Higher level teaching degrees and VET

So as many of you are aware there has been some new research which has come out about degree qualifications and teaching in VET.  Now it is important to note that I have not at this point had an opportunity to look over the entire study and the conclusions that it draws, however given the information which is available there are at least some questions I think are worth airing.

Firstly however a comment, I always find it interesting when academics suggest that VET needs better teaching qualifications when most academics don’t have any formal teach qualifications at all, they are simply experts (they have a PhD or similar) in their field. So I always tend to think that if University ‘teachers’ are considered to be capable because they have experience in their field, why is their this suggestion that it should be different in VET. Some if not most of the VET people who get the best outcomes for their student are those with the deepest industry experience and currency.  So with that little comment out of the way.

My first worry here is study size and knowing who it was that the survey was sent to.  570 and 360 respondents out of a supposedly 80,000 strong workforce seems a little low to me to be jumping to conclusions from.  I mean that is after all less than 1% of the total workforce.  My other initial concern is who it was sent to.  I don’t think I ever remember seeing anything about this survey anywhere or anyone at all mentioning that it was underway.  I could be wrong or my memory could be going, but if anyone out there got an invitation to respond to the survey let me know I would be really interested.  I am interested because, often these studies do not cover what could be called a definitive cross-section of the industry.  I am reminded of some research done around supporting students with disabilities which was presented a NCVER No Frills a number of years back, where it turned out that the researcher had only spoken to TAFE providers about how they dealt with disabled student and when asked why she had not contacted any non-public providers her utterly ill-informed answer was ‘private providers don’t deal with students with disabilities so there was no point in asking them’.  Now I am not saying something like that has occurred in this survey, but it would be really interesting to see if all of the parts of the sector had been able to give input and if it had covered all of the states.

Now I come to the real question I have about this paper, what is the evidence for a statement like  “Whether it was in VET pedagogy or something else, a degree or above really made a difference to things like a teacher’s professionalism, their contribution to the organisation and a deep understanding of the necessity of audit procedures.”  Is it just anecdotal or is there something more substantive.  Is it based on the response from teachers themselves saying they thought it made a difference or is there some other more shall we say robust data, or even feedback from their managers and employers about how their professionalism or contribution increased as a result of undertaking a higher degree.  I mean the cynic in me always says, if I had paid a significant sum of money for a degree and someone asked me if it was worthwhile, people are mostly going to say yes, even if it wasn’t just to appear to not appear to have made an error in judgement.

All that aside however, it is important to note that I am not against people in VET getting higher level degrees, nor am I against the concept of these degrees. I do however think that any change in policy to suggest that higher level qualifications become the standard or the entry point should be resisted wholeheartedly.  What VET needs is people who are highly experienced and appropriately qualified in their fields, who are passionate about passing that knowledge on to students and consistently ensure that they are current and well versed in industry practice.  Then we need to provide them with appropriate training qualifications to be able to effectively pass that information on and to assess the competence of students effectively.  That is what this sector needs not more people with degrees, who haven’t actually been in the industry for years because they have been to busy getting their degree.

Here’s an idea, before any more academics tell the VET sector what is good for it and that having university teaching degrees will raise the standard of teaching, how about we change university policy and force all academics who are teaching at university to have higher level teaching degrees and lets see how well that goes down.  I still remember that idiot academic last year complaining that he wasn’t being allowed to teach in the VET sector because he didn’t have a certificate IV TAE, even though he had a PhD in his field.  Just because you have  PhD in something doesn’t mean you can actually teach what you know to anyone.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

Advertisements

What is the purpose of a VET qualification?

Over the last few weeks, the concept of mission statements for, and the purpose of, Vocational Education (VET) has been rolling around in my head, so this week I thought I might throw an idea or two about the purpose of VET in particular out to the world and see what happens.  Firstly then here is what I think is a relatively simple statement about what VET is designed to do;

Vocational Education and Training (VET) is designed to deliver workplace specific skills and knowledge, across a wide range of careers and industries which prepare participants for work, advancement or further study.

but let’s just leave that there sitting in your brains while I go on a little bit of wander through some of my thoughts on this idea of purpose in VET.

The first question which comes into my mind when I think about any kind of education, but particularly education over and above compulsory, Primary and Secondary education is why? Why would someone make the decision that they wished to undertake some program of study in some chosen field?  While we talk about lifelong learning, and learning for the sake of enjoyment and personal interest and I am sure that for a significant number of people the continuing learning process is something which motivates them and to at least some extent underpins some of their decisions in relation to learning, I don’t think it is for most people the central thing which drives them to undertake formal courses, particularly formal courses in the VET sector.

Most people, according to the NCVER just over 80%, undertake VET for employment related reasons.  This would seem to suggest that for the most part people who undertake a VET course are looking to convert the outcomes of that course (skills and a certificate) into either employment or advancement in their role or field.  This idea of converting a VET qualification into employment is an important one because I think it is one that in general all stakeholders can agree upon in terms of a purpose.

For employers and industry the idea of being able to convert a person to a worker or a more highly skilled worker through a qualification is central to why employers would utilise the VET system. Employers need workers with the right skills and qualifications to undertake the roles they have within their organisations.  From a Government perspective, if we focus on workforce participation, converting people into workers through a qualification reduces unemployment numbers, (even when they are undertaking training) and creates a pool of skilled workers for employers and industry to call upon when needed.  For providers having a good qualification to employment conversion rate helps to make the business more profitable and sustainable through growth in their reputation as a quality provider.

So it seems to me that this idea of conversion, converting a qualification into employment or advancement is an important one across the board and one which we could perhaps use to underpin our various models and thinking.  If the central goal of the delivery of a VET qualification is employment or increased chances of employment and advancement, this creates an environment where the outcomes for the student are central and quite clear.  This should then provide us with a critical lens through which to assess compliance and quality in terms of providers, connection with industry, funding levels and appropriate courses and range of other parts of the puzzle.  It also would provide students with a lens through which to evaluate both the courses they are interested in undertaking and the providers through which they wish to undertake them.

 

Anyway that’s just what I think.

On Industry Currency for Trainers

I came across a gem of a question today in a forum I am part of, which spiked a little thought bubble in my head about industry currency.  I did talk about this subject a little while ago but I think it is one that is worth revisting.  The statement was and I am paraphrasing slightly here – if trainers are not working directly in the industry they are training in how can they be trainers, as they don’t meet the currency requirement.  So why is this interesting, primarily because I have long thought that there are a significant number of ‘trainers’ both in the public and non-public sector for whom if the point was really pressed that currency would be a very large issue.  Why?  Well because they have not actually worked in the sector they are training in quite a number of years and have relied on going to conferences, attending PD sessions and gaining more qualifications (though this is more often than not done through RPL rather than formal study).  Now the standards (1.13) clearly say the following current industry skills directly relevant to the training and assessment being provided.  Now in their fact sheet on this standard it says, Your RTO should ideally ensure that trainers and assessors are regularly exposed to industry workplaces and that they have the ability to participate in workplace tasks, however they are clear that Delivering training and assessment in a workplace does not constitute the development of current industry skills.  Now it is the case that ASQA suggests other activities which a trainer and assessor could participate in to contribute to the demonstration of current industry skills which include:

  • Participation in relevant professional development activities: the implementation guide may provide a list of relevant industry associations. A trainer and assessor could consult with these industry associations to identify relevant development activities they could attend.
  • Participation in networks: this could include attendance at industry breakfasts, workplace health and safety meetings and discussions with employers.
  • Personal development: through reading of industry journals, with subscriptions both online and in print.
  • Undertaking accredited training: including single units of competency, skill sets and qualifications and demonstrating recent completion of a VET training product.
  • Returning to work: that is, working in the relevant industry on a part-time or casual basis.

I guess my question here is how many ‘trainers’ would if were to really dug down into it, have industry currency.  Vocational education is not like teaching, it is not just working through a curriculum (that shouldn’t be taken to in any way diminish the job that teachers actually do), there is a significant amount of technical and activity based skills and learning which are required to be passed on to students, which makes the vocational sector significantly different to the other educational sectors.  Trainers and Assessors in this sector need to have industry skills but more than that they need to have relevant and up to date industry skills, that is, industry currency.  As I said above there are a significant number of providers (both public and non-public) where trainers and assessors have not worked in their industries for many many years as they have been full-time trainers/assessors and have relied on conferences, networks, webinars etc in conjunction with RPL to keep their paper qualifications up to date.  I have to wonder however, how many of these would be able to do the jobs they are training students to do if they were dropped back into the workforce again.

I would be really interested to hear everyone thoughts on this.

 

Can we improve online completion rates in VET

So as most of you are probably aware we are seeing evidence of very low completion rates for online learning programs in the VET sector in this country.  Indications early in 2015 were that those students studying in online only mode had completion rates of around 7%, as opposed to around 40% for those students which undertook classroom or workplace based training where there was shall we say face to face components of the training.  It is now being suggested that in reality online completion rates may be as low as 2% for a significantly worrying number of providers, with even strong providers having great difficulty reaching a completion rate of even 20% which is half that of general completion rates.

This situation raises a couple of questions for me;

  • Is online learning suitable for VET programs,
  • How do VET completion rates stack up against other online completion rates,
  • Why are rates so low, and
  • What can we do, if anything, to raise completion rates to a more acceptable level.

Before I go on I am going to put my heart on my sleeve and say that I am not a great believer in, in particular, online only programs in the VET sector.  Does this mean that I think that online learning has no place in VET, no.  What it means is that this is a competency based system, we all know that, and I have concerns that both for students and for assessors in online only courses proving that competency in a way that meets the required standards, while possible is I think far more difficult than in other environments.  I think that online learning in the context of VET qualifications may be useful when it comes to developing and assessing the knowledge components of a unit of competency, but where I have issues with it is in the development and assessment of the actual performance components, where more and more even in areas like community services we are seeing assessment criteria which say thing like ‘has provided information to 3 different clients accessing the service.’ How does one evidence and assess that through an online learning environment in any way which might simulate a real work environment.

Additionally (and it is important to note that this is anecdotal) it seems that at least a significant proportion of VET students who enter into online only training do not actually have a good idea of what they are signing up to do, the amount of work they will be required to undertake and the difficulty associated with working independently of other students and the other advantages of classroom based learning environments.  I have seen first hand a large number of students start as online students only to come back in a very short time frame and indicated that while they are happy to do the assessments online, they want to come to class, as they are having difficulties engaging with the materials and the assessments without that environment.

The next question is then how do the completion rates for VET courses compare with other online only programs.  If we look at MOOC’s in a higher education setting for example we see that completion rates seem to sit at around 7% which is it comparable, however we need to be careful with this figure because there is something interesting going on here.  The completion rate of 7% relates to MOOC’s where there course is provided at no charge to the participant and the participant receives only a statement of attendance.  There appears to be mounting evidence that when even a small fee is charged by the provider, ostensibly to provide the participant with a certified certificate of successful completion, that there is a significant increase in completion rates for those who choose to pay the fee.  Now given that VET students are paying quite a large fee for the privilege of completing their Nationally Accredited Training online one would think that therefore, if we look at the MOOC experience that there would be a fairly solid completion rate, but this seems not to be the case.

This then leads on to the next question, why are completion rates so low in the VET sector.  Firstly I think that if we relate this to the payment issue, unlike those paying to undertake MOOC’s, what would seem to be a significant number of VET participants have been sold the course on the ‘Study now, Pay later’ premise so that they do not feel like they have any financial commitment in the programs so if they don’t finish it, it doesn’t matter.  This is of course not the case with VET FEE HELP debts incurring on census date rather than on completion, so even if they do not complete the course  they still incur the debt.  While I think the issue of financial commitment to undertaking the course certainly has an impact on students mindsets in relation to completion, it is certainly not the only issue.  In addition there are certainly a range of other factors including;

  1. Lack of real learning support,
  2. Badly designed content (Often the content is very similar to in class content just provided in an online environment),
  3. Low digital literacy levels in students,
  4. Inappropriate courses for students (Students being enrolled in a Diploma when they would be better served by a Certificate level program),
  5. Complexity of both the learning material and the assessment tasks, and
  6. The need for significant time to be spent engaged with the online environment.

There are probably more, but these are I think some of the significant issues.

