pretty big year for the sector in a lot of ways, with the end of VFH and the start of VSL and all of the issues that bought along with it, including the demise of one very big player in the field, the WhiteCloud private equity backed Careers Australia as well as a number of other providers ranging in size from large to small.  We also saw the contraction of a number of markets areas, primarily due to the caps placed on student fees through VSL. We saw a number of scandals involving TAFEs, the biggest of which has clearly been the absolute failure of TAFESA and the SA government, along with reports showing that funding for VET has not only not kept up with university and school funding but has in actual real terms gone backwards.  When we add on top of this the TAE debacle once could be forgiven for being a little pessimistic about the sector.

Unlike when I wrote a similar piece to last year and the year before, where I talked about the fact that we would see, and did, major players both private and public either leave the market or take massive regulatory hits, I don’t think we are going to see the same thing happen over the next 12 months.  I think we are going to see a sector that rallies back, a rally driven by a greater focus on the needs of industry and workforce participation outcomes, rather than student numbers and qualifications.  The gaps in the system are evident and there now exists both the opportunity and the momentum to fix them.

On a personal note my humble little blog grew in size and reach, and the number of people who I have met through it and am delighted to call my friends always amazes me.  I personally learn a lot through both writing my blog and talking with those of you who comment on it both here and in forums like linkedin, and for the most part, even where there have been disagreements, they have been cordial, well considered and thought out.  I feel honored that so many of you read this thing that I started a little over six years ago and that so many of you find it valuable, even on those days when I let fly and have a bit of a rant.

To the more than 2,500 people who follow me on a regular basis across this blog, linkedin and other forums, I appreciate each and everyone of you, you provide me with insights, knowledge and a depth of wisdom for which I am truly grateful.

So I sincerely hope that all of you, no matter what you are doing over the next few weeks, have a deeply wonderful time, a time to unwind, relax, let go of the year that was and come back next year with a renewed vigor and vitality because I for one look forward to talking to you all again.

 

Advertisements

Vocational Education, Career Development and Employment

I went to a really interesting discussion hosted by ACPET last week centered on the theme, careers not courses.  As some of you may be aware this concept of career development, employment opportunity and workforce participation is a subject that I have viewed as quite important for a while now.  Too often we see post secondary graduates, whether from the VET sector or the University sector coming into the workforce either clearly not properly trained and assessed,  having not been taught particular units or subjects, or that the material they have been taught is out of date.  This therefore makes the student who was hoping that their qualification would net them a job when they were finished not actually capable of doing the role they are supposed to be trained for, yet not knowing that this is the case.  So they submit resumes and go to interviews (when they get past the resume stage) and almost never understand why they don’t get the role.  There are also a not insignificant number of people who get to the end of their study, get into the role they are trained for and find out rapidly that it is just not what they expected or what they want to do.

Of course when you start to think about this issue it becomes really obvious that there is no quick fix here.  It is caused by a number of different failures throughout the system.  The first failure point if that of the mismatch between qualifications, and the requirements of industry and employers, and this is certainly not an issue which can or will be fixed overnight.  It is also one which has a more significant effect in some industries, particularly within fast-moving industries, than in others, but given that training packages define the parameters of the training to be delivered and changing them has traditionally be a long slow process and one in which industry and employers have not stepped up as much as they could have it would seem that this issue may be difficult to address in the short-term.

There are a couple of things which I think can be done, at least more easily than reconnecting training packages and industry, and that is this idea of career development or advice and using that advice and its outcomes to inform training programs, units of competency and placements, so that it maximizes the opportunity for the student to both understand the role they are being trained for, and their ability to actually be hired and function in that role.  The question then becomes how do we achieve, how do we map qualifications, training, and student outcomes, with industry or employment need.

The first step is that people who are giving advice to potential students, particularly where those students are younger, actually need to understand both the training industry and landscape, and they need to understand the requirements of industry or the roles that they are advising people about.  The sad state of affairs is that for the most part this is not the case, at best they have one but not the other.  There are a few notable exceptions of course, but still at the moment they are exceptions nothing more.  Why? Well that is a relatively easy answer, the vast majority of people who are advising potential students are employed by job agencies, apprenticeship and traineeship providers, or educational providers (RTOs for example).  They are not in a real sense career advisers, their real role is something different, either placing people into training programs, or placing them in employment.  Their function and agendas may not be as student centric as we might like to think.  Of course as with everything I am generalising here and there are certainly, for want of a better word, advisers, who are student centric and seek to develop a relationship with the potential student which will provide that person with as good an outcomes as possible.

The other part of the equation here is the training providers.  Training providers need to understand the employment market into which their graduates will be entering.  They need to understand the skills and knowledge and the units of competency which best fit the industry or part of the industry into which the student wants to work in, and more importantly that knowledge needs to be current and accurate.  They need to understand the set of units, and the knowledge and skills which come out of those units, which will maximise the students potential to work in the area they want to.  The problem is of course that there are a lot of courses out there, particularly in the business and community services area, but in other areas as well, where the units taught and the content of those units is so generic that it virtually prepares the student for nothing at all except for a long list of rejected resumes.  One of the reasons why, in a previous role, the organisation i was with had its own RTO was to ensure that the units covered in the course, their content, how they were delivered, and what was expected during placements etc was controlled and produced graduates with the right set of skills to move directly into employment in the organisation.  We also did extensive pre-enrollment testing and discussions to ensure that the people entering the course were a good fit and were likely to complete.  Now I know that some of the apprenticeship agencies and job agencies (some of the better ones) are doing this.  Testing candidates to see how they cope with change and to look for what careers might suit them the most.  And this sort of activity is vitally important because, just because a year 12 student says he likes to play video games and wants to be a game designer, does not mean that it is the best choice for him, (the game design industry in Australia directly employs only about 900 people btw) and may actually harm his chances of getting meaningful employment or doing further training to change careers later, due to impacts upon funding.  It is really important to note here that I am not suggesting that we need to stream and railroad people out of careers that they actually wish to undertake, I am just suggesting that there a lot of people who are being trained who really don’t understand the nature of the industries or work that they are being trained for, and if they had been provided with a fuller explanation of the various careers which were available to them may have chosen a very different path.

The other thing which is important here and is which often overlooked is the fact that industry needs to come to the party as well, they need to be clear about what skills and knowledge they require of potential employees and work with providers to deliver on those skills and knowledge.

Unless we have these links between industry, providers and advisors, greater knowledge of options and the effects of various options on future choices, and truly independent advisors, it seems difficult things will improve.  What we need is an ecosystem, where the potential students are getting, timely, independent, accurate and individualised advice, which leads them to providers who create individualised learning plans for these students, based on what the student wants and what industry needs, with placements, internships and other pre-employment opportunities offers by employers to provide student with well-rounded experiences and the best possible opportunity to convert their qualification into a workforce outcome.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: