Grassroots and start up Learning and Development

Today I thought I might give the world of Vocational Education a break and have a look at some issues that more focused around corporate learning and development and in particular early stage, or greenfields corporate learning and development. As many of you know apart from trying to run RTOs and navigate the VET sector for more than a decade, I have also been heavily involved in the world of L&D and in particular the world of shall we say grassroots L&D.  So I thought that I might share a few of the insights I have gained over that time.

Firstly what is grassroots L&D?  It’s that L&D role where in real terms you are starting from scratch.  Now this might be for a wide variety of reason, organisational restructure has centralised learning functions and created a new L&D department, L&D has been just in one part of the business and there is a need to make it organisational, the organisation is relatively young or has undergone rapid growth making L&D a focus,  or as happens in a lot of cases for some reason L&D has been badly neglected and everything has basically run down and virtually stopped.

This can be frightening place for an L&D professional to find themselves.  Usually we land in roles where there is already existing structures, where we have the foundations.  Training is being delivered, there is a team who are familiar with the business and its needs, a structure around budgets and finance, you know all of those things we expect to have in an L&D department.  Often at the grassroots level, even in a larger organisation you will find that the L&D team is a team of exactly one, You.  So on top of managing, you may also be developing and delivering training, doing the administration, implementing technologies, and on top of that trying to recruit new staff to take the load off.  The other pressure which is often present in these scenarios, is the pressure to get things up and running as soon as possible so to speak.

It is this expectation of creating something relatively quickly, which can cause heartburn for some L&D folk, primarily because we are often used to having data, strategies, platforms and frameworks already in place to allow us to move forward.  So what most people do is to dive into developing their strategy and framework, start doing TNAs, auditing compliance training and certifications, all those things that we know we have to have in order to deliver meaningful learning experiences to our staff.  This however could be a very costly mistake in terms of you longevity in the role.

Why?  Well because in most of these situations we are dealing with organisations,  managements teams and even boards who may not grasp the complexity of the L&D function.  This is of real concern when the L&D team has been created because the business has discovered a gap, or in some cases a gaping black hole which they need to address and address quickly. They often don’t have time to worry about how things are going to be evaluated for example, they just want them to work.  Getting some kind of training started in a particular area may be far more important than making sure that training is totally aligned with the business plan and strategic goals.  In these cases getting all of your ducks in a row before you start may well leave you in a situation where you find yourself having to justify your achievements. Often in these cases as well there can competing agendas across the business, particularly when L&D has become a more centralised function, instead of being within business units and under the control of Mangers or GM’s.

So what do we do, how can we get done what the business needs, or thinks it needs and still set ourselves up to be able to move forward strategically at the same time.  As many of you may already know I have been a fan of training impact maps for a very long time.  When I first saw one in Brinkerhoff’s book High Impact Learning, they struck a chord with me as a useful tool for ensuring what we are delivering meets the needs of the organisation.  They are incredibly useful in these greenfields style situations where the business wants a solution but is not sure what that solution could be.

How does this work, it’s really simple, get the business, or business unit or even the board to fill this out, with or without help from you and then use the information contained in it to create whatever intervention is necessary to meet the needs outlined.  Here is  hint though, if the business can’t fill out these sections, then training may not be the answer and you may need to have a longer conversation with people.  Another quick hint, and this is really important, resist the temptation to provide the business with ideas around measurement of success, if they don’t come up with it they won’t own it and if they don’t own it and they didn’t tell you that was what they wanted to measure, then you are potentially in for a world of hurt, when they come back and say we actually wanted to see an improvement in X why did you measure Y we don’t care about that.

Part of the trick here also is to get them to ask the right questions such as;

  • Who is the Target group for training,
  • Why are we doing this training, what result will it mean for the business
  • What are the tasks that the target group do that this training is seeking to improve
  • What are the skills and knowledge that staff need to perform these tasks
  • Which of the strategic goals of the business does this training relate to and how, and
  • How will you know if this training has been successful.

So if you can get them to fill this out properly you will have achieved a couple of quite important things, firstly as i said above you will have a nice base from which to look at what interventions you will need to develop to meet the need.  Secondly you will have started the process of the business thinking strategically about its learning and development needs, the value that training brings to the organisation and the need make sure that training that is being delivered or requested will actually meet the needs of the organisation and staff.

Now you should be up and running and can start to build and deliver things and then hopefully start work on some of the other areas which will need your attention.


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.


Customisation of Learning – Connecting L&D and VET

A lot of training providers talk endlessly about their ability to customise a program to meet the needs of an organisation.  However, how many of them actually do it or do it in a way that really meets the needs of the organisation?



I think unfortunately, or fortunately for those who do, not many.  Often in the VET sector customisation means little more than choosing different electives, although not too different or there might not be someone able to train them. Unfortunately in most cases, just changing electives is not really customisation, it is far more a case of here are the options we are offering what would you like to choose. This of course is not something that is just confined to the VET sector, a great many licensed and proprietary training programs offer very little in the way of real customisation, however it is the ability to customise training to suit specific organisation and even individual need that is a strength of the VET system.

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 who is able to utilise that skill set in their work.  The common complaint about this kind of customisation from providers is that you still have to do what the training package says, they have to be assessed on the performance criteria and you have to make sure that the skills and knowledge which are taught to the student are not so workplace specific that they are not easily transferable to other workplaces and roles.  Now of course, this is true, but I don’t think that anyone ever said that what was listed in the performance criteria was all a program could to contain.  It doesn’t say anywhere in the packages that you cannot add additional information or assessment or training.  What it says 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 does 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, or used differently, by equally many practitioners.  So (leaving aside questions whether or not the criteria should actually even be in the unit) often staff undertaking this unit end up being trained in something that their organisation does not use and in some cases is actively opposed to the use of.  This also then tends to mean that where that unit is an elective and can be left out it is, which may dilute the overall strength of the qualification from the organisations perspective.  It may also mean that the organisation may then have to go out and source additional training or develop it themselves, around the content which is contained in the unit.   So what does customisation look like here, for an organisation that doesn’t use the particular segment of the unit of competency, given that we know that in order to meet the performance criteria it can’t be left out, and it needs to be assessed.  Having done this on numerous occasions the answer is in general remarkably simple, do both and assess both.  Assess the accredited unit according to the performance criteria and the other according to what the organisation wants.  It is then a case of explaining to the students that while you have provided them with two options, one is the preferred method where they work now, but there are other organisations which may prefer to use the other method.  Is it a little more work?  Yes, but it will also makes 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 also about little things,  like making sure that when you are talking about documents and policies the examples you use are, where possible, from the organisation itself.  It is about using the language of the organisation as well, particularly if you are talking about reporting lines, hierarchies and business processes and software.  It is about sitting down with the manager, the L&D person or whoever you are working with and saying, what are the skills and knowledge you need your staff to have at the end of this and what tasks do you expect them to be able to undertake and then structuring the course around that.  Take the time to cluster and structure delivery and assessment so that it makes sense in the context of the work environment.  There is very little point in training someone in a skill they are not going to use for 6 months.  It is better to provide them with the training in proximity to when they will use the skill, to enhance the retention of the skill and knowledge.

Customisation is actually an enormous strength within our VET system.  This becomes particularly evident when it is compared to many of the other proprietary training programs that are out there, most of which can’t be changed or customised to suit particular circumstance, because the material is copyrighted and licensed and often, because of this the people delivering the training have no say in the content or its delivery.  So in order to meet the criteria of the provider that owns the program they have to deliver it in, often, a very particular manner which unless you are training large numbers of people or spending large sums of money on the training are probably not going to be altered by the program owner.  This ability to customise should not be taken to mean that we can and should ignore the rules of the VET sector, things like Volume of Learning, and the 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 real problem is that most providers seem very reluctant to do it.

Anyway that’s my opinion.


Paul contacted via;

Rasmussen Learning Solutions

Spectrum Training

Time to competence, vocational assessment and organisational need

So in this post on better connecting the L&D and VET sectors I want to look at time frames and how the concept of time to competence may encourage L&D people and organisations to look at professional development training over nationally accredited (VET) qualification.

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 over even 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 works 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 in turn 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 additional 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 nationally 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.

In addition 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.

The other side of the coin is that one of the things that organisations like about VET is the robustness of the assessment and the competence that results from on the job training and rigorous training and assessment practices.  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.

Now of course this should not be taken to suggest that RTO’s need to shorten their time frames, forgo ‘on the job’ observation and assessment or compromise the integrity of the training and assessment.  Remember it is the robust assessment of competence that organisations value about VET.  What it does mean however is that we need to understand and work with the needs of the business.  This means asking questions like, do thee need a full qualification or just some units, is their training already being done in the organisation that we can map to accredited outcomes.  Make the observation and ‘on the job’ processes as simple for the managers as possible, create good checklists, not just the performance criteria, give the staff journals to fill in themselves, explain to everyone how the process works and what is expected.  Map out everything so the process makes sense for everyone.  The more that both the managers and the staff understand and are engaged in the end to end process the easier it is for everyone to get the result that they want.

Also the easier we can make the process from the perspective of the L&D staff the easier it will be over all.  If L&D can see that the time requirements for them in terms of staff undertaking an accredited program can be minimised, allowing them to do other value add undertakings the more like they are to champion the program and the easier it will be to get those successful outcomes.



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



Connecting L&D and the VET Sector

We talk about VET as being industry led and aimed at the needs of industry and skilling of workers, yet in most organisations L&D departments spend large sums of money on non-accredited, sometimes overseas based programs to meet their staff training needs.  A few clear examples are

  1. Prince2 Project Management Training VS Certificate IV or above in project management
  2. The C.A.R.E and Sanctuary Models in Youth work VS Certificate IV or about in Child, Youth and Family intervention.

Why is an organisation happy to spend $250,000+ on a program from the USA, with no accredited outcomes, but not willing to spend the same amount on a VET program that provides or if well-constructed is able to provide the same kind of learning outcomes and more.

Why do organisations send staff to a 5 day Prince2 course costing close to $3000 dollars when they could undertake an entire Certificate IV in Project Management for the same or less?

While some of the answer here lies with brand, reputation and portability of qualification (particularly with say the Prince2 program which is recognised internationally), some of the answer also lies squarely at the feet of the VET sector and while some of the issues have to do with the construction of the training packages, how they are developed, others are directly concerned with how the VET industry interacts with organisations.

There is a lack of understanding of how VET works within industry and organisations, it is often viewed as being inflexible and focused on full qualifications, while what industry wants in flexibility and the ability to access and train their staff in particular skills or skill sets.  The VET industry also seems to fail at capturing and utilising well, all of the formal and in particular informal learning that occurs in organisations and converting that into accredited outcomes.  L&D departments have specific business goals that they need to meet and the VET sector needs to be able to intersect with those goals and offer solutions that are appealing in both in terms of outcomes and in terms of budgetary considerations.   Trying to sell an L&D manager a certificate IV in business program on the basis that it is government subsidised fails even though the cost might be much less than other options because it is not what they want.  They want time management for some staff, excel training for others, communications skills for yet others and they know that trying to sell the concept of a full qualification to the operational managers in the organisation will fail for the same reasons.  It is not what they want.

While full qualifications may make sense to individual students looking to participate in the workplace, improve their employment options or to make themselves more attractive in terms of promotions, it is rare, (or at least this seems to be the case anecdotally), that even with customisation of content and the importation of units to try to meet the organisations need, there are still gaps and things that are not needed.  I can’t count the number of times I have heard people say ‘Can’t we replace that Workplace health and safety unit with something more relevant?’  or ‘Why are these units in here, that is not how we do business, can’t we change them?’  Unfortunately as I have  before this often turns around on students who have done a generic program through a provider and are out looking for a new role or career.  On the surface the qualification looks ok, but when the potential employer looks into the units before deciding to make and offer or worse they find out later through an incident, that something that they consider critical to the operation of their business wasn’t covered, the whole qualification looks worthless as does the sector in general.

But what can we do about it how can we better connect the world of L&D to the world of VET.

My favourite L&D Books

I thought as a start to the year I would begin building a list of my favourite Learning and Development books, these are all books that I have read and would recommend highly.  If you have any other suggestions then feel free to let me know.

The business of learning – David Vance

The success case method – Robert O Brinkerhoff

High Impact Learning – Robert O Brinkerhoff

Ten Steps to a Learning Organisation – Kline and Saunders

Building the Learning Organisation – Marguardt

The Fifth Discipline – Senge

The Training Measurement Book – Bersin

The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning – Wick, Pollock and Jefferson

How to measure training results – Phillips and Stone


So as I said if you have any other books that you like let me know.  I intend to build this list over the year.


%d bloggers like this: