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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About pauldrasmussen
Paul Rasmussen is one of Australia’s most widely read Vocational Education and Training Commentators. He provides deep, unbiased analysis and insights not only on topical issues, but also on the underlying structure and policy which supports the industry. His writing and analysis has been praised for its uncompromising and thought provoking style and its ability to focus on the issues of real importance to the sector. He has advised various government departments and ministers, training providers, public and private organisations, not for profits and small to medium enterprises on the VET sector and the issues and opportunities facing it. He is one of Australia’s most awarded learning professionals and a regular speaker at a range of conventions and forums. His extensive experience in vocational education, and learning and development coupled with formal qualifications in philosophy, ethics, business and education management allow Paul to provide a unique view of the road ahead and how to navigate it.

10 Responses to The problem of opinion and misinformation in VET

  1. Wayne says:

    Good stuff as USUAL.

  2. Dean says:

    Hi Paul, could you please provide links which would be the best starting point to read those documents? Thanks

  3. Martyn Webster says:

    The root cause is simply that VET in Australia is *badly* regulated.

    The legislation, rules and regulations are inconsistent, sometimes contradictory. Change and risk are both poorly managed and poorly implemented.

    There are over 80 regulatory agencies (including 3 Regulators, 8 STAs, AISC, 64 IRCs, 6 SSOs, NCVER, USI) with different agendas and priorities, and overlapping jurisdiction. Providers need to deal with at least six of these agencies and sometimes many more. Their implementation of the regulations is inconsistent (partly due to the problems with the regulations and partly due to poor management). Industry engagement is sporadic and poorly targeted.

    This uncertainty naturally filters down to the providers who need to employ at least one full time staff member or professional consultant just to advise them on how to comply with the rules, and that is not always enough.

    Unlike you have done in this article, I don’t want to point fingers at individuals, roles or agencies here because there are good people struggling to do the best they can. The system as a whole is broken and anyone who has working in the sector for a long time (as a RTO manager, trainer, regulator or service provider) knows this.

    It can only be fixed from the top down. Frankly, that is too much to expect from the batch of politicians currently on offer, so we all plod along doing the best we can until someone in charge starts listening to the right people and getting things right.

    • pauldrasmussen says:

      Martyn, I didn’t mean to point fingers at anyone in particular rather to imply make the point that all of us need to try and do better as a sector when it comes to answering questions and providing information. I agree with you that the sector is badly regulated and that this is something which leads to this confusion as people are often told wildly different things by different people and that people are simply trying to do the best that they can. I certainly would never suggest that anyone is intentionally providing information as I am certain that everyone thinks that their answer is right.

      • Martyn Webster says:

        Paul, No offence taken.

        I understood the gist of your argument to be that “the regulations are clear so why can’t people follow them”. As you acknowledge, the answers are not always clear even with all the knowledge there is to be had. Sharing of “misinformation” is just one symptom of a broken system.

        As a side-lines observer, I usually find information sessions with regulators entertaining. Typically the regulator says “A is right”, someone says “but someone official told me B” and several others say they were told B too and others say they were told “C”. Then another says “no, we were told A”. The regulator assumes everyone that A is correct and everyone has a good old grumble and move on and resolves to do some more research (meaning ask around for other opinions). I’m sure you’ve seen that too, which is perhaps what prompted this blog entry.

        It’s very amusing if your livelihood and sense of purpose doesn’t depend on this stuff. For someone who is directly affected, this can be a source of great stress.

  4. Ross Woods says:

    What the rules say is not always the same as what an ASQA auditor might say. I have heard ASQA auditors argue for detailed assessment of staff against the current version of the competencies. They didn’t require the qual, but were very picky about the skills of instructors.

  5. Tommy Entry AKOI says:

    Quote “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.” What do we do about this? Regards

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