So what, if anything, can be done to improve the completion rates for online learning. One thing that may have an impact is better designed, shorter content.  It is well documented that the best results from online learning come when students engage for short periods of time with material that is interesting and engaging.  Reading pages and pages of text, watching a series of videos or listening to long audio files, in order to be able to complete assessment activities is never, (and this has been shown to be the case) going to be successful.  The best E-learning around is short, targeted and subject specific.  The problem that exists then would seem to be how to we create best practice e-learning in the VET sector, where there is often a significant amount of information a students needs to engage with and understand in order to be able to complete assessment tasks.

Low digital literacy and inappropriate course choice go somewhat hand in hand and relate to large extent to the way in which students are recruited and inducted into their course of study.  to complete a course of study completely online requires a set of skills that are lacking in a lot of students.  I am not just talking about computer skills here either, there are a range of study skills which people who have studied previously pick up and are able to utilise when faced with undertaking independent online learning.  These are skills that are often lacking in a lot of potential students and in particular those who have either never studied or not studied for a substantial period of time.

This is of course where good support comes in.  Things like synchronous facilitator led online workshops, where online work is treated as a group activity in a similar way to normal face to face learning have a clear effect on student engagement, as do things like regular contact between students and trainers, which should be more than just a weekly phone call asking them how they are going, a simple easy way for students to chat with each other, exchange ideas and begin to feel like a cohort rather than individuals studying alone.  There are lots and lots of great things that can be easily done to improve the support around online learning, but it seems that at least some providers just are not doing this, they are just signing people up, giving them their log in details and ringing them every now and again to ask them how they are going, which is in my opinion not real support anyway.

As I said earlier, while I see place for online learning in the VET sector, online only programs are at least in my opinion not the way to go for the vast majority of students, at least not unless providers are willing to put in a lot more time and effort than they currently are.

 

anyway that’s just my opinion.

Should the TAE qualification have prerequisites?

So as some of you know there has been a lengthy discussion around the new yet to be endorsed Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and one of the things that has come into my mind is around the reasons why people enroll into the qualification and what it is that they want to train after they gain the qualification.

I have over the years encountered a wide variety of people who when I have asked them the question ‘why do you want to do the TAE?’ have answered ‘I want to be a trainer’ which is I guess fair enough until they are asked what it is that they want to train or what skills they have that they want to pass on and they are unable to actually articulate what is it they want to train, they just want to be a trainer.  I have on some occasions where this has happened actually suggested to the person that perhaps we weren’t the best place for them and that another provider might be a better fit for them as we were really focused on what it was they wanted to train people in and working with that.

This all got me thinking, should there be prerequisites for entry into the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and if we think so, what should they be?  So here is a swing at what it might look like;

  1. Hold a VET sector qualification or
  2. Hold a University level qualification and have substantial workplace experience (at least 3 years) in a relevant VET area, or
  3. Have substantial workplace experience (5+ years) in a relevant VET area.

Why these prerequisites?  Well that is simple under the standards you need to be able to show (small c remember) vocational competencies at, at least the level you want to train and without holding the qualification or having workplace experience that is going to be difficult in my opinion at least.

Now I can hear some people saying, but what about those people who don’t want to train VET sector qualification?  My first question  is well why are these people even considering the TAE qualification? I know the answer mostly has to do with the fact that most employers now set the qualification as a requirement for L&D people even if they aren’t delivering accredited training, but why that is, is a whole other story.  So let’s just put that aside for a moment.  The TAE in its current form is designed for people who are going to be delivering VET qualifications, all of the units on assessment and validation should at the very least be a giveaway.   If you are not going to be assessing then perhaps a course more focused on delivery and design (there are plenty out there) or one of the skills sets might be a much better option.  My second question is then the same as my earlier when, what are they going to train and again if they can’t articulate what it is they want to train, or don’t have substantial experience in an area, then I find it really difficult to see why you want to undertake the program.

Anyway that’s my opinion.

How did you get here? How did you become a trainer?

So while reading through some LinkedIn posts this morning I came across a post on how trainers are recruited, what people looked for and the like.  There was also a number of people who commented that they were having difficulty finding work in the Learning Sector, because they didn’t have enough experience, but they couldn’t find anywhere to get experience.  One of the people who posted asked how people started their career in training or learning or whatever you want to call this space in which we work which prompted me to think about a couple of things.  Firstly how I got started in this industry and secondly the differences for people trying to get into this industry today.  So first off I thought I would share my story about how I got here and then look at how things are different today.

I started in the sales and motivational training arena many, many years ago with a large financial services and insurance brokerage and then moved through a range of HR/L&D roles all with differing levels of actual training delivery, across a range of employers and industries.  A lot of it was contract work or startup work (before startups were all tech and cool).  I work in cleaning, manufacturing and distribution, project management and IT.   I had a couple of short stints with TAFE in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, while I was finishing up some university study and after having a break from working on a range of large projects including the Sydney Olympics.  Once university was wrapped up and my head had got over the horror of the Olympics, I went on higher level degree work and teaching at university. After that I went back to training, mostly non-accredited, where I was training between 1500 and 3000 people a year and managing a team of trainers, and at the same time did an RTO initial registration and start-up with the organisation I was working with.  I then moved into enterprise level L&D in government, managing accredited and non-accredited training across a range of teams.  From there I moved to the same kind of roles in the not for profit and community services sector, though the connection with VET was much more pronounced.  All throughout this though and even now I still train, in some roles there was a lot, in others not much, and now as with the last couple of jobs, I have the luxury of training pretty much only when I want to actually train.

I had no qualifications when I started, but to be completely fair and honest, pretty much no one did (I fear I am giving away my age here a bit as well) as the BSZ only came into being towards the end of the 90’s and I only got that after a long argument about how stupid it was that I could teach at Uni but not a TAFE (Yes, yes I know there is a difference).  There was also way back then, less separation between L&D and HR, a lot more cross over of skills and way less specialisation, so it was much easier to move organisations or change roles.  There was also less unemployment it seemed, but you know rose-colored glasses and all of that.  So this all got me thinking about people trying to get into the adult post-secondary training/learning industry today and whether if I was starting out today a journey like mine would be possible or if the whole thing was far more complicated now.  The other thing I got to thinking about is how I hire people today to be trainers or L&D people and what my hiring practices meant to people who were trying to get a start.

A number of people have commented that they have found it difficult to get work in the industry, because while they have relevant qualification they don’t have experience, primarily experience in training and assessment and these people have legitimately asked well how do I get experience if no one will hire me.  This is I think particularly telling on the assessment side of the picture.  The only place were VET assessments are done, are in the VET sector, so where else are you going to get experience except in the sector you are trying to break into.  It is relatively easy to get experience in delivery of training or presentation skills, but experience in assessments is far more difficult to come by.  I have occasionally done deals with people, mostly ex students or people otherwise connected with the organisation around giving them experience in assessment work and training delivery, but only in cases where the skill set they had, was one that was useful or where we needed someone to meet a particular niche need.

I don’t necessarily pay a lot of attention to qualifications though when I am looking to hire a new trainer.  I have found over the years that unfortunately too often people who look good on paper unfortunately don’t stack up that well in the interview stage.  As part of the interview process I always insist that someone who is going to be in a training role, even if it is only a small part of the role, delivers a 15 minute presentation on a topic of their own choosing, first up, before the formal interview process begins and I am always stunned by how many people who look good on paper fail at this step.  Skills and attitude are way more important to me than qualifications, particularly TAE qualifications.  I can get you up to speed and am more than happy to invest the time to get you through you TAE properly if you are good at delivery and have the right set of other skills and the right attitude.  So what do I look for;

  1. Relevant, recent industry experience (if you have been a trainer for 10 years and haven’t had any real industry hands on experience in that time I am probably not going to hire you)
  2. Good front of room skills (you had better engage me in first 5 minutes of your presentation time)
  3. Great Communication skills
  4. A real willingness to work (don’t start asking me about how much time you spend in class vs how much assessment or things like that, because you will do the work that needs to be done, and if that means you spend a week or two doing nothing but delivering training that is how it will be)
  5. Some actual knowledge of the VET sector (if you don’t know the basics of how it works why are you even here)
  6. Qualifications (industry first and then Training)

And finally it will help if you know someone who I know or am aware of, because I am going to look at your LinkedIn profile (you had better have one) and if there is someone linking us in some way who I can ring and have a chat to about your skills then that will help a lot.  I don’t really trust references that much unless I know them.

Now I can see the people who were talking about not having experience thinking well I am never going to get a job, but think about what I am interested in.  I want you to have skills in the industry that you want to train in, good communication skills and a willingness to work and what sells me in the long run is your 15 minute presentation and whether you really are willing to work and trust me if you aren’t willing to work you won’t make you first 3 months.

Two things I say to people who want to be trainers or work in learning roles

  1. Figure out why you want to do this, what is it that drives you to be part of this profession
  2. Figure out what you are good at and just how good you are at it.

Why, because this profession isn’t for everyone, I have seen so many people over the years, come and go, struggle to find work, or be unhappy with their roles simply because they never figured these two things out.

 

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

 

A Federal system for Vocational Education?

I for one have been for a long time now a proponent of the Federal government being in charge of Vocation Education in Australia, so as you might expect I have reacted quite well to the news recently that there seems to be once again support for this notion both Federally and by the States.  As I said I have for a long time thought that a set up where the federal government is in charge of the regulation and funding of a national system of vocational education makes sense.  It should make it easier to navigate the morass of funding that currently exists and changes whenever you attempt to work across state boarders whether from an RTO perspective or from an organisational perspective.  Having a single set of rules and criteria would certainly make a difference.

One of the significant things I think having a Federal system would do is to change the States from being on both the provider and funder sides of the equation.  Currently all of the states fund VET in their state, however they also provide vocational education through their network of TAFE institutes.  Moving all of the funding for the delivery of training to the Federal government would have the effect of TAFE becoming another provider in the market, simply a provider which is owned by the State government and the state government could then determine from its overall budget what amounts it wanted to allocate to the resourcing and infrastructure of their TAFEs.  It would see a transparency around what money being given to TAFE from the State government was actually being used for.  Now that is not to suggest that a federal system might not earmark a certain amount of money for delivery by public providers, but what it would do is clear up the sometimes muddy waters around what is support for delivery and what is support for infrastructure.

The other significant thing it would or should do is as I said at the start even out the currently differences in what is funded and to what level.  As I said a couple of weeks ago I was amazed when I found out that in Victoria every AQF qualification is funded, the amount of money simply varies, which is unlike Queensland and other states where funding is allocated to what is seen to be the needs of that State in terms of skilled workers now and into the future.  Having one set of funding rules across the country would work for everyone, it would make it easier for organisations (particularly those who work across the entire country or a number of states) to access funding for their staff training, which is as anyone who has ever worked in a L&D role in such an organisation will tell you is currently a brain melting nightmare.  It would work well for providers both niche and large.  For example we are one a small number of providers who deliver a particular qualification, currently someone from Queensland can obtain the qualification for around $100 (it is funded in QLD), where as someone from NSW (where it is not funded) would have to pay $3,500 for the same qualification.   The management of funding contracts at a provider level would also be much easier, no longer perhaps having to produce multiple reports for different states with different rules and requirements.  A federal system should have the effect of smoothing out a range of the issues which currently make funded programs across states difficult to manage for everyone.

So what are the downfalls, well there could be some issues where their might be a mismatch between the needs at a national level in terms of skills and the needs at a state level.  On a nation level there could be a shortage of appropriately qualified aged care workers say but WA might have a massive over-supply.  Conversely there could be no national shortage of plumbers but serious shortages in QLD.  Not that these kinds of issues could not be relatively easily addressed, it is just that given that we are such a large country it may be the case that such differences arise.  Although on a side note seeing these differences at a national level rather than at a state level might encourage the federal government to provide incentives for say aged care workers in WA to move to other states or plumbers to move to QLD.

I also don’t think a federal system would affect programs like for example Skilling Queenslanders for work, where the additional money in the program is not going to providers but to community organisations to support the learning activities of their cohorts.  There kinds of programs could still be funded on a state by state basis dependent on need, the funding source for the provider would simply change for the state to the federal government.

It would or should remove this ridiculous situation we currently have where while most of the providers in the country are regulated by ASQA, two states still regulate a portion of RTOs in their state.  All providers both public and non-public would be just that providers for a national system, providers with one set of regulations and one set of rules around funding.  I for one really hope it gets legs and gets over the line.

 

Anyway thats just my opinion.

%d bloggers like this: