ACPET – Funding for Members only.

Some of you may have seen the article in the Australian on Saturday where there has been a suggestion that only members of ACPET be allowed to access government funding.  Now while I am a supporter of ACPET I have to say I think this suggestion is dead wrong.  Firstly just because an organisation if not a member of ACPET does not make it unscrupulous, nor does despite an updated code of ethics and membership standard does membership mean an organisation is scrupulous or always behaving ethically or in the best interests of students.

There are significant reasons why a non-public training provider may not have chosen to be a member of ACPET.  These reasons for non-membership relate quite closely to the variety of kinds of non-public training providers which exist in this industry (So who are these private RTOs anyway).  Many not for profit and enterprise RTOs do not view themselves as being ‘private’ providers, and are in most cases certainly not ‘for profit’ style providers and given the membership landscape and language of ACPET, at least a proportion of these providers feel uncomfortable joining a membership organisation that does not seem espouse their position in terms of in particular the money side of the business. I expressed such feelings at the recent QLD State Forum where I expressed disappointment that there wasn’t much representation from providers that weren’t ‘for profit’.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not in any way opposed to for profit providers, despite claims to the contrary learning is a business and non-public providers are a vital part of it, but back to the matter at hand.

To attempt to tie funding to a membership organisation that is not representative of all non-public providers is deeply anti – competitive and would restrict the access of a range of high quality providers.

The added suggestion that student contribution fee levels be set, is also wrongheaded. As I have said in other places as a community services organisation we strive to make our courses as accessible as possible and stipulating a minimum contribution fee eve if such a fee was say $500 would disadvantage a significant number of our clients.

Add to this the fact that this would simply add another level beurocracy and regulation to an already heavily regulated system and the entire suggest seems difficult to support.


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

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.



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.



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.

Does our VET system work? I actually think it does.

So as most of you know I was out at the VET Reform consultations in Brisbane today.  (Thank you to Assistant Minister Birmingham, Peta, and the whole Vet Reform Taskforce crew, job well done.)  It was an interesting morning with a lot of conversation and discussion and a couple of comments and ideas actually stuck in my mind and I while I was digesting them on the way back to the office I asked myself a question.  “If I was building a national vocational education system what would it look like?”  The answer I came up with was something pretty much like what we have.  A system where the training is developed and maintained by industry bodies to meet the needs of the industries they represent.  A mix of public and non-public providers to deliver the training to meet the needs of organisations and individuals.  Government funding to assist with the priority areas for the ongoing workforce needs of the nation and a single national set of standards which governed the delivery of these qualifications by all providers.  So pretty much what we already have.

Now I am not saying that how the system operates is perfect for everyone and that there are not issues at some of the points along the way, but overall I think we have the structure right.  Not everyone agrees that the ISC’s are the right way to develop and maintain packages, a more ad hoc committee structure might work better, but I don’t think anyone is arguing that we don’t need to have the industry connection.  We are not debating the overall structure at a high level we are just debating exactly what the best way to achieve it is.  Sure there are providers and individuals (both public and non-public) out there who may not be doing the right thing, but that is an issue of governance not the structure.  Funding for programs may not always be what everyone thinks they should be, but again, that is about funding and Government priorities not structure.

We have a good, if not great system here, let’s make sure we don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.  Sure we can do things better, but is the system ever going to be perfect, no, no system ever is.  What we need to ensure is that we have a robust and sustainable system that provides the necessary outcomes for all of the stakeholders, everything else is just tinkering around the edges.

So who are these Private RTO’s really

I have heard a lot of talk recently about private RTO’s, the need to restrict the number of them, the funding available, stop funding free enterprise with public money and the like, so I thought that at least for a moment I might explore who these people and organisations are who seem to be being demonised a little bit in this whole discussion of TAFE, public education and the VET sector in general.  It seems quite easy I think to lump all non-public (read TAFE) suppliers of VET education into the private provider category, however it is not as simple as that by any stretch of the imagination.  There are at least 3 major distinctions which can be made with the ‘private’ RTO sector:

  1. For Profit commercial
  2. Enterprise
  3. Not for profit

and even within these broad categories there are going to be a huge variety.

If we take for example For Profit Commercial providers, the vast majority of these providers are small to medium size businesses, who are not making substantial profits, work in niche areas in one maybe two sectors at the most.  There are very few private providers who are making millions out of government funding or out of training in general.  Most of them started their businesses not because they wanted to make money or get rich, but because they saw a need, they saw sometimes personally that people were dissatisfied with the training they were getting, the quality of students, the outcomes and thought they could do better.  And a lot of them do, a lot of these smaller ‘for profit’ providers provide services which are at least as good as and a lot of time better than those offered by the large corporate or government providers.  Why? That is easy, they actually care about the work they are doing, the businesses and industries they work with and the people.

