High Use Training Packages – Comments on the comparison data

As a lot of you are probably aware NCVER released some interesting data earlier this month on what they classify as High Use Training Packages, which allows for comparison of the data relating to these packages.  The data is quite interesting particularly when you start to look at it more closely, so today I thought I might look at some of the more interesting points in the data and offer some commentary on it all.

The first thing that jumps out of data is that Early Childhood and the TAE are very big business, with around 125,000 enrollments in Early childhood and 45,000 in the TAE.  To be fair a not insignificant number of the Child care enrollments are dual enrollments, with the student enrolled in both the Certificate III and the Diploma at the same time. Even with that though I think we can safely still suggest that Child care enrollments are nearly double the next nearest competitor which is the TAE.   I do have to admit that I was a little surprised by the sheer number of enrollments in the Certificate IV TAE at around 45,000 it sits right next to Certificate II in hospitality and Certificate I in construction, in terms of enrollments.  The question I want to ask here is if 45,000 people enrolled in the TAE, where are they?  Perhaps this will become clearer though as we move through the data.

If we slice the data in other ways we also find other interesting snippets.  On average across all qualifications and packages females account for about 44% of participants, yet when we look at Aged Care, individual support, Nursing and Child care we see that the participation figure for women jumps to more than 80%, with 94% of all childcare enrollments being female.  At the other end of the scale in carpentry, building and construction and electrotechnology we see the situation reversed with less that 5% of enrollments in those qualifications being female.  Certificate II in kitchen operations and hospitality were the two most popular courses for participants who were still at school, while construction and plant operations were the most popular with indigenous students.

If we look at labour force status there are some statistics which are really obvious, such as the fact that in electrotechnology and carpentry less that 5% of students were not currently employed, which given that these are the two qualifications with  the highest % of students undertaking the qualification through an apprenticeship is hardly surprising.  Labour force status also answers the question about the 45,000 TAE enrollments. 89% of these enrollments were from people who were already employed.  Interestingly 82% of all enrollments in Certificate II in kitchen operations were for people who were not currently employed.

Now while there are some really interesting pieces of data through out the rest of the report, I want to jump over now to the outcomes measures, because this will provide us with an interesting story particularly when we combine it with some of the other data we have seen.  It seems that while a high proportion of those students who undertake kitchen operations qualification ar eno employed when they commence, quite a low percentage of these students namely only 31% actually gained employment after completing the qualification, which is way bellow the national average across all qualifications of 47%.  This figure is terrifying because 74% of the people who undertook this qualification did so for employment related reasons, that is they wanted to get a job.  It seems therefore that if you are unemployed, a certificate II in kitchen operations may not be the best option if gaining employment is what you want to achieve. It also makes me wonder who are the people who are giving these students advice, because it would seem to be very poor quality advice to give someone looking for work that they should enroll in a kitchen operations qualification. This becomes worse when you realise that 60% of students enrolled in this qualification were students who were still at school, in fact it was far and away the most popular choice of enrollment for school students with almost 20,000 enrollments.  But wait there is more, 89% of these enrollments were government funded positions.

WHAT AN ABSOLUTE WASTE OF MONEY!

So schools are delivering a government funded qualification to their students, who just as an aside they are supposed to be preparing for entering the workforce, when it is glaringly clear that the qualification they are delivering is a worthless piece of paper to the vast majority of students undertaking it and does nothing to assist the potential workforce participation outcomes of the students.  To be fair though the school only get $2240 per student (QLD) for the delivery of the qualification, which means that we only spent about $30 million on an utterly worthless qualification.  And people wonder why I think VET in Schools is a travesty.

Enough of that though.  If people who are unemployed do want to undertake a course that will more than likely get them a job, then it is unsurprisingly clear the direction they should be heading in.  Carpentry, Electrotechnology, TAE, Aged Care and Individual support qualifications, followed by Nursing, Childcare and Cookery saw 60+% of students who weren’t employed before training employed after completing their courses.  Makes you think that perhaps we might be better serving our school students by enrolling them in CHC qualifications.

So there a few of the highlights from the data, however there is a lot more in this data set than meet the eye at first glance, particularly when you look at it in terms a range of other workforce data which hopefully I will have the opportunity to talk to you about over the next few weeks.

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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.

 

 

 

Apprenticeships – Time for a Change

This has been something which has been on my mind for a few months now and I have had a number of conversations with people inside and outside the Apprenticeship system or more precisely the apprenticeship management system.  The main arm of the management of apprenticeships and traineeships at the moment is the Australian Apprenticeship Support network or the ASSNs which is an evolution of the previous systems that were in place to help everyone involved, employer, student, provider and the government to get the best outcomes out of the system.  Before I go on, it is important to note that I am not talking about apprenticeships and traineeships themselves or how they are structured, delivered or anything like that. What I want to talk about today is the future of the ASSN and whether or not it is a model which is viable to take us forward into the 2020’s or if it really is something which has had its day. This should also not be taken as an attack on the organisations which form the ASSN or the work that they do.  It is certain that they, for the most part do a fantastic job.  The issue is whether or not the approximately $190 million which the government providers these organisations to provide this service is the simplest, most effective and most efficient method and whether not there may be better ways of delivering this service.

Why I say this is because in this digital world, it seems a little difficult for me to understand the need to have people driving around, talking to employers and providers, recruiting, mentoring and all of the other things they seem to do, when the underlying process should be very simple.  Now there has been a move to streamline the system with the AASN now utilising a lot of electronic forms and data, rather than the clearly time consuming and costly paper system which used to exist and this in itself points to the crux of the idea and the problem.

It seems to me that we may have an over complicated system providing a solution to a problem which is quite straightforward.  There are in essence only three parties which are involved in the apprentice or traineeship, that is the student, the employer and the provider (RTO).  Surely in this age of digital disruption some sort of self service model for employers, where they simply registered to become a employer for an apprentice or trainee and picked the RTO they wanted to use from a drop down box of government contracted providers, with a portal for students to then apply for the available roles is something which is not beyond the realm of imagining let alone creating.  There seems to be little or no reason why contracts and agreements, payments etc could not be handled through the same system.  All that would then be required would be a group of people to ensure, that the various requirements of the whole process were being met and that it was producing the outcomes which were required.

Now I understand that I may have grossly oversimplified the entire apprenticeship process, however that was to some extent my purpose here.  Why would I do that?  To point out that I think the days of the AASN are numbered.  I think that within the next 2-5 years we will see a significant shift in the way in which these services are delivered to stakeholders on behalf of the government. We will see more self service style options and more centralised management of the the system, why?  Because it is cheaper and has the potential to be more efficient.

If I was an AASN organisation I would be thinking about where my next income stream was coming from.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

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