Let’s talk about the system before we talk about funding.

There has been a number of articles and papers popping up recently which have discussed the need to reform post secondary training and education funding in Australia.  Now while certainly I would agree that this is an issue which we need to look at, and one which requires careful consideration, I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t a little bit of the tail wagging the dog.  Bear with me while I explain.

There is always a lot of discussion about how VET in this country is funded, who should get what, should it be more competitive or less, what should be funded, the list is endless and so is the opinion and verbosity about it.  Firstly don’t get me wrong, I think that discussions around how we fund post secondary education and in particular VET in this country are vital to our ability to be able to deliver high quality educational outcomes and ensure equality of access to education in this country.  However all of this talk of funding obfuscates the real problem that underlies the entire sector and that is the question of what is the purpose of the sector and what we need to do to ensure that we have a system that best addresses that purpose.  I would hazard to guess that if we took the approach of making sure the system and purpose of the sector were aligned that we would need to spend much less time thinking about the who, what, and how of funding as hopefully the answer to these questions would be apparent as a result of how the system worked.

For quite a long time I have held the position that when we look at the VET sector, its purpose is fairly clear and that is that the purpose of Vocational education and training is to designed to deliver workplace-specific skills and knowledge to assist participants to improve their workforce participation options.  Now over the years people have suggested that this concept is to narrow and that the purpose is to increase the overall levels of education with in the country, so that we have in general a smarter better educated populous, because education and learning are ends in themselves and not simply means.  While I have some sympathy with the position and generally that education and learning are important in and of themselves, this is not and should not be the central purpose of vocational education in this country.  It is certainly not the purpose for which the vast majority of students use it for.

it is clear from years worth of data collected by NCVER and other places that more than 80% of all participants in VET are seeking to convert their participation in the sector and subsequent qualifications to improve their workforce participation levels, either through getting a job or by improving or changing the job role that they currently have.  If the vast majority of participants in the sector are seeking workforce participation improvements and the sector is, pretty much by the definition of the words themselves (Vocational, Education, Training), about delivering workplace skills, then it seems clear, at least to me, that the main purpose of the sector should be what I outlined above ‘to deliver workplace-specific skills and knowledge to assist participants to improve their workforce participation.’

Given the purpose which I have put forward this gives us a fairly solid foundation from which to commence building a system to deliver on that purpose.  I don’t propose to do all of that here and now, but I will point out a few things which instantly seem to pop out.  The first is that there must be a connection between the knowledge and skills being learnt by the participant and the role they want to utilise them in.  No point in teaching someone underwater macrame if they want to an airline pilot or teaching a prospective printer how to work a Gutenberg Press. This means that there must be an intimate connection between industry, content, delivery and assessment.  It also needs that the system needs to be agile enough to cope with rapid changes in the skills and knowledge base of particular industries.

It also means that the system must ensure the validity, particularly in terms of competency, of any qualification issued.  Participants must be able to convert their qualifications into workforce outcomes and the only way that can effectively happen is if there is robust confidence in the competency outcomes of the qualification.  If as an employer I cannot guarantee that a person a particular qualification or  a qualification from a particular provider, then I am less likely to allow the conversion of that qualification into a workforce outcome, which in turn undermines the entire system.  In fact if workforce outcomes are the primary purpose of a VET system then the ability to convert qualifications into those outcomes is the lynch pin.

As i said I am not going to try and develop and entire basis for a system here, but as i said earlier, while discussions about funding are vital, we need to ensure that we have a system that supports the purpose of what the sector is trying to do first.

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Who is in charge of VET in Australia?

My good friend Marc from the famous MRWED made a comedic comment on one of my posts recently, which when I starting to think about it drove something home to me.  His little joke got me to thinking about a very serious question, ‘Who is in charge of VET in Australia?’

I challenge you all right now to answer that question.  It should be easy shouldn’t it, shouldn’t we as professionals within the sector be able to say who is in charge, who is the person that speaks for the sector, who makes sure it actually works?

How many of you said either Minister Birmingham, or Assistant Minister Andrews, the COAG industry and Skills council perhaps, the Australian industry and skills committee maybe.  Is it Michele Bruniges or Subho Banerjee (They are the secretary and deputy secretary of the Federal Department of Education if you weren’t aware) or perhaps the various State based ministers or departments?

Ah, stuff it, I give up.  It is just too difficult!

Seriously though, just thinking about this hurts my head and clearly between all of the Ministers and committees, and departments, there is no one single person who is actually responsible for the oversight of the VET system in this country.  In addition there is no one person whose role it is to promote and advocate the sectors interests, not the interests of TAFE (TDA and AEU) or of private providers (ACPET), or enterprise providers (ERTOA), but the interests of the sector and if the person is supposed to be doing this advocating and promoting is some one from the federal department they are doing a particularly shoddy job of it.  The various ministers and political spokespeople for all of various parties often talk a big game, but also all to often their rhetoric is tinged by political ideology and agendas rather than by what is good for the sector.

Why can’t we have a Chief Vocational Education and Training Officer, someone whose job it is, is to look after the sector, make sure it works, manage all of the conflicting parts and promote and advocate for and on behalf of the sector, even if all they did was promote and advocate for the sector that would nearly be enough.  Because the longer the sector is managed by committees, faceless bureaucrats (with no background in the sector) and an endless array of ministers who usually change at least every 3 years, until it stops being a political football, used by some to pursue their own ideological viewpoints we will continue to see it flop from one disaster to another and for someone who is passionate about the value of the VET sector I find that a really shame.

VET, Learning and Development, and Personal Branding

I was prompted to thinking about the power of personal brand last week, when I was part of a discussion around the issue of training providers, and in particular RTOs using, or relying on the credentials of  people who no longer worked there (or in some cases had never worked there) in order to meet audit requirements among other things.  The discussion got me thinking about the role of personal branding for VET and L&D professionals, how developing a strong personal brand can help not only to enhance your personal opportunities but also the stature and reputation of those organisations you work and protection a strong personal brand offers from the misuse of personal credentials by employers.

I sat on a panel about personal branding, with two of the best people in L&D, namely Ryan Tracey (Ryan2point0) and Natalie Goldman (Flex Careers), a couple of years ago and I was shocked that there were so many people in the VET and L&D sectors who didn’t realise the value of developing a strong personal brand, particularly where that brand can be built and maintained in conjunction with links to strong organisational branding as well.  Unfortunately I think that a lot of people view personal branding as, simply,  a way to gain more, or better employment.  This then for people who are in roles they like with organisations that value them, tends I think to lead them to the conclusion that personal branding is not something that they really need to spend too much time considering.  Unfortunately this view only considers the range of other advantages and interesting side benefits which can occur when you develop your own personal brand.

One of the problems which can occur, and which I have seen happen to a number of good people within the sector is that without having a strong personal brand it is easy for the reputation of the last place you worked to have a significant effect on your own personal reputation and in turn you ability to acquire new roles.  Over the last few years with collapse of large players such as Vocation, ACN, and Careers Australia, and a range of smaller players as well, we have seen high quality trainers and assessors struggle to find new roles because of their association with a failed provider, or worse one that was viewed as having been less than scrupulous in its activities.  I know several people for whom it took almost 6 months to find new roles due to the stink of association shall we say.  A strong personal brand may not solve this problem entirely but it can certainly make it much easier to overcome the issues arising from association with a bad brand.

As I said however the issue of employment and employability are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the value that a strong personal brand and reputation can bring to someone in the VET and L&D sectors in general.  Information and connection are also key pieces of value which flow out of a strong brand and reputation.  A point that I made recently at a small training workshop on building personal brand was that, brand and reputation bring with them trust, and trust brings a willingness for people to connect and talk with you.  People will ask for opinions and advice, invite you forums and discussion, which all of which in turn, if managed well, continues to build trust, reputation, connection and brand.  In essence it gets you known to people, and getting known to people is the missing link for most people.  As a lot of people will know I am often invited to sit on consultation and advisory groups, forums and other panels and committees, and asked for formal or informal advice from range of stakeholders, all of this is the result of being known, and of people trusting my input and advice, all of this is the result of brand and reputation.

Some people may ask the question, why, why would I want to be involved in all of these things, I am happy where I am, and doing what I do.  And if that is the case then that is fantastic.  if however you feel like you want to play a greater role in the sector you are part of, have the ability to have some input and have a voice around your sector, then building your brand and the reputation and connections that brand brings is the simplest way to do that.

So how do you build your brand, how do you make yourself not just known in the sector but recognised for what you bring to the table.

Well that’s something I will discuss in another post

 

 

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.

Time for reflection.

Well 2017 has been a big year.  It has been a big year for me personally and professionally, moving out of the world of VET (at least directly ) and into a more traditional learning and development role.  This was a little bit of a watershed moment for the year as I hadn’t realised the extent of what could be called background stress comes hand in hand with living and breathing the running of an RTO and being neck deep in the VET sector in general.  To be back in a more traditional Learning role, even though it has a different set of challenges and stresses, does not have that ongoing, background stress that I think so many of us in the VET sector feel almost constantly.

Even though I have moved away from the day to day of the VET sector, as most of you know, I have still tried to keep my finger at least somewhat near the pulse, which surprisingly has been a little easier when away from the general hustle and bustle.  It has been a pretty big year for the sector in a lot of ways, with the end of VFH and the start of VSL and all of the issues that bought along with it, including the demise of one very big player in the field, the WhiteCloud private equity backed Careers Australia as well as a number of other providers ranging in size from large to small.  We also saw the contraction of a number of markets areas, primarily due to the caps placed on student fees through VSL. We saw a number of scandals involving TAFEs, the biggest of which has clearly been the absolute failure of TAFESA and the SA government, along with reports showing that funding for VET has not only not kept up with university and school funding but has in actual real terms gone backwards.  When we add on top of this the TAE debacle once could be forgiven for being a little pessimistic about the sector.

Unlike when I wrote a similar piece to last year and the year before, where I talked about the fact that we would see, and did, major players both private and public either leave the market or take massive regulatory hits, I don’t think we are going to see the same thing happen over the next 12 months.  I think we are going to see a sector that rallies back, a rally driven by a greater focus on the needs of industry and workforce participation outcomes, rather than student numbers and qualifications.  The gaps in the system are evident and there now exists both the opportunity and the momentum to fix them.

On a personal note my humble little blog grew in size and reach, and the number of people who I have met through it and am delighted to call my friends always amazes me.  I personally learn a lot through both writing my blog and talking with those of you who comment on it both here and in forums like linkedin, and for the most part, even where there have been disagreements, they have been cordial, well considered and thought out.  I feel honored that so many of you read this thing that I started a little over six years ago and that so many of you find it valuable, even on those days when I let fly and have a bit of a rant.

To the more than 2,500 people who follow me on a regular basis across this blog, linkedin and other forums, I appreciate each and everyone of you, you provide me with insights, knowledge and a depth of wisdom for which I am truly grateful.

So I sincerely hope that all of you, no matter what you are doing over the next few weeks, have a deeply wonderful time, a time to unwind, relax, let go of the year that was and come back next year with a renewed vigor and vitality because I for one look forward to talking to you all again.

 

Thank you, people of VET

I was looking over some of my more recent posts and even some of the conversations and commentary on the various forums, groups and places where I am active and I noticed that there was the sickly smell of dissatisfaction and negativity in the air.  So today I thought I might look at something different.  The people who make our vocational education and training system great.

Now be prepared for a bit of a shock here. I am not going to be talking about the political, or bureaucratic overlords, the researchers and academics, or the power brokers who are often mentioned when these discussions come up.  I want to talk about the real people of VET, the hard-working committed people who are out there on the coal face day in day out, doing their absolute best to make sure that the people they train and work with get the best possible outcomes from their programs.  I am not going to mention any names but I am sure that a lot of you will recognise who I am talking about.

People like the owner of a niche market RTO, who has struggled this year to keep his business and his people afloat amid what seemed like unending backtracking and nitpicking from the regulator, yet who still spent so much time assisting others in the sector to be better than they were.  The wonderful older lady, who is always willing to offer advice, no not just advice, wisdom, wisdom that only comes with age, experience and deep knowledge and commitment to the sector.  The man with so much experience in this sector, decades of experience, who has decided that enough is enough and that he is going to champion the cause of making VET  in this country as good as it can be again.

These are the people we should be praising.  These are the people we should be holding up to government and others and saying listen to what they have to say.  These are the people who are deeply committed to this sector, not for the money, or the accolades or the position it might bring them, but for the sector itself, for the students and the employers and everyone else who deserves to get a decent outcome from this sector.   These are also the people who in most cases I luckily get to call my friends, even when we don’t agree.

What is really interesting is that there are so many of these people out there.  People who have devoted so much of their lives and their passion to this sector.  People who wholeheartedly believe in the great value that sector can add to this country.  People who for the most part don’t get the acknowledgement they deserve.

So you know what, I acknowledge you and I thank you for all the great work you do.  And not just the people that I mentioned, all of you who wake up everyday and no matter what is says in the paper, how difficult a week it has been dealing with ASQA, or how disheartened you might feel,  you get out there and you make this sector a better place.  Whether it is making sure that every student who comes through your class gets the best opportunity for the best outcome they can achieve, helping others in the sector to understand how to be better at what they do, or tackling misinformation and skewed viewpoints head on. I want to take the time to thank you all for your contributions and to let you know that there is at the very least one person out here who really respects the work that you do.

Here is a challenge for everyone, think about those people in this sector who you know, who continually go over and above, who continually do all that they can to make this sector as great as it can possibly be.  Think about them, and think about acknowledging their contribution.  Think about saying thanks, because if it wasn’t for these committed individuals, and there is lot of them, this sector would be in a much worse place than it currently is.

 

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

Budget, Budget, Budget

So unless you have been asleep, under a rock or like a lot of people plainly disinterested, the Turnbull Government handed down its latest budget on Tuesday night and if you want to pour through all of the documents associated with it they can be located here.  What I am primarily interested in looking however is the new ‘National Partnership agreement’ (NPA) namely the skilling Australians fund which will allocate funding to the states for vocational training, providing they ‘deliver on commitments to train more apprentices.

First things first.  Finally having a commitment (4 years) from the Federal government around the issue of the expiring NPA is a good and positive thing.  There were many at all levels in the sector who were worried deeply about what was going to occur when the old agreement expired and no provision was in place to bolster state financial commitments to the sector, there would have been large scale holes in the VET budgets of all of the states, making it an exceeding difficult time for both providers and potential students.

The devil as they say is in the detail and as yet, as we expect there is not a lot of that floating around.  I have to admit though that when I look at the budget speech itself, the portfolio statements from the department, and the media releases from Simon Birmingham and Karen Andrews and see the continuing usage of the word apprenticeship and less occasionally the term  traineeship, I worry slightly.  Don’t get me wrong here I think apprenticeships and traineeships are important and a vital part of the sector and that something needed to be done about the declining numbers I am worried slightly about how this language will cash out, primarily because in a range of market segments apprenticeships and traineeships are not the predominant model in terms of the delivery of qualifications to students.  I am also the first to admit, that this may simply be a language thing and that, the terms are in reality simply shorthand for VET funding models in general.  It could also mean that the feds will essentially foot the bill for user choice style training and that the states will be responsible for everything else, or it could mean the government is attempting to push the sector and industry towards these delivery models over other models. It is this last option which really concerns me particularly within the sector in which I primarily work, community services.  It is for the most part impossible to get a job in this sector in client facing roles without at the very least a certificate III, and given that there is a high level of casualisation and issues around staff retention both at organisational and industry levels, most organisations are reticent to look at traineeship models for either new or existing workers.  Significant numbers of employers simply make having the appropriate qualification a mandatory component of employment.  This means that for people wanting to enter the sector they either have to pay for it themselves or access funding under some form of entitlement model.  If this language spells a move away from entitlement models of funding then this would be a bad thing the community services sector particularly from a workforce capability standpoint particularly given the high numbers of staff that will be needed in the sector over the next few years.

Improving apprenticeship and traineeship levels is certainly important, however it can’t be done at the expense of other forms of funding which may have high levels of usage in certain market segments.  So I guess we will have to wait to see what comes out of all of this in the wash.

Anyway thats just my opinion

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