Is it time for capstone or endpoint independent assessment in VET?

With a number of countries including the UK moving towards using some sort of capstone or endpoint assessment to act as a final gateway for apprentices, to confirm their competence, prior to being awarded their qualification,  it seems like it may not be a bad time for the Australian VET sector to look at the concept as well.

What is an endpoint or capstone assessment then?  It is an independent assessment  of the knowledge, skills and behaviours that have been learnt throughout the apprenticeship. The purpose of which is to make sure the apprentice meets the standard set by employers and are fully competent in the occupation.  If we take the UK for example End-point assessment must be administered by an assessor from an approved, independent End-point Assessment Organisation, and not by the training provider.  It is the simple idea that at the conclusion of the apprenticeship and prior to the awarding of the qualification an independent body, not connected to the training provider or the employer, makes a final assessment of the skills and knowledge of the apprentice to ensure that they have successfully learnt the skills required for the qualification and are therefore competent to be awarded the qualification.

The first question most people as when this suggestion is bought up is Why?  Why is there the need to have a separate independent organisation certifying the competence of the student, isn’t that what the RTO (public or not) is supposed to do.  Of course the simple answer here is that under our VET system that is correct, it is the RTO who is responsible for certifying the competence of the student and awarding the qualification.  However I think given the recent issues with both public and private providers and the fact that ASQA has had to either rescind or have reassessed a substantial number of qualifications across a range of industries, it seems at least to me, that confidence in the fact that providers are actually doing enough to ensure competence may actually be a significant issue.  That those students who receive qualifications, regardless of what industry it relates to, are actually competent and have the requisite skills and knowledge they require in order to do the work which the qualification says they are able to do, is really the bedrock of our system isn’t it.  If more than 80% of people undertaking VET are doing it to improve their workforce participation, then their ability to convert that qualification into some kind of workforce outcome, along with the need for employers who employ these students on the basis of having a qualification, which indicates they possess a certain level of skills and knowledge are paramount.  In fact we have seen a number of employers now feeling that they need undertake their own testing of ‘qualified’ potential staff to ensure their competence prior to employment.  The idea of end point assessments is I think one that is certainly applicable to apprenticeships, however I also think there is certainly a useful application for them across a range of disciplines.  There would also be an interesting side benefit of a system of independent assessment and that is that it would provide substantive information to the VET regulator around the quality of graduates from different providers.  A high level of failure of students from a particular provider would be a risk indicator for the regulator to cast a closer eye over that provider.  We would I think also see that those providers who were less that scrupulous in their training and assessment practices would begin to exit the market as it would become more difficult for them to sustain their business models.

There are a range of conditions however which these kind of assessments require to meet, in order I think to be both successful and valuable.  The first is true independence, these gatekeeper organisations cannot be connected to training providers in any way.  They cannot be part of the TAFE system or linked to private providers at all, they must be truly independent organisations.  I would also suggest that along with this goes the fact that they cannot be government agencies, because, unfortunately as we know, there are often competing pressures placed upon government agencies which may make them less effective in carrying out their duties.   A couple of suggestions then spring to mind, the first of which would be to utilise the various peak bodies for different industries as a conduit to enabling this sort of assessment.  To me there may be issues here as peak bodies are often tightly linked to, and in a substantial number of instances paid for by the employers they represent.  This may produce the perception of bias or making things easier, particularly when there are shortages in the labour markets they represent.  Another possibility would be to utilise the already existing SSO’s and simply add to their duties, the development and administration of independent end point assessments.  This suggestion makes a fair bit of sense to me as there are already existing organisations in place who are tightly linked to the development of the training packages themselves and who are already funded to provide a range of VET services.  The third option would be to not utilise any existing structures and build the system from the ground up with organisations applying for and being granted a license shall we say to deliver these assessment services.  Of course stringent requirements would need to be developed to ensure that the veracity of these organisations were not subject to even the perception of bias or unethical behaviour.

I know that there will be those of you out there who will say that all this is doing is creating another layer of bureaucracy, and that what is in fact needed more high quality providers who can be trusted in their practices, and less lets get this qualification done as quickly as possible providers in the system, and to be fair you are probably right.  The problem is, that what we are doing is not working, and if we are  honest has not been working for a while now, and suggestions like removing the contestable market place or only providing government funding to public providers or more regulation and harsher penalties will not, to my mind at least, make any substantial difference.  The concept of independent final assessments may however actually revitalise the levels of confidence that everyone has in the system.  It is I think at least something we should be talking about.





VET, Learning and Development, and Personal Branding

I was prompted to thinking about the power of personal brand last week, when I was part of a discussion around the issue of training providers, and in particular RTOs using, or relying on the credentials of  people who no longer worked there (or in some cases had never worked there) in order to meet audit requirements among other things.  The discussion got me thinking about the role of personal branding for VET and L&D professionals, how developing a strong personal brand can help not only to enhance your personal opportunities but also the stature and reputation of those organisations you work and protection a strong personal brand offers from the misuse of personal credentials by employers.

I sat on a panel about personal branding, with two of the best people in L&D, namely Ryan Tracey (Ryan2point0) and Natalie Goldman (Flex Careers), a couple of years ago and I was shocked that there were so many people in the VET and L&D sectors who didn’t realise the value of developing a strong personal brand, particularly where that brand can be built and maintained in conjunction with links to strong organisational branding as well.  Unfortunately I think that a lot of people view personal branding as, simply,  a way to gain more, or better employment.  This then for people who are in roles they like with organisations that value them, tends I think to lead them to the conclusion that personal branding is not something that they really need to spend too much time considering.  Unfortunately this view only considers the range of other advantages and interesting side benefits which can occur when you develop your own personal brand.

One of the problems which can occur, and which I have seen happen to a number of good people within the sector is that without having a strong personal brand it is easy for the reputation of the last place you worked to have a significant effect on your own personal reputation and in turn you ability to acquire new roles.  Over the last few years with collapse of large players such as Vocation, ACN, and Careers Australia, and a range of smaller players as well, we have seen high quality trainers and assessors struggle to find new roles because of their association with a failed provider, or worse one that was viewed as having been less than scrupulous in its activities.  I know several people for whom it took almost 6 months to find new roles due to the stink of association shall we say.  A strong personal brand may not solve this problem entirely but it can certainly make it much easier to overcome the issues arising from association with a bad brand.

As I said however the issue of employment and employability are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the value that a strong personal brand and reputation can bring to someone in the VET and L&D sectors in general.  Information and connection are also key pieces of value which flow out of a strong brand and reputation.  A point that I made recently at a small training workshop on building personal brand was that, brand and reputation bring with them trust, and trust brings a willingness for people to connect and talk with you.  People will ask for opinions and advice, invite you forums and discussion, which all of which in turn, if managed well, continues to build trust, reputation, connection and brand.  In essence it gets you known to people, and getting known to people is the missing link for most people.  As a lot of people will know I am often invited to sit on consultation and advisory groups, forums and other panels and committees, and asked for formal or informal advice from range of stakeholders, all of this is the result of being known, and of people trusting my input and advice, all of this is the result of brand and reputation.

Some people may ask the question, why, why would I want to be involved in all of these things, I am happy where I am, and doing what I do.  And if that is the case then that is fantastic.  if however you feel like you want to play a greater role in the sector you are part of, have the ability to have some input and have a voice around your sector, then building your brand and the reputation and connections that brand brings is the simplest way to do that.

So how do you build your brand, how do you make yourself not just known in the sector but recognised for what you bring to the table.

Well that’s something I will discuss in another post



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