So what about enterprise RTO’s  I have talked long and often about Enterprise RTO’s , their place and purpose in the VET sector and why an organisation would choose to become an ERTO.  For most of these organisations becoming and maintaining an RTO came from two reasons, firstly, it is a relatively natural extension from the standard operations of an L&D unit to provide accredited training to the organisations staff and want to be able to provide it in-house so that the content, delivery, outcomes, and costs can be better controlled and managed.  Secondly is dissatisfaction, dissatisfaction with the quality of people being recruited who already have qualifications and dissatisfaction with the quality of outcomes for existing staff doing accredited training.  It therefore becomes a relatively easy decision to move to a position where those qualifications which are vital to the business are delivered  in-house, as part of the normal regime of Learning and Development activities.  Again however for most of these ERTO’s the number of qualifications are small and in sector that relate very strongly to the core business of the organisation.  Now some of these ERTO’s operate entirely in-house, they train only their own staff and no one else, most of them utilise government funding where it is available but also provide a wide range of training that is funded, others  choose to take their expertise to the market place and provided training services to a wider (though usually only within their sector) group of stakeholders.  Again, why?  Because they know what is needed to make a competent worker, they know what a good outcome is and how it is best delivered and they know this because they are actually embedded in the industry.

Then we have the not for profits, most of which are either enterprise rto’s of some description or deeply embedded in another not for profit organisation.  These providers don’t seek to make huge profits, they seek to ensure that both those who currently work and those who want to work in their sectors (usually community services) have the best opportunities to be able to do that.  They work with the disabled, the disenfranchised, the disadvantaged and they do it well.  They do it well because that is their core business, they know and understand the world in which they work, they are embedded in the industry, they live it day in and day out and want to pass that knowledge and experience onto other.  Now not only do a lot of these providers like all of the others provide services and outcomes that are at least equal if not better than those provided by the large and public providers, they also tend to do it cheaper, making it more affordable and accessible to those who are both most vulnerable and most in need of these programs, but in general they do it with far less fees for students.  Take for example a Certificate III in Disability which attracts funding of around $2500 in QLD.  Now a student even with a concession card wanting to do this qualification at a TAFE in Queensland would have to come up with around $1000 in student fees.  How much would they pay at a not for profit provider between $20 and $100. Why? because these providers know that most of the people who are looking to do this course can’t afford $1000 and because they are connected to their communities and understand the need for people to be able to access affordable training in order to be able to change their lives.

So for me I sometimes tend to get upset when people use the term private provider like a stick, to beat the non-public side of the industry.  They drag out the horror stories of the small number of providers who do the wrong thing and suggest that is the case for everyone.  They make the assumption that TAFE is good and non-TAFE is bad.  They make the assumption that only a public provider can provide services for people with challenges and disabilities, or at a price that people can afford.  They make the assumption that public providers know the industry better than the organisations and people who actually work in the industries.  They talk about cutting access to funding and only allowing TAFE to provide Government funded courses as if this would have no effect on the lives of the thousands of people and organisations who use these non-public providers, let alone the effect it would have on the lives and livelihoods of the people who own, manage and work in these providers.

As I have said on so many occasions we need a public provider, but we also need the non-public providers as well and to suggest that TAFE can do everything that the non-public providers do, or to lump  all non-public providers into the ‘Private’ handbasket.  Is a few that misunderstands who these providers are and the services they bring to their communities.

Anyway that’s my opinion

How do you lose $70 million and still have a job? Work for TAFE in Victoria it seems.

I posted the article on Linkedin yesterday about the foreshadowed losses in the Victoria TAFE system and I have to admit I have been thinking about it a little more overnight. I mean where else but in the public sector could you amass such substantial losses and then get an offer from the government to give you more money.

I struggle to see how that can come about. Did they spent money that they didn’t have in the budget for things like a new SMS, did they grossly underestimate the amount of students. Unfortunately all of these things point to really bad management practices. I have managed very large budgets and even losses of $1 million plus are heavily questioned. Surely they know their business well enough that they can plan forward or are they simply working on the assumption that it doesn’t really matter in the long run because the government will just bail them out and pay the shortfall. Not a way to run any kind of business be it public or private in my opinion.

Now that being said we need to have a public VET education system, but we need to have one that doesn’t constantly need to be bailed out by the government, throwing more money at a system that is clearly broken isn’t going to fix it.

