Intersecting VET and L&D

In response to some discussions around models for the delivery of non-accredited training along side nationally accredited training and why L&D departments choose non-accredited training over accredited I thought that I might pull some of the threads of posts and bits and pieces together so that they were all in one place.

The Learning and Development and Vocational Education Disconnect

Australia has one of the best Vocational education systems in the world.  It is well generally well respected and provides both individuals and organisation with nationally accredited outcomes and qualifications, which are transportable across industry and provide a mark of competence against a defined set of criteria.

So why then do organisations make choices like these?

  1. $3000 for a Prince2 Course over $3000 for a Certificate IV in Project Management
  2. $250,000 for the C.A.R.E program as opposed to a Certificate IV in Child, Youth and Family Intervention.

This paper will look at the reasons behind the choices that are made by Learning and Development professionals working in organisation, the drivers and considerations and how that effects the usage of the Australian Vocational education system.  It will also consider the drivers from the VET sector, both at strategic and coal face levels that tend to perpetuate and reinforce the decisions made by organisations.  The disconnection between these two sides of the equation will be evaluated and model developed which can assist both organisations and training providers to be better able to communicate and meet learning needs, both at an organisational and individual level.

In order to do this it will be first necessary to look at what motivate the purchasing decisions of organisations with respect to training.  What causes an organisation to choose one learning program over another, this is of particular interest when the price points of the various learning programs in question are often very similar.  In addition to the choice of program there will also be a discussion around the choosing of providers for the delivery of learning programs and how the choice of provider can affect the purchasing decision.  The purpose of training from both the organisation and the individual will also need to be considered.

Once the organisational side of the equation has been considered we will move to the provider or VET side and consider both the strategic and coal face positioning which tend to put the VET sector at odds with the need of industry and organisations.  In order to do this there will need to be a consideration of what is the purpose of training from the point of view of the VET sector and the business and funding models which have been adopted in the sector as this it will be seen, is one of the key issues in translating VET training into organisational learning. In addition issues around the pricing of programs, delivery methods, facilitator qualifications and experience, reputation and brand will also be considered as again all of these have the effect of creating a disconnection between needs of the organisation and VET sector.

With the disconnection considered and understood and the issues which cause it out in the open, the discussion can move to looking at a range of strategies, particularly from the Training organisation side of the equation which can assist to overcome this disconnection.  There will also be a limited discussion as to what could be done on the L&D side to assist in overcoming this disconnection, but as we will see this is a problem which is best address at the VET sector side of the equation as they possess a level of flexibility (even if they don’t know it) which can easily navigate creating a better connection.

Once all of this has been discussed a model will be presented which can assist all of the stakeholders involved in the process to better understand the part they play and to provide a framework upon which to build their own unique structures.

Issues for Learning and Development Staff

 

Organisational learning is an unwieldy beast at the best of times and the Learning and Development professionals who attempt to herd this group of cats are always looking for ways to meet the needs of the both the organisation and its staff.

So let us go back to the initial question that I posed right at the start.  Given that Australia has a robust and well respected vocational education system, why then do organisations make choices like these?

  1. $3000 for a Prince2 Course over $3000 for a Certificate IV in Project Management
  2. $250,000 for the C.A.R.E program as opposed to a Certificate IV in Child, Youth and Family Intervention.

If we consider the first example, why would an individual or an organisation choose to spend the same amount of money on a program that in its own words, simply provides a methodology for project management over a course which would provide them with the actual skills and knowledge needed to run a project?  In example two, why would an organisation spend a large sum of money of training that has been developed in another country, does not have rigorous assessment and competency standards attached to it and while used widely, is not considered to be the industry standard, rather it is just one model amongst a number of models and offers staff little transference of skills should they move to another organisation which does not utilise that model?

There is as would be expected not a single answer or factor that is behind choices like these however there are a number of commonalities which we can consider and address in order to ensure the best possible chance of connection between the two sectors.

The first and probably the most obvious reason or factor present in decisions like these, relates to timeframes.  Most L&D departments are under pressure to deliver programs in quite short timeframes, (Can I have that as a half day?) which I have explored in other works.  There is almost always a pressure from the business to ensure that staff are not taken ‘off the job’ for more time than is actually necessary.  In this way a program that runs for five consecutive days and then is finished may be preferable to a program that runs for 6-12 months even if it only runs one day a month.  The logistics around making staff available are easier for one off programs.  In a lot of cases particularly where the person is in direct client facing roles, other staff have to be moved around or rostered in order to allow for a staff member to go on a training course.  It is also often the case with VET training that there will be work that the staff member is required after the delivery of the program itself to meet the assessment criteria of the program.  This then in a significant number of cases leads to the staff member applying to have some of their work time allocated to completing their study which in turn puts addition time and resource pressure on the business manager.

The other time related factor which often comes into play here as well is that of the time commitment necessary from any managers, supervisors or team leaders involved with the staff who are undergoing training. With most professional development programs as opposed to national accredited programs there is little or no involvement needed from the supervisory staff of those undertaking training.  However this is in most cases not the same situation when we look at VET training.  There is almost always in the case of VET training a requirement of ‘on the job’ observation or training which needs to be undertaken with the staff members in question.  This is often further exacerbated where the manager or supervisors are not in the same workplace as the staff requiring supervision and observation and by the by the fact that often these activities have to happen on more than one occasion for each participant.

There is also the issue of the time involved for the individual L&D staff members, with professional development style programs there is often not a lot of additional work which they are required to undertake.  Again this is often not the case with VET training, in particular where the training program being delivered is not simply a generic program.  There is time spent consulting with the RTO around the content of the program, looking at what needs to contextualised to the particular business unit or units who are being trained, signing off on paperwork, which it of particular relevance where VET training is being delivered through a funding or subsidy program such as an apprenticeship or traineeship scheme.

Even if we just consider the issue of time it can be seen why a lot of organisations and L&D units would opt for short course professional development style programs, where the time and resource costs are quite low over nationally accredited training.

Learning and Development staff are often asked by the business what the Return on Investment (ROI) was for training that was delivered, either in terms of particular programs or as whole.  Unfortunately one of the things that RTO’s in general do not do particularly well, and we even see this at a national level is terms of the kinds of data that is collected, is evaluate their training well.  In fact it seems that the data that is often collected is often not the data that organisations are even interested in.  We find that completion rates data is collected almost all of the time, yet only 33% of organisations view it as being valuable data.  Yet we see that data around job and business impact is rarely collected but is rated as extremely valuable by organisations.

Often training providers in the professional development market have developed systems to make it as easy as possible for them to collect the kinds of data that organisations view as valuable and have large stores of this data which they can utilise to be able to show that there are (or appear to be) very solid business reasons in terms of ROI and other measures for an organisation to invest in their training programs.  When the collected by most RTO’s or even by the government through agencies such as NCVER is put against this data it is lacking and does not offer a compelling case for and organisation to choose VET training over professional development training.

The issue of data is one that also ties into another big issue which is that of brand and reputation.  If we consider Prince2 training, why would an organisation or an individual choose to spend $3000 on a Prince2 course when they could spend the same amount and get a certificate IV or even a diploma of project management through the Australian VET system?  One of the most powerful and significant reasons behind this choice is BRAND.  Prince2 is a powerful brand, it is an internationally recognised and accepted certification of knowledge of the Prince2 project management methodology.  It is a ‘requirement’ for employment in an ever-increasing range of government and public service positions, as well as in the private sector, so strong in fact is the brand that often experienced project managers with degree level study in the field, find it difficult to obtain roles without it. When we consider the Brand strength of VET against this background again it can be seen why organisation and individuals would choose Prince2 over VET.  Now while it may be true that the brand strength of individual providers or particular programs could be quite high, when faced with an initial choice about which program to choose the overall strength of the Prince2 brand overshadows the strength of the overall VET brand.  Add to this the issue that a lot of people in organisations and even in L&D departments do not understand the VET sector and how it works and are often confused by the rules and regulation, the choice seems even easier to make.

Given that L&D departments, even very large ones, are often both resource and finance poor in relative terms, one might think that offering a government subsidised training program or a program that came with financial incentives for the organisation itself, may well swing the pendulum back to the RTO side of the equation.  Unfortunately there are a number of reasons why this is not the case.  One of these is of course perception of value.  If something if free, incentivized or subsidised then there is always the possibility of it being seen as being less valuable, though of course this is not always the case.  This however is not the main reason here, the main problem is that of business or organizational fit and need.  When I was running an L&D department responsible for the delivery of training to more than 35,000 staff, it was not uncommon for me to receive between 3 and 10 phone calls a week from training providers, both RTO’s and not.  The difference between the two groups approach was very stark, in most cases the RTO lead with words around free training, government subsidies, and incentives for the organisation, essentially they were selling the money.  They were wanting me to buy the programs that they were funded to deliver now there is nothing wrong with that at all, except I was necessarily interested in putting staff through a whole Diploma of Management when all they really needed was a course on communications skills.  Now the approach from the other training organisations was more often than not the exact opposite.  They asked me what it was that our staff needed, what was the biggest issue we had and questions like that.  Also where they couldn’t meet the need that we had, they would point us in the direction of someone else who could rather than attempting to fix us into the box that they had already drawn.  The point is that for organisations in particular and even for a significant number of individuals it is about business need, it is about the skills and knowledge they require, it is not about the qualification.  Also and this is very much and organizational mindset but it also applies to individuals as well, they would rather spend the money to get exactly what they want, rather than get something that is not  exactly what they want but is free.

When we take all of these issues, in conjunction with the perception that VET programs are difficult at access administer and manage (whether it is true or not)  it is easy to see why both organisations and individuals might choose non-accredited professional development programs.

So why choose VET

So given all of the issues above why would an organisation choose to send its staff to a nationally accredited VET programs, what would prompt someone to choose a certificate IV in project management over a Prince2 Foundation program.  The answers are as you would expect fairly straightforward.

One of the most significant reasons for organisations choosing to have their staff undertake VET programs is the robustness of the system, particularly in terms of assessment of competence.  Unlike the vast majority of professional development programs which staff attend, accredited training has actual assessment which the student is required to undertake, which are then marked against standardised criteria to determine that persons competence.  This is particularly attractive to organisations who work in areas which could be considered to be high risk or where parts of the business deal in high risk areas.  Should something tragic occur within an organisation which results in the serious injury or death and the organisation needs to testify about the competence of its staff, being able to say that staff had undertaken nationally accredited and been deemed competent, is far more potent than saying that they attended a 2 day course with no assessment of competence.

Probably the next most significant reason for choosing a VET program is reputation, not the reputation of the VET brand in general, although the stronger the general VET brand is the better, but the reputation of the individual RTO and its relationship with the organisation.  Most managers and organisations and even L&D specialists have very little idea of who provides good training by just looking at a website, talking to a sales person, looking at government statistics or reading a brochure.  It is all really the same at that level there is no difference and everyone can claim to be the best at what they do.  If I had a dollar for every time someone had sent me an email or pick up the phone and asked me “So is this training course any good?” I would be a far richer man than I am.

Now if the program costs $50-$100, it’s a half a day and only one person is going the risk is not too great.  You could even use them as a test case, to evaluate the program and report back.  However, what it the training is $3000 per person or 250 staff want to do it.  That changes the ball game very rapidly, and as the spend goes from thousands to tens of thousands and sometimes even beyond the need for there to be something, other than just a certificate (even a nationally accredited one) becomes more and more important.

This is why reputation in the marketplace, connection and networks are so vitally important.  If you are just one of five people who rang the L&D person this week offering them free management training, there has got to be something that is going to separate you from the rest.  If there isn’t you are not going to get past the first phone call.

Part of building that reputation or making yourself stand out and be different is to do the other things that L&D people, managers and organisations want you to be able to do.

  1. Customisation, and
  2. Integration

Let’s look at customisation first.  A lot of the training providers talk endlessly about their ability to customise a program to meet the needs of an organisation.  How many of them actually do, I think unfortunately, or fortunately for those who do, not many.  Often customisation means nothing more than choosing different electives, although not too different or there might not be someone able to train them. Just changing electives however is not customisation, customisation is building the training program in such a way that it achieves the goals that the organisation wants.  It is about using their documents, their policies, their procedures.  It is about building a program that produces a participant who has the skill set that the organisation requires and is able to utilise them.  The complaint about this kind of customisation is that you still have to do what the training package says, they have to be assessed on the performance criteria.  That is true, but I don’t think that anyone ever said that that was all a program had to contain.  It doesn’t say anywhere in the packages that you cannot add additional information or assessment or training.  What it say is that this set of skills and knowledge, assessed against this set of performance criteria is the evidence that is required to deem this person competent in this Unit of Competency.  The other issue that is often bought up is where there is something in the performance criteria that for whatever reason the organisation doesn’t do or do completely differently.  An example of this is a unit of competency around strength based practice in support work and counselling.  There is a process mentioned in the performance criteria which while correct and used by a lot of practitioners, is probably not used, described differently, used differently, by equally many practitioners.  So (leaving aside questions whether or not the criteria should actually even be in the unit) what does customisation look like here for an organisation that doesn’t use it as to meet the performance criteria you can’t leave it out.  You simply do both and assess both, and tell the students that one is preferred method where they work now, but there are other organisations which prefer to use the other method.  Is it a little more work?  Yes, but it will also make the organisation much happier than saying well we have to teach them this method because that is what the training package says and then let them come up with a solution around how to train their staff in their preferred method.

Customisation is actually an enormous strength within the VET system as opposed to many of the other proprietary training programs that are out there, most of which can’t be changed and customised to suit particular circumstance, because the material is copyrighted and licensed and often the people delivering the training have no say in the content because of this and in order to meet the criteria of the provider that owns the program they have to do things in a particular way, over a particular number of hours or days.  Everything is tightly controlled.  This should not be taken to mean that we can and should ignore the rules of the VET sector, things like Volume of Learning, rules relating to assessment and evidence, however the space circumscribed by those rules allows us much more latitude to be able to develop and deliver a program that meets the needs of our clients than most licensed training would ever be able to do.

The other enormous strength of the VET system in Australia is its ability to integrate with what is already being delivered and done within an organisation as well as with training which comes from other sectors of the market, outside of VET.  This is because for the most part the Australian VET system is content free, it does not worry where your knowledge comes from or how you acquire it, it is simply concerned with a student’s ability to meet the demands of the performance criteria.  This makes it extremely flexible and able to integrate into a wide variety organisational training plans and structures.

The concept of how integration works is quite simple.  It relies however on combining what I said above, that it doesn’t matter to the VET system where you learnt something, just that you can show that you’re competent and the fact that L&D departments are going to run non-VET training for their staff.  In fact in most organisations the amount of non-VET training which is run far outweighs the amount of accredited training that is delivered.

So if we look again at the example of the community services organisation which is utilising an overseas training product to ensure their staff have the skills and knowledge that they feel they need to have.  Now at a very basic level we can take the training product in question and whatever assessments form part of it (if any) and map this information across to for example a Diploma of Child, Youth and Family Intervention.  Now certainly we may need to add additional assessment pieces, including things such as workplace observations in order to ensure that we have enough evidence of competence to meet the requirements of the training package.  From there staff can go through the non-VET training just as they would have previously, undertake the additional assessment tasks which are necessary and any other work and assessment which may be necessary and then at the end of the process not only have they successfully completed the training the organisation requires, they have obtained a nationally accredited outcome from that training as well. This is of course a win from everyone who is involved in the process.  The staff get a transportable, recognisable qualification, the organisation gets it staff trained in the program that they require and the RTO gets business that it would not have otherwise got.

This concept of integration can be taken much further however.  Rather than simply looking at the outcomes of any particular course or program we can look at the overall picture of training within the organisation and create a model of delivery which further improves the outcomes of process.

So what is the model?  Below is an example of how the concept can work within a community services organisation.

