Career Progression, Professional Development and VET

I wrote about this topic almost 12 months ago, (I don’t want to be a trainer all my life) but a couple of conversations I have had recently have got me thinking again about the whole concept of career progression, talent management and succession in both organisational L&D and the VET sector.  As I sit back and look at the world of Learning and Development and Training, after having been involved in it for quite a lot of years, in all parts of the industry, accredited and non-accredited, public and non-public, delivery, management, strategy, in very large enterprises and small ones, I realise that the path I took to get to where I am was (like with most of the other people I know) quite crooked, there was very little in the way of straight line progression in terms of moving from one role to another and gradually climbing some career progression ladder.  Not that these days it seems there is really that linear progression in terms of careers which were very much part of the generations before us.  The other thing I noticed was that there was very little in the way of mentoring or talent management in any part of my career.  I was essentially left to my own resources.

Which brings me to the subject of professional development and how it ties into career progression and talent management.  It seems to me that the world of Professional Development in the VET sector is divided into two distinct streams;

  1. How to be a better trainer (which includes look at this lovely new piece of technology)
  2. How to meet compliance standards

Now some might try and paint their PD programs to make them look like they are something else, but in reality at least from what I can see the vast majority of PD falls into these two categories.  Please note that I am intentionally avoiding talking about any PD that relates to industry currency that is a whole different ball game altogether.  So my question is where are the professional development programs around leadership, ethics, management (not compliance management, management), mentoring.  There are a whole range of skills that just don’t seem to make it onto the PD offerings for training professionals.  Now I know what some of you are going to say, that sort of stuff is available through other avenues and generalist programs and you are probably right, but wouldn’t it be nice, I dare say even useful to have leadership, management and ethics programs that focussed on the sector.  I certainly think it would be.

In order to do that however we would need to know what career progression looks like in this sector, and I am not sure that we do.  One of the problems is of course one that exists in any sector where there are practitioners and administrators/managers, and much like in the social sciences practitioners  at some point have to choose, whether to stay a practitioner or do I want to be a manager.    Trainers and facilitators have to choose as well, do they want to stay heavily involved in the teaching side of the profession or do they want to move over into administration and management.   This is why in a lot of organisations, particularly as the organisation gets bigger, more and more of the management staff coming from the administrative/co-ordination/compliance side of the business than the training side, the move seems a lot easier to make.  And make no mistake this is not just the case in the non-public side of the sector, even in the public (TAFE) side we see the same thing and they have a very structured environment with all of these levels and things for trainers to traverse, but again at some point the trainer has to choose and in the case of TAFE added to the change in focus from actual training to administration which comes with any move like this there is also in a lot of cases a loss of ‘perks’ such as non-contact hours and the like, things that people from the administration side have never really had anyway so they won’t miss them when they move.  The other thing we need to know is what makes a good manager in this sector, what is the skill set of  someone in Educational Management?  We also need to know how to take someone who is a good trainer and help them to become a good manager and we cant do this if we don’t know what we are aiming for.  Then of course it is just a simple matter of getting people on board with the idea of doing something for their staff other than sending them to a conference or a two day program in flipped learning and that more than anything may actually be the biggest challenge.

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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.

 

 

Why I work here.

It is that time of year where everyone thinks about the year ahead and what they want to do and achieve, but sometimes amongst all of these thoughts and plans it is easy to forget the why behind the things that we do.  I was reminded of that today by a post by a friend on LinkedIn.  We talk about compliance and standards, about how to improve the things that we do, about best practice, trends and new technologies.  We talk about training needs and delivery processes, how to fund and manage learning.  We talk about policy and theory and academic positions and theories, informal and formal learning, elearning, mlearning and all of the things we would like to do or try it we had the time and the resources.   While this is all fine it is very easy to lose sight of the simple facts about the sector that we all work in, it is about the participants and more importantly every single day this sector changes people’s lives. Not just the lives of individuals but of their families, those around them and their communities.

We need to remember the person who failed at school but who has learnt new skills through a well structured adult learning program

We need to remember the staff who through the things that we provide are able to life their careers and their lives to heights they never thought possible

We need to remember the clients and stakeholders who get better quality of service and outcomes and walk away happy rather than disgruntled and take that happiness into other parts of their lives

And most importantly we need to remember that working in this sector more than many others gives us such an opportunity to have a real and lasting effect on the lives of others.

And I for one and grateful to have such a wonderful opportunity.

I dont want to be a trainer all my life!

Career progression in L&D in general and the Australian VET sector in particular

 

Over the past couple of weeks I have encounters a number of conversations or articles, one example of which is by the ever erudite Sukh Pabial, around how to get started or how to progress ones career in the world of L&D.  While I firmly believe that L&D really is the HR sweet spot, some of the comments and issues that have been raised about the L&D industry seem quite valid both from an international point of view and from an Australian perspective.  The question I have been asked a number of times recently has been, ‘How do I get started in training?’  My initial off the cuff response, at least to those people in Australia was to go out and get their Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, but recently I have realised that I was actually embedding quite a lot of assumptions in the statement I was making, mainly I think due to the fact that I have been involved much more heavily in the management of L&D and training in the last few years than the coal face shall we say.

This minor revelation came about when myself and a long time friend were talking about how we get involved in the industry and realised that both of us started outside the VET sector, delivering non nationally accredited training in fee for service providers and that neither of us when we started had a TAE qualification and worked for a number of years quite successfully without every needing it.  But now it seems that everyone in the training industry and beyond whether involved in the delivery and assessment of accredited training or not, expects that everyone will at a minimum have the TAE qualification.  But what about an HR person with a degree and a specialisation in Learning and Development, do they need to get the entry-level qualification on top of their other qualifications.  Definitely, if they want to deliver training, or and let’s be fair here, even work in the RTO/VET sector in Australia, but more and more it is simply expected that those involved in L&D in this country with have a TAE.  Now I am not intending to argue whether or not this is a good thing or the value of the qualification or anything like that, but and I come back to my revelation, getting the qualification is not by necessity the first thing you should do if you want to become involved in L&D, what you really need is experience.

Now I am not talking here of just experience in training and L&D or HR, I am talking about a wider workplace experience, that begins to develop your depth of knowledge about how organisations and the people within them think and work.  This was driven home to me recently when I was having a conversation with a younger person who was taking part in a TAE program and when she was asked what it was wanted to train and why she wanted to do the course, she responded by saying she didn’t know what she wanted to train, but she just really wanted to train and teach people and become part of the L&D/Training industry.  I mean I wish her the best but with a Cert IV TAE, a generalist business degree and almost no experience, I think it might be a very hard road for her.

But what about when you are already in the industry, most of us involved in L&D and the VET sector are very passionate about what we do, we do it because we love it, it is as they say ‘in our blood’, but and this is what really struck me about Sukh’s post was there is little or no career progression within organisations, be they dedicated training organisations or L&D units within businesses.  Unlike a lot of other career pathways, you don’t start in a junior role and slowly progress into more senior positions, for me like Sukh, all of my career progressions have been because I have moved roles from one organisation to another.  We tend it seems to hire trainers as trainers and don’t really offer them a pathway to anything else, except perhaps ‘Senior Trainer’ or the like.  So they train for as long as it excites them and then they either leave the profession or they look for other roles outside the organisation they are in.  The same goes for Admin people and Compliance people and the works, we seem to want to pigeon-hole people and once they are in their hole, that is what we continue to think of them as.  Then as an added ‘bonus’ in Australia you have the TAFE, Training providers, organisational divide, where it would be exceedingly rare for someone to be given a role in a TAFE that had not had experience in a TAFE, though in reality there is very little difference between running a TAFE, a large training organisation or an organisation L&D department.  And the same goes in other directions as well, most non TAFE people think TAFE folk are boring, conservative and not terribly innovative, TAFE people thin commercial providers are cowboys out for a buck and corporate L&D thinks itself aloof from everyone.

So I wonder whether we can have the kind of progression in the L&D world that we might see in other professions, I think the problem for us is that there are a lot choices available to people who want to be involved in this sector of the workforce, and a lot of different avenues for people to explore and often the higher you get up the food chain and the more experienced you get the less you end up doing the things that make you passionate about this life we call L&D.

2013 ASTD State of the Industry Report

So as many of you know I am an avid consumer of the ASTD’s yearly State of the industry Report and guess what, the 2013 edition is now available.

So what does it have to save about the world of L&D this year. Well it is interesting, there is not a lot of change from last years report.  We see that spending on L&D globally was about $164.2 Billion with an average direct expenditure per employee of about $1,195.  In terms of Average Direct Expenditure, this represents a very small ($13) increase over last year.

Again however Learning hours used per employee stuck at around the 30 hours mark, 30.3 this years to be exact.  On suggestion for this stalling over the last four years in the increase in usage of non-traditional instructor led training and the more informal, workplace, just in time learning which is much harder to track and quantify.  We also see that Direct expenditure as percentage of payroll rise only slightly to 3.6% as has the Direct expenditure of percentage of revenue rising slightly to 1.32%.

There has also been little or no change in the percentage of expenditure taken up by internal costs which remains steady at 61.5%, lower that 2009 (62.4%) but higher than last year (60.5%).  There has however, been a not insignificant (5%) drop in the number of employees per L&D staff member which now sits at 299:1, there is an even more startling drop of  around 40%, in this number in the ASTD BEST organisations, taking the number there from 288:1 down to 178:1.

The cost of learning has also gone up both in terms of the cost of providing one hour of training to one employee, rising to $89 and the overall cost of developing one hours training rising to  $1,772, a rise of 20% over the last 4 years.  Some reasons suggested for this increase if the up front costs of technology and the reduction in the ratio of employees to L&D staff members.

Managerial and Supervisory training makes up the largest content area for Learning programs, closely followed by mandatory and compliance training, business process and practices, and industry specific training with these four areas taking up just of 40% of all the learning programs delivered.  How these programs were delivered tells what I think is an interesting story however, while yet again, instructor led classroom delivery dropped (5% down to 54.28) and technology based learning rose slightly to 39.20% which is not unexpected.  What I find interesting is that  All Online delivery has remained around the same percentage, (27.29% this year) since 2008.  When you pair this with the fact that instructor lead training (either classroom or online/remote) accounted for some 70% of all training delivered, it seems to suggest, at least in my opinion that participants like to have instructors to interact with even when utilising online training.  The other final thing I find interesting about the content and delivery data is that while there was a big jump in the percentage of hours used in terms of mobile technologies between 2009 and 2010, this usage has flattened out of the last three years remaining at 1.51%

So what does all this data mean?  A couple of comments I would make would be that

  1. Instructor led learning is still the preferred method of delivery for a large amount of participants,
  2. New technologies may have had a quite significant effect on the overall cost of the development of training,
  3. Mobile learning is not the powerhouse, game changing, way of the future that everyone keeps suggesting it is.

I would be interested to know what others think of the data and what it means for the industry.

Evaluating Informal Learning

As some of you know the problems associated with capturing the organisational impact and increases in competency (if any) gained by staff through their informal learning has occupied my thinking for some time now, and I have posted and spoke about it on a number of different occasions.   I really got to thinking about it again after the recent learnX conference, particularly after some stimulating conversations with Con and Saul amongst others.    The problem for me is that even if you don’t believe the numbers  in 70:20:10 (which I don’t)  there is still a lot of informal learning that happens in a person’s life and at least some of that learning has to relate to their job roles.  Just before I go on however,  I want to set some shall we say boundary conditions to what I am talking about here and that is informal learning that has some impact on the day-to-day operation of the organisation.  If you choose to go off in your own time and as one of my colleagues loves to call  it, study underwater basket weaving, I am really not interested in the fact that you have done that, unless you can show be some tangible link to your day-to-day work.

So for me there are two types of organisational informal learning, that learning that simply increases, builds or improves a skill and that learning that does that and in addition provides some ‘formal’ recognition pathway for the learner.  When I think about this however it is more  the job role or the organisational imperative that moves us towards the path of recognition rather than in general the needs of the staff member.  Again however,  when I am talking about recognition I am talking about formal recognition, where there is some ‘qualification’ style outcome as a result of the learning, usually in an Australian sense a Unit of competency for example.  I am not talking about badges and other like devices to capture learning, be they peer-reviewed or whatever, for from an organisational point of view they in my opinion are (at least currently) meaningless.

Why do I say this; I have often recounted a story of being asked as part of a formal investigation into an incident involving a member of staff, “how did you know this person was competent?”  Now if my answer had been, well he has a badge for it, I think I may have gotten a much different reaction to saying, as I did, “Well, they have completed all of the assessment tasks, including a third-party observation, necessary for us to be satisfied that they were competent under the rules of evidence set out in the legislation pertaining to the operations of Registered Training Organisations.”

Not all informal learning though is going to lead a staff member to a qualification however, some of it is not related to or captured by the range of qualification available, some simply adds to the skill set they already have, making them better at their role, but not providing them with a new skill. So for me there are a number things that we need to know in order to be able to begin to evaluate informal learning, and I am indebted to Saul Carliner for some of his thinking around this;

  1. A baseline – what is the staff members current skill level,
  2. What they have learned,
  3. How they have learned it,
  4. New skill level,
  5. Is there a competency attachable to the learning,
  6. Effect of learning on organisational metrics – reduction in customer complaints, less injuries etc, and maybe
  7. Return on Investment?

Now you might look at that list and say well isn’t that what we would want from any kind of organisational learning process, and in fact is not exactly the kinds of data that we want from our formal processes.  I don’t see why we should be treating the outcomes of informal learning differently to how we would treat formal learning.  Now it may not be relevant, we may not or able to or we may not want to, capture the standard ‘smile’ sheet satisfaction style data that we collect from formal training and yes, the natural of the learning, pull not push, driven by the individual, just in time etc, all make the nature of the process of learning different.  However, when we look at it from an organisational point of view aren’t we not looking for the same thing as with formal learning.  We are looking for an increase in the skill level of the staff member, such that increase in skill will have an effect on the relevant workforce metrics that relate to their role in the organisation.  If we aren’t looking to improve the skills of our staff and the organisation as a whole, what are we investing in informal learning systems in the workplace, and why has it become so important.

So what are some ways in which we can achieve this?  If we start with the idea of a baseline we might be able to sort out some structure and processes around this idea.  So, where might a baseline come from;

  • Position Description,
  • Performance and Professional development plans,
  • Self Assessment,
  • Formalised Assessment, or
  • Job skills analysis plus a rating system.

There are a range of ways in which we can establish this baseline, but how can we do it without it being onerous on everyone involved.  If we use position descriptions as our starting point, we have the problem of there not being enough detail or they are not skills based or we don’t assess the person against them in a really formal way, that gives us any real data to work with in the first place.  They could be coupled with self assessment, and direct manager assessment to give a fuller picture of the skill set and levels of an individual staff member.  PPD plans can be seen in the same light, in order to make them more useful in terms of presenting us with a baseline we need to capture more granular detail about the role and the staff members skills relating to that role.

So I have a bit of a rough process around my thinking in relation to this and it goes something like this;

  1. Skills Outline for each role type within the organisation,
  2. Assessment of Staff member against skills outline – there are a range of options here, but I think there has to be at least self assessment + manager assessment at the very least,
  3. System for capturing staff informal learning activities,
  4. Regular (6-12 Month) updates of Staff skill assessments,
  5. Data capture of changes in skills levels across the organisation,
  6. Method of mapping skills changes to competencies. and
  7. Methodology of converting skills changes to organisational metrics and ROI.

So as I said that is my thinking currently, I would be really interested in getting everyone’s feedback on what they think, so feel free to chime in and let me know what you think.

Primary, Secondary, Tertiary and VET education

Is Education Snobbery still alive and well in Australia?

As some of you might know one of my first posts on this blog was about Academic snobbery and the perceived value of VET qualifications, where I talked about the ‘I have a degree, why would I want a workplace (VET) qualification?’ and what it said about the perception of the value of VET sector qualifications.

This whole idea of the VET and organisational learning sectors, not being as professional, rigorous, or just plain good, as the ‘Teaching and Academic sectors’ has risen up in a number of conversations I have had with people recently.  This time however it has been the ‘But that just training’ or ‘They are just a trainer, I’m a teacher/lecturer’  commentary.  What I find really interesting about this is that I almost never here this language from people in the organisational learning and VET sectors only from those in the teaching and university sectors.  The other thing that I find interesting is this (and I am going to generalise here so beware);

Teachers are experts in practice of teaching, they are not for the most part subject matter experts;

Lecturers and Academics are subject matter experts, and not for the most part experts in the practice of teaching;

VET and organisation learning practitioners are expected to be both, they must have subject matter knowledge and expertise and they must hold training qualifications.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying that practitioners in the VET and organisational learning sector are better or more qualified than those in other sectors.   I have known over the years outstanding teacher, lecturers and trainers, I have also known some, in all three sectors, that were downright awful and made me wonder how they managed to continue to be employed.

So  lets stop this petty bickering about who or what sector is best, applaud great talent where we find it and work together to ensure that the people we educate get the best outcomes they can regardless of the sector they are in.

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