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.



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.

Stop doing Training for the sake of Training – and stop funding it as well

So as some of you are already aware I attended the first of the QLD Governments Industry Skills Forum today. Firstly I am going to say if you get the opportunity to attend one of these forums (and apparently there will be more to come) you should.  If for no other reason than to ensure that you know what is going on.

The morning was hosted by Brett Schimming from  Construction Skills Queensland, and I will come back to what Brett said a little later.  Assistant Minister Saxon Rice spoke, outlining the government’s position on training  and TAFE.  The keywords were;

  • Engagement,
  • Accessibility, and
  • Quality

with the main engagement piece being around the creation of the Ministerial Industry Commission, an independent body providing advice directly to the Minister for Education.  Assistant Minister Rice and every one else who spoke, pointed out quite strongly that this would not be a representative commission.  It would not be a table around which all of the industry groups and sectors and other interest groups sat.  Its purpose would be rather to look the evidence are training and employment needs in the state and on the basis of the evidence it would advise the Minister, in particular on skills and workforce development priorities.

So where will that evidence come from the various sectors and industry and other stakeholder groups, through consultation and submission to the commission which will then utilise that and a range of other data to decide on priority occupations and other workforce development needs.

The biggest takeaway if you will from the morning came from Brett, when he said and I am paraphrasing here a little (sorry Brett feel free to correct me if I have got to badly wrong)  ‘the VET system is not the main game, it is not the center of the universe for business, it is the benefits derived from training not the training itself that is important, we need to stop doing training for the sake of doing training.’

This position seem strong through everyone’s talks and hits the nail on the head at least in my opinion.

There are too many RTO’s out there who continue to say that they cant stay in business because the government has changed the funding model.

It is not about you (or us as an RTO) it is about industries, the organisations, the business and the individuals, who derive value from the training.  Training for the sake of training, (at least funded training in the VET sector where there are supposed to be employment outcomes) provides very little benefit to industry, organisations or the individuals who utilise it.  Giving someone a Diploma of Management just because there is government funding available to do it (and trust me that is the pitch of almost every RTO that has cold called me in the last 2 years) is pointless unless there is going to be some benefit derived from that training and some tangible benefit, not one of these oh so common increased productivity calculations that are nothing by trumped-up nonsense.  There must be strong, evidence based reasons for the funding of training, we should be able to show what the benefits to the business or individuals are in terms of employment or productivity or workforce participation, we should have strong and robust evaluative systems that allow us to actually show this value.

If training is not linked to an actual employment outcome and strongly linked (and let’s be serious is a personal training certification really an employment outcome when I can’t walk to the train station without tripping over people currently doing the qualification) then why should it be funded.

Accountability, Innovation, Agility and the skills Gap

So yesterday I went to a fantastic presentation from Denise Myerson and the MCI Team including the wonderful Natasha Wright about their recent

trip to the recent SHRM Conference in the US and the themes and trends that came out of it.  The four major themes (see the title of this blog post) were

  1. Accountability
  2. Innovation
  3. Agility
  4. Skills Gap

Now what I found really interesting about the afternoon was the fact that these four issues or challenges if you will resonate quite strongly both personally and organisationally, in particularly agility and the skills gaps.  When I look at the way the landscape has changed over the last few years, in the not-for-profit and government sectors, in Learning and Development and HR and in the business world in general, Accountability and the ability to respond in an Agile manner to the myriad of challenges which face us every day do call for innovative solutions.  The real problem I see is the skills gap, when I look at the health and community services sector, the mining and industry sectors we are all crying out for staff who have the right skills, attributes and behaviours to meet the needs of industry, particularly at entry level positions, and in highly technical areas.

We seem to have a situation at least in my opinion where we have plenty of  people who skills that are not relevant to the needs of industry, who aren’t interested in entry level positions, who are unwilling to do something that is outside of their vocation or to be retrained and we seem to pander to these attitudes.   If we don’t find ways to address the skills gap, if we don’t have people with the right skills and behaviours in the right roles then how can we possibly hope to respond in Accountable, innovative and agile ways to the next challenge that comes along.

VET, RTO’s and Innovative Accelerated Learning

How long doe sit take to train someone, how long does it take to be competent.

I have been involved in a number of discussions around the time it takes for someone to be competent.  Mostly this has revolved around the Cert IV in Training and Assessment qualification, however it did bring home to me once again the abuses of Australia’s Nationally Accredited VET system that occur in the name of profit, while be wrapped in this veneer of Innovative or Accelerated Learning.

Now first off I need to be very clear here; I am not against innovation or accelerated learning, I have plenty of examples of both, both within the VET sector, and external to it that has provided participants and organisations with the outcomes they were looking for.

Too often though, the terms Innovative delivery and accelerated learning, are simply code for how can we get as many people through the door as possible in the shortest possible time.

Why is this such a large issue in the RTO world, well because, despite what people may argue, it is not an open commercial market place, where market decides the value of the course or program and part of that decision is how the program is delivered and the outcomes it provides.  No the VET system is one where, the government sets the price for courses, through funding.  Now I admit this is a little bit of a simplification, the government does not actually say that the price of a  Cert IV qualification is $3000, it says we will give an organisation or a person $3000 to be trained in this qualification, it is not for want of a better analogy a recommended retail price on to p of which the RTO may place a premium.  It is simply the dollar amount the government will provide for the qualification.

So if therefore it costs an RTO $2500 to deliver the program and the government funding they get, either directly or through organisations is $3000, then they are making $500 per participant.  So therefore it makes sense if an RTO can reduce the cost related to delivery they can increase their profitability.  One very easy way to do this is to simply make the course shorter, with less contact time between the trainer/assessor and the participants, therefore reducing a significant cost and releasing the trainer to run other courses.  Shorter courses also means more course can be run over a 12 month period of time, therefore again more profit.

Again I need to state that I am not against RTO’s making a profit, private RTO’s are necessary and they need to be able to be profitable in order to be able to provide the service they do.  The problem for me is RTO’s that put profit before outcomes, who believe that they have some right to issue Nationally Accredited Qualifications (rather than it being a privilege) and using the smoke screen of Innovative Delivery and Accelerated Learning to cover up bad practices and bad outcomes solely designed to increase their profit margins.

It takes time to train people properly, particularly if they don’t have any background skills in the area, it takes more than 5 days for someone to be a competent Trainer and Assessor, it takes more than 12 days for someone to be a competent aged care worker and it doesn’t matter how you wrapper it.  Competence takes time.

Queensland’s VET Investment Plan 2013-14

The consultation draft of the Queensland VET investment plan for 2013-14 is out and it is worth reading over.

Coming off of the recommendations and the governments response to the Skills and Training Taskforce, the Queensland government  has just released it’s consultation draft of the Queensland VET Investment plan 2013-2014 and in particular has introduced us to the Certificate III program part of the investment framework.

Having read over the presentation and additional information about the program, I have to say I think it is definitely a move in the right direction, particularly when there are a number of community services Certificate III qualifications in the initial funding list, including disability and aged care.  This is a solid statement about the value and need to have a starting point qualification for people with low skill levels to be able to participate in the workforce in the continually rapidly growing Community services and Health sector as well as about the importance of the sector to Queensland as a whole.

The industry Partnerships Strategy looks useful as well, particularly with the addition of funding for skills sets in critical skill shortage areas.  This is a funding shift that I have been  banging on about for quite some time now and believe that we should be focusing more on going forward, particularly where people already have a certificate III or even IV qualification.  My only concern in the discussion paper is that ‘The department is pursuing enhanced partnerships with the tourism, agriculture, resources and construction industries that support the four pillar economy.’  Now while I understand the governments focus on its four pillar economy, the largest growing employment sector in the state is the community services and health sector.  I would say to the governement, yes purse partnerships with the four pillar economy, but pursue them with the community services sector as well.  This is where significant outcomes in terms of employment can be easily made.  The sector is crying out for and will continue to cry out for, long after the mining boom is over, for skilled workers across the entire community services and health sector.

A revamping of the VET in schools program to get better align funded school based VET study with clear occupational outcomes is certainly a step in the right direction, again particularly if they look at links and employment outcomes related to the community services and health sector.  Again doing this would produce significant employment outcomes for school based VET.

So for anyone that is interested feedback and suggestions on the plan are open until 24 May 2013.

The AQF, Volume of Learning, Regulation and RTO’s

So as some of you are aware (some more than others) I went to the Brisbane AQF Implementation workshop today.

It moved pretty slowly but I had always expected that and then the presentation moved to Volume of Learning, and what it meant and its implications and things livened up into a quite rigorous discussion let by Tony Feagan, whom I am sure a lot of you know are issues with the delivery of the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and what implications the statements around volume of Learning would have on stopping the very shoddy delivery and assessment of this qualification that goes on in some RTO’s.

I want to move away from that particular discussion however and look at something that I have to admit vexed me a little more about the whole discussion and situation.  It seems and correct me if I am wrong that the Industry Skills Councils, who are tasked to administer and develop the VET qualifications, should be writing the qualifications in such a manner that it if assessed properly, the length of time it would take someone to be able to be assessed as competent in the Qualification would meet the Volume of Learning rules.  Therefore an RTO who was delivering a Qualification in under the time set out in the Volume of Learning would need to show how and why it was that they were able to do that.

But on the other hand, and again correct me if I am wrong, if the RTO can show sufficient evidence to support the fact that that it has meet the assessment criteria for the unit, then there is nothing that the regulator can do about them being under the volume of learning.  Which seems to me to mean that the ball is firmly in the court of the Industry Skills Councils to get this right and to actually put some robust assessment criteria, such as as some quoted today, in one of the hospitality qualification the student has to prepare a dish 57 times, successfully using all of the skills in the unit of competency.  Does this mean that they might do things like state the minimum actual placement (not simulation) hours that someone doing an aged care or community services qualification would have to undertake?

The other thing that vexed me as the statement ‘well if you have signed up to be an RTO then it is your responsibility to abide by the rules not ASQA’s job to crack down on you’ now while this is correct and is in fact the role of a regulator it strikes me that there is a deeper issue here as well.  Both the VET and HE markets in Australia (as they are almost everywhere) are commercial competitive markets, with a whole range of ways, from Fee for service, to traineeships, to shall we say bulk funding which is to a large extent (and going to become more so in QLD) competitive and contestable.  So it stands to reason unless there are actual, enforceable consequences around not delivery nothing will actually change.

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