2015-02-23_113932

 

So how does this all work?  All staff at all levels of the organisation go through a standard general induction, the standard who we are and what we do style program.  Once that is completed each business unit then has a separate induction program specific to their own needs and training requirements.  A small number of Units of competency can be built in at this level, the completion of which along with the rest of the induction program can be linked to the probation periods and extensions.  Once the induction training is completed there will be a set of training programs that everyone in the organisation will be expected to undertake, from generic programs  like Fire safety and Workplace health and safety to more organisationally focussed program such as in this case, mental health awareness and strength based practice. Alongside this training there will also be business unit specific training which is also required, a disability support worker for example would need behavioural awareness training, and where as a senior manager might be put through a more rigorous financial accountability program.  There will then be a range of programs delivered by and for the organisation which are available to all members of staff, these might be things like communication skills, crisis intervention skills, computer skills, and a range of other programs.  Once staff have completed all of the mandatory programs (both generic and unit specific) they can then undertake any of the training available within any policy constraints put in place by the organisation.

So all that has happened here is that the organisation and any associated training providers have simply delivered the training that they would have normally needed to deliver.  However if the RTO (be it internal or external) has mapped all of the training being delivered and looked at the assessments and what gaps are needed to be filled in order to meet the requirements of training package, what has actually happened is that the staff member has progressed quite a long way towards a qualification.  Now they may need to do some additional assessment work, on the job training or skills observations by their managers and supervisors, but they will, if they wish and this system seems to work best if it is voluntary for any extensions over what is mandatory, have accumulated a group of Units of competency.  From here the staff member can sit down with the RTO, their manager and anyone else who may have relevant input look at the range of qualifications that the units they currently have could lead them to and what they need to do to achieve them.  What this means for the staff member is that they may be able to achieve a number of qualifications, rather than just one, by doing a much smaller amount of additional work.  This also provides both the organisation and the staff member with a little bit more flexibility in terms of talent and career development options as well.  Someone who is moving towards a management track can be encouraged to take more management based units to fill out their qualification, rather than practice based units which might be more applicable for a frontline worker.

There are a number of very useful things which happen within this system (particularly when any additional assessment or learning is made voluntary)

  • organisational training can remain the same, additional assessment are simply plugged in for those staff who wish accredited outcomes
  • staff with existing qualifications do not need to do additional assessment over and above what is organisationally required
  • provides flexibility in the talent management pipeline
  • allows staff flexibility in terms of qualifications and training
  • Reduces the cost of delivery and the time off work costs associated with accredited training.

A more generic example of the model can be seen below.

pathway

 

Now admittedly in order to make this sort of model work effectively there needs to be very close collaboration between all of the stakeholders in the process, particularly the RTO and the L&D staff.  However, once implemented a system like this delivers a wide range of outcomes for everyone involved.  The adoption of a system such as this allows for all of the training both informal and formal that is undertaken by staff and delivered by the organisation to be utilised towards a qualification or set of units of competency.

 

Challenges for VET providers

There are a number of challenges which exist in trying to intersect the needs of L&D with the needs of VET providers and unfortunately a lot of these challenges relate to the mindset of the people involved on the VET side of the equation.  As I have suggested earlier one of the problems is that the VET sector often thinks in terms of Qualifications and what is funded and what is not and try and sell the qualification they think might be the best fit, or more often than not the qualification that they have on their scope rather than providing what it is that the business needs.  So the question that VET providers need to ask themselves is a simple one ‘Are you the same as the last guy?’

Ask yourself this, ‘Are you just another provider delivering Management, Community Services, Hospitality, construction or some other set of qualifications? Are you actually doing something different or are your programs, approach, materials and delivery just the same as the RTO or TAFE down the road?  If they are than you might have a problem.  If your selling point is price, or that the training is free or heavily subsidised then you might have a problem as well, simply because you are not, in most cases the only choice out there that organisations have.

  • What is it that you do that is actually different from the RTO down the road?
  • What is it that you do exceptionally well?
  • What are the Big, Brand Ready skills of your people?

Providers also need to look at what they are ‘selling’ and how it is packaged.  Are you the fifth person this week who is going to talk about the Diploma of Management, or the first person to talk about your customisable leadership and management development program?  Here is an example of what the right branding and wording can do for a program.

Boring – Community Sector team leadership skill set

  • Long winded and difficult to get buy in for because no one knows what it means
  • Low price point due the sector always claiming to have insufficient money
  • Low numbers of attendees

Rebranded – Health Leaders Program

  • Partnered with Gym (they provide the healthy)
  • Accredited outcomes are optional, participants choose to be assessed
  • Marketed the skill and knowledge outcomes not the unit outcomes
  • Strong Brand – ‘Strong – Skilled – Successful
  • Much higher price point (claims of having no money disappeared)
  • A tailored experience for all participants and organisations
  • Extension of market to outside of community services
  • Much higher attendee numbers

A few simple changes and a realignment of thinking took the program from one which had an intake of about 30 participants per year at about $695 per participant to one which enrolled 160 participants last year at an average price point of $3260 per participant.  All of this because it was targeted at a perceived need for organisations rather than as simply an accredited program.

Now I am not suggesting that rebranding and repackaging something is always going to have this effect or that this kind of process is appropriate for everything and every kind of program it does being to point out something important.  There is an old saying that comes from the world of sales which is

Sell the Sizzle not the Steak

Remember the steak is the qualification or accredited outcome, the sizzle however is why it is important to the organisation or individual.  The other point to be made here is that cost and subsidies are often less important that organisational need and fit.  So what is the sizzle and what isn’t

The Sizzle isn’t;

  • We put 20 staff through a Certificate IV in Frontline management;
  • All of our support staff have a Diploma of Counselling; or
  • 75% of our managers have completed a Certificate IV in Project Management.

Why aren’t these the sizzle?  Well because whoever has paid for this is likely to ask and expect answers to things like;

  • What is our percentage increase in sales as a result of that program;
  • Have we seen a decrease in client behavioural issues;
  • Good, so we have seen a reduction in cost overruns and are meeting project deadlines?

So don’t start by telling L&D people what qualifications you offer or what subsidies are available, ask them instead what their biggest issue is right now and show them how you can solve it.  However, there is an important addendum to this and that is if you can’t solve it and solve it well – tell them and walk away, unless you know someone else who you know can solve it.  Remember if you hand them off to someone who you know and trust to help them, they will remember you both.

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What is Industry Currency?

If a person with a Certificate IV in Training and assessment had not delivered any training for say 2 years, would we consider them to have industry currency?

Why am I asking this question?  Well because the answer that we give has, I think, profound effects on what we should consider industry currency to be in the VET sector.  What if while they had not delivered any training, they had attended two training conferences each year, for example the AITD conference and the VELG conference, would we consider them to be current then?  Now when we start to extend this thinking and ask questions about what industry currency might mean in other sectors the issues start to become obvious.

Take a person who is training a Certificate III in plumbing, who has been a trainer for say 5 years, but who hasn’t actually picked up their tools and done actual work in the industry since they became a trainer.  Are they current?  This of course can be applied to all of the various parts of the VET sector, be it community services, trades, business it doesn’t matter the issue of industry currency is significant, because how can someone train a student in the latest practices and how they are utilised and applied unless they know these things themselves because particularly in some areas, while having the knowledge of how to do something is great, the actual application of that can be more challenging particularly in real work situations.

So what do I think industry currency is, well lets start with what I don’t think it is.  I don’t think going to a couple of conferences or attending a webinar or a course is satisfactory, neither do I think that being a member of an industry association (unless continuing membership is through a CPD process) makes the grade either.  I certainly think they are a start and for someone who has only just moved away from working in their industry to becoming a trainer, this might be enough for a little while, but the longer it has been since a person has actually worked in the sector in which they are training, the less I think these sorts of activities count as valid examples of industry currency.  If you have been a trainer for 10 years and haven’t work in your sector in that time, I struggle to see how you might still be competent.

One of the key components of industry currency for me, and one which I see is often missed is actually going back and working in the industry again, getting a feel for it and the changes around how things are done.  It is easy I think, for us as trainers to get somewhat comfortable in teaching what we know and how we did things, but in a lot a sectors now, best practice, applications, processes change rapidly and while yes we can gain knowledge of these things through seminars, courses and conferences as I said above, sometimes there is a significant difference between the knowledge and the application of that knowledge in an actual working environment.  To give a personal example, I used to do a lot of training in the area of enterprise level applications, particularly in the project and contract management space.  Now it as been 5  or more years since I actually worked in that space at the coal face of project management and the enterprise systems that support billion dollar projects.  Now I have kept up with the literature, attended the odd conference, still possess all the relevant qualifications, played with new products as they have been released and the like.  However I would not and have not for a number of years now considered myself to have industry currency and it would in my opinion take me a significant amount of time to get that currency back.  Why, the simple reason is that I don’t work in that industry any more, I am not immersed in the how and the why of things every day.

Over the past few years I have been lucky enough to be involved with training providers who have been either part of organisations delivering services in a particular sector or who had very tight links to organisations who do, which has given an insight into what real industry currency looks like.  It looks like staff who not only work as trainers but also as professionals in the industry (maybe only once a fortnight or once a month, but still actual work with real clients).  It is being embedded in the sector that they work in, seeing and interacting with clients every day they are in and around the office, whether they are working as trainers or as industry professionals.  It is strong links to the provision of services and how that is achieved; currently for example, the general manager of our disability and mental health services sits in the office next to me and almost every morning we sit in our outdoor area, have a coffee and talk about what is happening in each of our areas and across the sector, which provides both of us with insights, information and actual real world examples of a range of issues which we probably would not get if we weren’t so connected.  In previous roles my counselling trainers either volunteered on crisis phone lines or work directly with clients face to face or both, disability trainers worked with people with disability and youth work trainers were youth workers.  Everyone was essentially an industry professional first, even the staff who had been trainers for 20 years.

Now I acknowledge that for these kinds of organisationally embedded training providers it is perhaps easier to achieve this level of industry involvement, engagement and currency and that for a TAFE or a private RTO where they are not tightly part of an organisation, achieving this may be more difficult, but we have to do better than thinking that a couple of conferences and some PD count for currency.  If you haven’t done actual work in the sector you are training people in more than 2 years I personally think you probably don’t have currency.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

Paul Can be contacted through

Rasmussen Learning Solutions or Spectrum Training

What’s wrong with just being a trainer?

I am proud to be a trainer!

I am a trainer at heart and I have been for quite a long time now.  In fact since the 90’s I have trained more than 20,000 people in subjects as varied as how to use outlook or word, how to manage multi million and multi billion dollar projects, how to help people in crisis, how to be better counsellors and support workers and pretty much everything in between.  I know what good outcomes look like and I know that the work I do and have done is valued by organisations and individuals across the globe.  But you know what,

I am sick and tired of people saying that trainers need to be better educated, or better skills or have more educational theory pumped into them!

I am particularly sick and tired of it when the people saying it are academics or researchers, self-styled educationalist guru’s or whatever pithy title they want to have for themselves, who have for the most part never or at least hardly ever actually set foot in a training room and delivered training.  The vast majority of trainers who I know and have worked with, and trust me there is a lot of people who fall into that group, are absolute professionals, who are highly skilled not just in delivering training but in their field or fields of excellence as well.  They are not someone who has just spent time at university learning how to teach curriculum from a book, but who have never actually been out in the work place doing what they teach.  No these are people who not only know their industries and the skills and knowledge that that industry needs but they also know how to pass it on.  And I am not just talking about the VET sector here either I am talking about the whole training and L&D industry professionals delivering solid outcomes to people and organisations every day.  On any particular day these people might be teachers or educators or coaches or mentors or facilitators or what ever is required, but like me at heart they are trainers.

Now teaching is typically defined as, “to cause to know something, to guide the studies of, to impart knowledge or to instruct by example, precept or experience.” where as  training seeks “to form by instruction, discipline or drill” or “to make prepared for a test or skill.” Training usually has a more specific focus than teaching, which seeks to instil a deeper knowledge over a longer period of time. Training, on the other hand, seeks to help people master a specific skill, or skill set, until they are able to execute it efficiently, and training is what I do and that is what most of the people I know do.  We give people the skills and knowledge they need to perform tasks and job roles both now and in the future, to help they get employment, improve their position or just simply be better at what they do, and here is the thing, that is what the people that we work with want, whether they are organisations or individuals, they are not particularly interested in me assisting them on their lifelong learning journey or to assist them to engage in an immersive andragological educational experience, they want the have a particular sets of skills and knowledge either for something they need to do now or something they want to do in the future.

Now I know that there are going to be people reading this who go, ‘well you just have a very limited viewpoint on what this sector is’ or ‘well that because of the way things are structured, if we had more educationalists (or whatever) involved and a different structure things would be different’  or ‘You just don’t understand your just a trainer.’

Dam right I am just a Trainer and I for one am proud of that fact.

 

Anyway that’s just my opinion, Happy Easter Folks, have fun and be safe.

A registration board for the VET sector?

Do we need a Trainer and Assessors registration board?

 

After my previous post and a number of comments and discussions in a variety of forums, I got to thinking about this idea of a registration board for Trainers and Assessors in the VET sector.  Now I know this idea has been floated before, and that there are several groups out there who have or are attempting, as membership organisations, to utilise this idea to lift the general level of professionalism in the industry.  But lets face facts, unless membership of an organisation is linked to some kind of regulated authority to train, then there is always going to be a systematic failure.  There are registration boards for Teachers in all of the states, statutory bodies, set up to regulate and determine who is appropriately qualified and suitable to teach in a our primary and secondary school systems,  so do we need something like that?  A single national registration board for all trainers and assessors in the VET sector.    While I think in the long-term that might be a very good idea, I think there might be an alternative which at least in the shorter term may have a significant effect on the professionalism of the industry.

A registration board for all Trainers and Assessors delivering a Training and Assessment Qualification!

So if you want to be able to train others in the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment or above or any qualification from the TAE package, you would need to be registered by a single national board which provided you with an Authority to Train.  It should like most other boards of its ilk, charge membership fees which would be used to cover the expenses of running the board, and have clearly defined membership entry and maintenance requirements.  These requirements should revolved around skills and knowledge as well as experience.  Imagine the difference that would be made overnight if the ‘TAE registration board’ required 5 years of training experience before you were able to apply for membership to allow you to deliver a TAE qualification.  Gone instantly would be the incidents of doing a weekend TAE this weekend and then teaching the same class the next weekend.  A skills and knowledge component, perhaps an exam could be added into the mix for initial registration, as well as strong on going CPD requirements including delivery thresholds, peer supervision and mentoring requirements, then add to this penalties for non-compliance including suspension and de-registration and even just at this level, directly aimed at those teaching TAE qualifications this would have a rapid and marked effect on the quality not only of the TAE suite of programs, but a knock on effect to all other qualifications as well. This added to increased regulatory pressure at an organisational level would should see the quality of the qualification and the sector lifted quickly.

Now people might argue against this proposal in a number of ways.

This is industry is already over regulated

I am not sure of this for a start, but even so the vast majority of regulation at this point in time sits at the level of the RTO.  Trainer registration sits at a personal, not organisational level.  It is something that is managed by a person for themselves.  Individuals can choose whether or not they wish to be registered and have an Authority to Train or not.  Trainers and Assessors not delivery TAE qualifications would not be required to undertake registration, although there could either initially or over time a registration process developed for those who did not deliver TAE products.

The cost of a TAE qualification would go up

Probably, but is that a bad thing?  Is a $300, 2 day, Certificate IV in Training and Assessment really worth the money it is printed on for anyone?

Who would run it

The simple solution in my mind would be the regulator (ASQA).  Given that it needs some kind of regulatory force behind it to be effective, it either needs to be the current regulatory body or some of other statutory body.  I suppose it could be an independent organisation, but issues of continuity always concern me in these cases.

It is another expense for the Trainer 

I, as I think most reputable training organisations would be more than happy to pay the registration fees and associated costs of our TAE trainers or in terms of a new employee who came with registration, renewals of the registration for as long as they worked for us.  However that aside it would be an expense, yes, but it seems one that anyone who was interested in the quality of training and assessment would be willing to pay.

 

The single most important thing about this however, is that it needs to have regulatory force, it needs to be built into the standards that Training providers delivering TAE qualification may only employ registered trainers to deliver those qualifications.  No working under supervision arrangements or anything like that, you either have the registration and the authority to train or you don’t and if you don’t you can’t be employed in a role relating to the delivery of TAE qualification.

 

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

 

 

Branding Vocational Education – Connecting L&D and VET

So today in my continuing series of pieces on connecting the Vocational Education and Learning and Development communities I wanted to talk a little about brand.  Now I have spoken about the VET Brand before and the need for us to ensure that the VET Brand in this country is a strong and vibrant one, that is both attractive and well-respected.  Now given the current climate and negative press that has been circulating around the sector it seems an appropriate time to talk about it again, all be it from a completely different angle.  Before I go any further however, last time I talked about this there was a number of people from the public provider side of the fence who shouted to it shouldn’t be about brand, it was education and just providing people with a quality education was what was required, almost as if everything else would then simply take care of itself.  As I said then however, in my mind learning is a business, a business which is worth in excess of $150 Billion worldwide and if we don’t start treating the vocational education sector as a business then we will see it eroded on a range of different fronts and despite calls to the contrary brand and the value and perception of that brand are vital ingredients in the equation.

So what do I mean?  Well if we look at the example of Prince2, which I have talked about before as well; why would an organisation or an individual choose to spend $3000 on a Prince2 course when they could spend the same amount and get a certificate IV or even a diploma of project management through the Australian VET system?  While as some commentators have rightly pointed out, part of the reason has to do with the time frames associated with the completion of the program, however one of the other significant reasons behind this choice is BRAND.  Prince2 is a powerful brand, it is an internationally recognised and accepted certification of knowledge of the Prince2 project management methodology.  It is a ‘requirement’ for employment in an ever-increasing range of government and public service positions, as well as in the private sector, so strong in fact is the brand that often experienced project managers with degree level study in the field, find it difficult to obtain roles without it.

So given the choice of sending your staff or yourself to a certificate IV in project management or on a Prince2 course, which one would you choose?

Now we can was lyrical about the quality of outcomes and education in the VET sector.  We can discuss at length, how it should be structured, what components it needs, whether it should focus on immediate job role skills or knowledge for future roles, BUT if there are no students there is no VET sector.  If organisations choose international qualifications and programs over our home-grown accredited training system, then we won’t have to worry about who pays for TAFE infrastructure costs or how much profit is being made by gigantic private RTO’s because there wont be any students and there won’t be a vocational education sector.  Now I am being a little melodramatic here, but sometimes we need to realise that without students there isn’t sector and if students see more value in doing a certification from an American or European training organisation, because it has a stronger brand or is better recognised, and employers and organisations see it the same way, then the value of our sector will continue to erode.

Of course I can hear the cries now;

  • It’s the private RTO’s that are the problem, get rid of them and give it all back to TAFE, everyone trusts TAFE,
  • If only the Training packages were more flexible that would solve all of the problems,
  • TAFE is so inflexible, they make it hard for everyone,
  • The ISC’s cause all the problems they take so long to update anything,
  • If the government didn’t stop changing the rules things would work much better,
  • and so on.

Guess what, it doesn’t matter.  All this arguing is doing is hurting the VET brand.  It is making organisations and individuals less likely to choose a VET program over some other program with a better brand and stronger, cleaner reputation.  We need to pull our socks up, all of us.  We need to stop thinking that what matters to organisations are completion rates, and free or heavily subsidies training or full qualifications, or whatever else it is we are worrying about today.  Organisations care far more about what the training their staff do means to their day-to-day business than they do about subsides and completion rates or pretty much anything else.  If the only reason someone is going on a training course is because it is free or almost free, you can bet the organisations perceived value of that course is fairly low.  If we want this sector to be strong, vibrant and to provide for the needs of organisations and individuals now and into the future, we need to build a brand that both organisations and individuals view as valuable as worthwhile and as meeting real business needs and actually providing some real tangible return on investment.

Anyway that’s my opinion.

 

Paul can be contacted through his website  Rasmussen Learning Solutions

 

 

Prior skills and knowledge and the L&D, VET intersection

Continuing on from my last post and in response to a question from one of the Linkedin Groups I am involved with, I want to look at how the knowledge, skills and experience that a person brings to a role are incorporated in this model.  My initial answer was that this is, could and should be handled through the RPL process of the Training organisation which is involved in the model.  This is I think however not the entire picture of what is going on here and why, because really there are three things happening all of which may be heading towards different outcomes.

Firstly we have the person who comes to a role with a set of skills, knowledge and experience, some of which may be directly applicable to the role in question while others may not.  Secondly we have the organisation whose goal is to, at least at a base level, ensure that all of their staff have whatever minimum set of skills and knowledge they have decided is applicable.  Thirdly we have the RTO who is trying to tie all of these threads and others together and translate that into formal outcomes.  Now I have discussed some ideas around how this third piece might be achieved here, but I will discuss additional ideas here as well.

Lets start with the organisation whom the person is employed by.  There are two issues here, the first is that all organisations have a level of expectation in relation to the skills and knowledge of their employees and seek to have all of their employees at that level.  Additionally however even with industry transportable skills, there may be quite large differences in the way those skills are utilised or play out between different organisations.  For example it may be the case and often is that two different community service providers may be ustilising totally difference delivery and care models.  Both of these models will use and rely on the same set of skills and knowledge, however those same skills and how they relate to service delivery and care, how they are used and at what level will depend on the model and the employees place within that model. So these issues then in turn lead to the need to train people in ‘how we do things here,’ it also points to one of the biggest complaints organisations make about staff they hire who have been trained ‘generically’ by a provider; while they may have certain skills and knowledge they don’t possess the organisational mindset around how these skills are used.  This in turn of course leads to over training of staff, needless refresher courses and a range of other activities that are done in the name of compliance, but ultimately just cost the organisation money.

From the point of view of the individual coming into a role with an already established set of skills, they rightly or wrongly feel that they have the requisite skills and can, again rightly or wrongly be quite adverse to receiving training in those areas they already feel skilled in, giving rise to the cries of ‘I did this in my last organisation,’ or ‘I learnt all of this at uni.’

However, and I spoke about this a couple of years ago at the Edutech conference, a lot of organisations both big and small already have a lot of the information they need to manage this interface between employee, organisation and provider much more easily than they do, but either don’t know they have it or don’t know what to do with it.  A great many organisations out there capture resume, training, and qualification data on their employees when they commence and through their time with the organisation, but few of them use this data to its full potential particularly with respect to training needs analysis, skills and knowledge assessment, or even RPL or credit transfer and competency assessment.

If this data is properly stored and mined it can provide a wealth of information, particularly when added to more formal assessment, as to what training is necessary for each individual to undertake.  To give you a conceptual idea of what I mean, we could collect a whole range of information from a new employee, including things like qualifications, training they have under taken, responses to skill and knowledge questions, any testing which took part, in essence a whole range of information.  This information could then be filtered against not only internal training requirements, but accredited training requirements to form an individual map for each employee and their managers of that person journey from induction to qualification.  Of course this won’t be all that is required, particularly at the accredited qualification end of the scale, but having a map like that would assist everyone, the employee, the organisation and the RTO to produce the outcomes that all of the stakeholders require.

Vocational Education, Formal and Informal Learning, and Organisational Development

I wrote last week about the connection between L&D and VET and asked why L&D departments chose non-accredited training over accredited training even when the costs involved were much higher.  Two of the strongest comments that came through from the discussion were around the time it took to get people through an accredited program.  This was not necessarily a criticism of the system as it was well understood that the time it took was directly related to the robust nature of the Australian VET system.  The second comment was around the complexity and amount of paperwork which was involved in the system, particularly in relation to government-funded initiatives.

So I thought today I would look at how some of these issues can be addressed though a model of training delivery which incorporated, organisational learning and VET into the one picture.  This model has been utilised very successfully by a number of Enterprise RTO’s as well as by organisations utilising external RTO’s.  In order for this to work successfully there needs to be close collaboration between the RTO and the L&D department, which is why this tends to work so well within an enterprise environment, but as I have said with good collaboration it works equally well with an external provider.

The first idea behind this model is a simple one – L&D departments are going to run non-VET training for their staff.  The second idea is just as simple – it doesn’t matter where you learnt it as long as you can show that you are competent.  If we take these two ideas and combine them together into a model, this becomes a very powerful.  The organisation can deliver the training that it wants and needs for its staff and its staff can work their way through the system to end up with a Nationally Accredited Qualification if they want, or at the very least a set of Units of Competency.

So what is the model.  Below is an example of how the concept can work within a community services organisation.

2015-02-23_113932

 

All staff at all levels of the organisation go through a standard general induction, the standard who we are and what we do style program.  Once that is completed each business unit then has a separate induction program specific to their own needs and training requirements.  A small number of Units of competency can be built in at this level, the completion of which along with the rest of the induction program can be linked to the probation periods and extensions.  Once the induction training is completed there will be a set of training programs that everyone in the organisation will be expected to undertake, from generic programs  like Fire safety and Workplace health and safety to more organisationally focussed program such as in this case, mental health awareness and strength based practice. Along side this training there will also be business unit specific training which is also required, a disability support worker for example would need behavioural awareness training, where as a senior manager might be put through a more rigorous financial accountability program.  There will then be a range of programs delivered by and for the organisation which are available to all members of staff, these might be things like communication skills, crisis intervention skills, computer skills, and a range of other programs.  Once staff have completed all of the mandatory programs (both generic and unit specific) they can then undertake any of the training available within any policy constraints put in place by the organisation.

So all that has happened here is that the organisation and any associated training providers have simply delivered the training that they would have normally needed to deliver.  However if the RTO (be it internal or external) has mapped all of the training being delivered and looked at the assessments and what gaps are needed to be filled in order to meet the requirements of training package, what has actually happened is that the staff member has progressed quite a long way towards a qualification.  Now they may need to do some additional assessment work, on the job training or skills observations by their managers and supervisors, but they will, if they wish and this system seems to work best if it is voluntary for any extensions over what is mandatory, have accumulated a group of Units of competency.  From here the staff member can sit down with the RTO, their manager and anyone else who may have relevant input look at the range of qualifications that the units they currently have could lead them to and what they need to do to achieve them.  What this means for the staff member is that they may be able to achieve a number of qualifications, rather than just one, by doing a much smaller amount of additional work.  This also provides both the organisation and the staff member with a little bit more flexibility in terms of talent and career development options as well.  Someone who is moving towards a management track can be encouraged to take more management based units to fill out their qualification, rather than practice based units which might be more applicable for a frontline worker.

There are a number of very useful things which happen within this system (particularly when any additional assessment or learning is made voluntary)

  • organisational training can remain the same, additional assessment are simply plugged in for those staff who wish accredited outcomes
  • staff with existing qualifications do not need to do additional assessment over and above what is organisationally required
  • provides flexibility in the talent management pipeline
  • allows staff flexibility in terms of qualifications and training
  • reduces the cost of delivery and the time off work costs associated with accredited training.

A more generic example of the model can be seen below.

pathway

 

The adoption of a system such as this allows for all of the training both informal and formal that is undertaken by staff and delivered by the organisation to be utilised towards a qualification or set of units of competency.

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