The problem of opinion and misinformation in VET

Australian VET is a regulated industry, in fact if you spend more than five minutes talking to almost anyone in the sector, you will understand just how abundant these regulations and other associated controls are.  Given that this is the case, and given that because this information is written into legislation, and other associated documents linked to and referenced in the legislation, I am sometimes dumbfounded how it is possible not to know the answer to a lot of the questions I hear being asked in the sector, and worse still giving an opinion, which is wrong, on something that is clearly articulated in black and white in the various documentation for the sector.

Now I am the first to admit two things, one, there is a lot of documentation to look through (the Standards, Data Definitions, funding agreements, AQF, to just name a couple) and second, I am the kind of person who loves, reading and assimilating information and data.  That being said however, how is it possible for someone to be in a position of relative power, (CEO, Consultant, Compliance Manager, whatever) and not have read and more importantly understood at least the very basic documents which regulate the sector, and given the amount of misinformation, and glaringly wrong opinions which are offered by people who should really no better, it can only be assumed that they either haven’t read or haven’t understood the documents, or have simply shifted all of the responsibility for knowing what the right answer is to someone else.  Now to some extend I don’t, by necessity, mind if people, say a CEO of an RTO doesn’t have all the answers and relies on his compliance person to understand everything and to get it right, however if this is you, then don’t give an answer when someone asks a question.  If you don’t know the answer, all you are going to do is muddy the water and make it more difficult for the person asking the question to get the right answer, which then probably need.

What is far more concerning to me is when people, who are supposed to be senior leaders in the sector or who are consultants who work with large numbers of providers, voice opinions which are clearly incorrect on subjects where your opinion doesn’t matter because the answer or the definition is written clearly into some form of regulatory document.  Not only does this provide whoever is asking the question, or who they are working with, with the wrong answer, which could have catastrophic consequences for that person or organisation, but if they say it enough and it gains momentum and gets passed around enough, this clearly wrong piece of misinformation, becomes gospel.

One of these, as an example, came up a number of years ago, at an ASQA briefing and was categorically answered, but the myth, wrong, opinion, or misinformation still exists today and is still quoted by people.  At this briefing a gentleman stood up during the time allocated for questions and asked, why it was the case that highly experience industry people had to hold all of the units of competency that they were teaching.  He said that it was making it difficult for him to find trainers because a lot of people in his industry didn’t have the newest UOC’s and therefore couldn’t teach and assess those units.  The person from ASQA (who is a person who is highly regarded, highly skilled and help draft the standards) looked dumbfounded for a moment and then replied that the standards didn’t say that and asking him where he had learned this from.  This of course bought a hue and cry from the audience many of whom insisted that that was exactly what the standards said.  The ASQA representative carefully explained that all the standards said was that trainers had to have, small c vocational competencies.  They didn’t have to hold the exact unit they just had to be able to prove that they were competent in the skill that they were teaching if and when they were audited.  Another round of discontent emerged with a lot of people say that TAFE had always required them to RPL the most recent units at the very least.  Again, the ASQA person reiterated that while that may be the practice of TAFE, that was simply a management decision, was not required by the standards and should not actually be considered to be best practice. Now not only was this information shared at the briefing, it was also shared through FAQ’s on the ASQA website and through recordings of the briefing.  Yet, much to my disbelief, I heard this very question being asked in another forum late last year, a a great many of the people who answered spouted the very same information which has been debunked numerous times since that first briefing.

The real problem is that this is only one example of this kind of opinion masquerading as fact which is doing a substantial amount of damage to the sector.  It is no wonder that RTO’s are failing audit if they are relying on opinions from so called experts rather than actually going and reading the cold hard, black and white information contained in the various acts and other documents.  The vast majority of the questions I see posed on online forums, at conferences and in general discussion, aren’t the subject of opinion, and do in fact have definitive answers if you can just be bothered to go and read the documents that govern what we do.

So how about before we ask or answer a question, we all go and read, not just The Standards, but all of the ancillary documentation associated with the sector, or if you don’t have the time or the inclination to do that, (I personally think our sector would be better off if more people did though) just google the question, ignore the opinion and go to the actual source documents.  We all talk about wanting the VET sector to be more professional, and I have to say, actually reading and understand the legislation etc which underpins might be a good start.

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Grassroots and start up Learning and Development

Today I thought I might give the world of Vocational Education a break and have a look at some issues that more focused around corporate learning and development and in particular early stage, or greenfields corporate learning and development. As many of you know apart from trying to run RTOs and navigate the VET sector for more than a decade, I have also been heavily involved in the world of L&D and in particular the world of shall we say grassroots L&D.  So I thought that I might share a few of the insights I have gained over that time.

Firstly what is grassroots L&D?  It’s that L&D role where in real terms you are starting from scratch.  Now this might be for a wide variety of reason, organisational restructure has centralised learning functions and created a new L&D department, L&D has been just in one part of the business and there is a need to make it organisational, the organisation is relatively young or has undergone rapid growth making L&D a focus,  or as happens in a lot of cases for some reason L&D has been badly neglected and everything has basically run down and virtually stopped.

This can be frightening place for an L&D professional to find themselves.  Usually we land in roles where there is already existing structures, where we have the foundations.  Training is being delivered, there is a team who are familiar with the business and its needs, a structure around budgets and finance, you know all of those things we expect to have in an L&D department.  Often at the grassroots level, even in a larger organisation you will find that the L&D team is a team of exactly one, You.  So on top of managing, you may also be developing and delivering training, doing the administration, implementing technologies, and on top of that trying to recruit new staff to take the load off.  The other pressure which is often present in these scenarios, is the pressure to get things up and running as soon as possible so to speak.

It is this expectation of creating something relatively quickly, which can cause heartburn for some L&D folk, primarily because we are often used to having data, strategies, platforms and frameworks already in place to allow us to move forward.  So what most people do is to dive into developing their strategy and framework, start doing TNAs, auditing compliance training and certifications, all those things that we know we have to have in order to deliver meaningful learning experiences to our staff.  This however could be a very costly mistake in terms of you longevity in the role.

Why?  Well because in most of these situations we are dealing with organisations,  managements teams and even boards who may not grasp the complexity of the L&D function.  This is of real concern when the L&D team has been created because the business has discovered a gap, or in some cases a gaping black hole which they need to address and address quickly. They often don’t have time to worry about how things are going to be evaluated for example, they just want them to work.  Getting some kind of training started in a particular area may be far more important than making sure that training is totally aligned with the business plan and strategic goals.  In these cases getting all of your ducks in a row before you start may well leave you in a situation where you find yourself having to justify your achievements. Often in these cases as well there can competing agendas across the business, particularly when L&D has become a more centralised function, instead of being within business units and under the control of Mangers or GM’s.

So what do we do, how can we get done what the business needs, or thinks it needs and still set ourselves up to be able to move forward strategically at the same time.  As many of you may already know I have been a fan of training impact maps for a very long time.  When I first saw one in Brinkerhoff’s book High Impact Learning, they struck a chord with me as a useful tool for ensuring what we are delivering meets the needs of the organisation.  They are incredibly useful in these greenfields style situations where the business wants a solution but is not sure what that solution could be.

How does this work, it’s really simple, get the business, or business unit or even the board to fill this out, with or without help from you and then use the information contained in it to create whatever intervention is necessary to meet the needs outlined.  Here is  hint though, if the business can’t fill out these sections, then training may not be the answer and you may need to have a longer conversation with people.  Another quick hint, and this is really important, resist the temptation to provide the business with ideas around measurement of success, if they don’t come up with it they won’t own it and if they don’t own it and they didn’t tell you that was what they wanted to measure, then you are potentially in for a world of hurt, when they come back and say we actually wanted to see an improvement in X why did you measure Y we don’t care about that.

Part of the trick here also is to get them to ask the right questions such as;

  • Who is the Target group for training,
  • Why are we doing this training, what result will it mean for the business
  • What are the tasks that the target group do that this training is seeking to improve
  • What are the skills and knowledge that staff need to perform these tasks
  • Which of the strategic goals of the business does this training relate to and how, and
  • How will you know if this training has been successful.

So if you can get them to fill this out properly you will have achieved a couple of quite important things, firstly as i said above you will have a nice base from which to look at what interventions you will need to develop to meet the need.  Secondly you will have started the process of the business thinking strategically about its learning and development needs, the value that training brings to the organisation and the need make sure that training that is being delivered or requested will actually meet the needs of the organisation and staff.

Now you should be up and running and can start to build and deliver things and then hopefully start work on some of the other areas which will need your attention.

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