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.

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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

Have apprenticeships had their day? Do we need another model?

As I am sure everyone is aware there has been another drop in the numbers of traditional and non-traditional apprenticeship and traineeship numbers of about 5.7% from September 2015 to September 2016 according to the most recent figures from NCVER.  Not surprisingly, accusations and opinions about what is the cause of this and who is to blame have been flying around since the figures were released. Amidst all of this I can’t help but wonder if our traditional indenture based 3-4 year apprenticeship system has not passed its use by date and that perhaps we should move away from this model to something more in keeping shall we say with the modern world.

Why do I say this, well that is fairly simple.  Despite some relatively cosmetic changes apprenticeships in Australia have not changed very much at all in any real sense.  For the most part apprentices still need to serve their time with an employer for up to 4 years, regardless of whether or not they are competent at some point prior to that.  The prime reason for this seems to be that a business which takes on an apprentice does get any ‘payback’ for that apprentice until their third or fourth year.  In a time of rapidly changing approaches to  technology, work,  learning, and almost everything in society a ‘learning at the feet of the master’ style of model seems to me to be either redundant or rapidly becoming so.  Surely there is a better way for us to produce our apprentices and future trades people than a time served style model.

I have always wondered why trades are not treated in the same way as other training programs are treated..  Theory and a substantial amount of practical knowledge and application being learned and undertaken in classroom style environments, with employment, residency or internship honing the application of those skills in actual working environments.  There could still even be some form of capstone test or other form of certification that could be undertaken at some point after the conclusion of formal study prior to a ‘full license’ being given to a person.  Given that we know that people learn and become competent at vastly different rates and have vastly different preferred ways of learning and assimilating information our standard apprenticeship models seem to say that regardless of all of this you have to serve a certain amount of time before you can be deemed to be competent.  Surely it seems to me models which allow people to become competent in their own time, and when ready and able, to be deemed as such.

It strikes me that the motivating reason for having the model that we have, has far more to do with the needs of the employer of an apprentice, than it does with either the needs of the apprentice themselves or the future need we as a country may have for qualified professional trades people and if that is the case then if seems to me that we have got our view on apprenticeships very very wrong.

But hey that is just my opinion.

The Future of Learning and its effect on VET

I thought I might take a little bit of a different tack with my post this week and do some crystal ball gazing and look to the future and how technology is going to effect the way in which we learn and then how this might effect the kinds of learning that make up the VET arena.

Late in 2014 I wrote a couple of pieces on rapid skill acquisition and interface learning, a cyberpunk notion of simply jacking any skills or knowledge directly into our brains through some kind of brain/machine interface.  Imagine basically plugging a small usb stick into your skull and downloading all the skills, knowledge and physicality of say, how to service your car, and then when you were finished simply deleting it until you needed to utilise it again.  I suggested that in essence places such as YouTube already provide us with some of this by enabling us to watch how to do some specific thing, in order so that we might be able to replicate that skill ourselves for that specific task, without having to learn all of the skills and knowledge which sit around it.

Since then we have seen the rise of augmented technologies, Virtual reality, Artificial intelligence, machine learning and even robots.  Now while most of these new technologies are only being tinkered with in terms of their learning potential and despite what a number of pundits claim, will not reach their true potential in terms of how people learn and deliver learning for quite a few years yet, they will without doubt irrevocably change what human learning looks like in the future.

Augmented reality allows anyone with a smart phone to point it at an object and receive all of the information and bite sized learning objects they require in order to what ever tasks are associated with the object in question.  A care worker who is unsure of how to operate a new patient lift, simply points their phone at the lift and instantly they receive detailed instructions in how to operate it.

Virtual reality reality and robotics present a future where participants can be trained in fully immersive environments, interacting with the world around them as if it was real.  Add to this an AI controlled population (NPCs in gaming terms) with the ability to react in both expected and random ways to ensure that those undertaking training encounter a full range of circumstances and variations.

Online learning and Mooc’s facilitated, moderated and assessed by AI ‘teachers’ with student support and assistance handled by AI chatbots.  In fact it is more than possible to imagine an entire student experience from their first contact through to their graduation and issuance of certifications without the student at any point having to interact with, in real life (IRL), another person. Enrollments can already be handled by smart website interfaces, the addition of AI chatbots to lead the potential student through the process seems a very small step away.  Access to systems and learning platforms is already automated in most providers at least to some extent, with in a lot of cases significant amounts of communication regarding the course, content and assessments being handled through email.   Shared virtual reality simulations, where students and NPCs interact with both the environment and themselves, facilitated and moderated by an avatar of the AI controlling the entire system, utilising natural language processing based on machine learning to interact with students, conduct, collate and ‘mark’ various assessment pieces both from within the simulation and external to it.

So where do directions like this leave Vocational education, apprenticeships and the other educational activities we utilise currently?  Well if you talk about there always needing to be experts, sme’s and people to provide the system with information, or that there needs to be practical on the job components or that there will always be a need for face to face human interaction you are unfortunately, most likely wrong.  While we won’t see these things happening over night, we will see practical components, which were usually done on the job, moved to complex virtual simulations, why?  Well to give you an example staff working in the community sector, even with at risk clients, may go their entire working careers, let alone their on the job training phase without ever encountering a person at immediate risk of suicide and never know until the moment happens how they will react.  Complex simulations populated by AI characters, provide  a safe environment for staff to encounter situations which are rare in the workplace.  Working on car engines, dealing with electricity, building houses, all will be able to be simulated through virtual reality in such a way as to mimic the actions in the real world.  Simple economics are already moving many providers to more automated enrollment systems and as the levels of complex analysis and response available through ‘bots’ and other systems increases more and more of these processes can and will be successfully automated.

But then if other predictions are true and they probably are a vast array of the jobs that we currently train people for in this sector won’t exist in the very near future.  However there seems as with a range of other industries there may also be niches available to capitalise on gaps left by all of this progress.  Highly skilled teachers and trainers could impart their long held and well developed skills, knowledge and wisdom through ‘Artisan’ face to face models to those who wished that they or their children received their education in a ‘tradition’ environment, all of course for a substantial additional cost. I can see the advertising now.

Anyway that’s just what I think

 

 

My Blogging year in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Its Christmas Time

So the end of the year is fast approaching and as the working year winds down I thought I would share some thoughts on the year that was for me and it was a big one. I changed jobs, bought a new house and our youngest child finished year 12, my wife burnt her hand badly and got the flu for 6 weeks and we renovated our new house (not quite finished just the kitchen to go), so really it was one of those years.  It really doesn’t feel like 12 months have passed since this time last year it has been that busy, but I know I am definitely looking forward to steeping on to a cruise boat on Saturday to do tripping around the pacific islands.

This time of year is also a time for thanks to the many people I have encountered throughout the year who have added something to my life, be they old friends or new ones.  So to my LinkedIn friends, people like Jim, Kath, Brett, Phillip your willingness to share your views and opinions, to engage in thought-provoking conversation, and to share you depth of knowledge joy and more people in the VET sector listened to people like you we would be in  much better place.  To all the moderators of the groups including the Department of Industry, thank you for taking the time to provide us with forums where we could discuss things, learn thing, argue and generally chew the fat.

To my twitter and conference buddies, Ryan, Helen, Con and the rest of you, I know I haven’t seen you all as much this year (Sorry Elizabeth I know I missed the AITD conference this year) but I value your insight, opinion and knowledge and look forward to catching up more next year.  To the rest of my twitter friends particularly those on #lrnchat thanks for interesting topics and stimulating conversation.

To the readers of my blog, thank you so much for your interactions and comments. I know that those of you who have your own blogs will understand that sometimes it feels like you are talking to yourself and it is the people who interact with you  that make the difference.

So thank you all very much for being a part of my life and work, for listening to my rants, arguing with me when I was wrong and generally just being good people.

May you all have a wonderful Christmas and New Year and I look forward to catching up at least some of you at some conference next years (at this stage I am probably doing AITD, EduTech and VELG).

Be safe, have fun with your families and most of all enjoy yourselves.

Thanks for the year.

Paul

Current state of VET reform in Australia

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