TAFE has a place, but it is struggling to find that place. There are arguments that suggest that it provides support and training in places were non-public providers don’t because of economic reasons, but even that is changing there are plenty of providers particularly NFP’s who are willing to and already do the kinds of work and in the kinds of places that traditionally only TAFE did.

If a business (and even though it is a public entity TAFE it is still a business) can’t support itself with the population base it has around it or its infrastructure costs are too high or whatever the reason is, then something needs to be done. Unless there are strong social and economic reasons for keeping it then closing or merging needs to be seriously considered, as does staffing levels and executive salaries and packages.

Why have separate CEO’s and boards and executive teams at each TAFE why not centralise at least a bit, cut down on management overheads and put the money where it needs to go, the teaching of participants.

Anyway thats just my opinion

Reinventing the VET brand – Untarnishing VET in the eyes of the Australian Public

Learning is a Business and Brand is everything


The VET brand in this country is tarnished, you only have to look at the numerous newspaper articles and commentary associated with them and across social media, (and yes lets never forget that LinkedIn is the 3rd largest social media site in the world) to see that both in the eyes of practitioners and the general public that there is some rust on the gold standard that was VET in this country (Yes I know Gold doesn’t rust its a metaphor folks).  I, like so many others from both the public and private sector are passionate about this industry, passionate about the good that is created for both individuals and the country as a whole through vocational education.  I believe that both public and private providers deliver (for the most part) outstanding results for their stakeholders and that both are necessary for us to have a vibrant and agile and engaged VET system.  All of this passion though is meaningless, it is meaningless if in the public eye the VET brand is not as polished and sparking as it once was.  What has caused this is also unimportant, be it political point scoring and ideological differences, the rampant pursuit of profit by some private providers or the animosity for some public sector providers about having to be commercially viable and change the way they operate to meet the needs of a new world.

But what about quality you ask.  We need to ensure the quality of the system, we need regulation, we need research , we need data.  Yes yes we do and without a quality product you can never hope to develop a quality brand with good longevity, however quality is not enough.  Research papers on outcomes don’t interest the average person on the street looking to improve their educational or employment options, they are interested in the brand, the perception, they are interested in what John next door says his sons experience of doing an apprenticeship through TAFE was.  They are interested in the fact that Kelly loves the Diploma of Counselling course she is doing through a private RTO, that a friend recommended to her on Facebook.  It is the same at an organisational level, L&D and HR folk and managers and the like, all buy training on perceived value and more often than not that is brand related.  I know, as the CLO for a very large organisation I purchased millions of dollars worth of training every year and a lot of those decisions were based on reputation and brand perception, admittedly there was also a lot of personal knowledge and other factors as well, but here is an example of what I mean.  A business unit spent more than $250,000 to purchase a training program from the US (developed at a US university) plus probably the same amount of money again on training and delivery of the program for under 200 staff.  The content of the program amounted to about 1/3 of the content contained in the related Diploma Level course from the Community Services Training Package.  Why?  The answer is easy the US program has a strong brand and is perceived as begin a valuable certification to have even though in reality the certification is really nothing more than a certificate of attendance, while the VET program was perceived as being well ‘vocational’ so therefore less valuable and the VET brand was simply not as strongly perceived in value terms as the US program was.

But we do a great job with out own marketing.  Yes a lot of providers both public and private do exceptional jobs building their own brands and reputations and if you want to see the effect a holistic branding exercise can have you need look no further the rebranding of TAFE QLD, gone are the boring websites, media, brochures etc and in their place something that seems more vibrant, alive, agile and able to meet the needs of the future.  These are all however individual marketing designed to present a sub-brand if you will in the best possible light to enable it to compete with other sub-brands in the same market.  The overall brand here is VET, the industry relies on that brand being strong.  If the VET brand itself is tarnished or perceived as not as valuable as other offerings either from within Australia or internationally the job of marketing for the sub-brands, us, is so much more difficult.

As I have said on numerous other occasions learning is a business, someone always has to pay for it, be that the government, organisations or individuals the money has to come from somewhere and people talk with their wallets, be that through individual choice of service provider, organisational return on investment calculations or the quantifiable outcomes of government funding it all comes down to perceived value in the end and the strength of the brand people are purchasing.  If we want a strong, successful, well-respected VET industry in this country not only do we need to make sure the quality is right, we need to ensure that the message that the VET system, however it is accessed, should be the first choice that people make and the choice that they continue to make for their educational and employment options and the only way to that is


%d bloggers like this: