NDIS, workforce planning and VET

I have been thinking a lot recently about the roll out of the NDIS across Queensland and the rest of the country and I have been to a lot of forums and discussions about how the community sector is going to find, and more importantly train, the 19,000+ workers in Queensland alone which estimates are suggesting will be needed over the next 5 years to accommodate the new system.  Apart from the sheer numbers of people that will need to be found and trained to be able to work in the sector, there are what appears to be a range of other issues floating around in relation to this workforce.

One of the problems for the community services sector has been that progression and advancement in terms of job roles, is virtually non-existent.  We talk a lot about upskilling staff and giving the skills to move into management and supervisory positions but the real truth is that with the vast majority of roles being at that coal face, support work level the chances of advancement are for most people is quite small regardless of the levels of qualifications which are held by the person and I only see this as getting worse not better.  There has also been a lot of talk and discussion around the need to professionalise the sector and make sure that the training outcomes for participants at any level are of high quality so that there are skilled staff available to meet the increasing need for staff.  It is my opinion, which I have to say is contrary to the views which are being widely spoken about, that rather than seeing more professionalism and more opportunity for staff to change roles and advance we will actually less.  The main single reason for this is the way in which the NDIS system itself is structured.  We will in my opinion see more and more staff employed for single functions rather than as general support workers in a lot of cases.  We will see staff employed as cleaners for example, whose sole role will be to assist clients with their general domestic duties around the house.  We will see staff employed solely as drivers, personal care assistants, community access workers, and the like.  Whereas at least some if not all of these roles could have been undertaken by a single support worker in a lot of instances we will see these roles split out and made roles themselves.  We will see this because it makes economic and business sense, it will be easier, and more effective in terms of both man power and costs for both niche and large multi channel providers to have specialists in various areas rather than simply generalist support workers.  The problem with this of course is that it will further restrict movement of staff across job roles.

The next question which raises it head here then is what role VET should play in this, what qualifications should we be considering and how can we ensure quality of the provision of these services. As I have often said, I saw the massive proliferation of Diploma of Community services and Diploma of counselling courses delivered under the VET FEE Help system as for the most part significantly damaging to the sector.  It was damaging in a two main ways firstly a lot of the students who were undertaking these courses were obtaining, at least in my opinion quite low quality training which really did not prepare them for the realities of the sector.  Secondly, it was in my opinion the wrong qualification for most people who undertook it.  It was undertaken by a significant number of people who were sold on the idea that it would be a pathway into roles within the community sector and that is, in short, a lie.  Obtaining a role as a counselor with nothing more than a Diploma and very little actual experience is virtually impossible, as is obtaining a role as anything other than a support worker with a diploma of community services.  Getting a role as a support worker is probably actually easier with a certificate III or IV, because the units and the skills and knowledge taught are designed for that style of role, whereas those in the Diploma are generally not.  There is also the additional issue that in a significant number of cases employers pay higher rates of pay to people with a diploma rather than a certificate III which make people with diplomas even less attractive in the market place.  When we add to this the issue of funding, where the vast majority of entitlement style funding is aimed at the certificate III level as well, I think we will see significant issues in relation to how employers, providers and the governments will need to deal with the NDIS workforce.

What does this mean for VET providers.  One of the significant shifts I think, will again be the rise of skill sets around certain job roles within the sector.  If you require staff to undertake cleaning or driving roles, an employer will be better served by employing people with appropriate skills and qualifications in that particular area and then providing them with skill sets to meet sector needs.  There will I think also be a market for somewhat niche certificate III qualifications where electives and imported units are utilised to formulate qualifications for very specific job roles. Someone whose primary role was going to be transportation could have a fairly standard certificate III in individual support but the inclusion of something like TLIC3011 – Transport passengers with disabilities (a standard elective) transforms it into a quite specialised qualification.  This is not only of use to employers seeking to train new staff for specific job roles, but may also make a graduate of a certificate III program more employable as they have a specific skill which may be in demand.

One thing I know for certain, the workforce requirements of the NDIS, and the reaction of various governments to this requirement is going to have a massive effect on the way in which community sector qualifications are delivered, funded and utilised.

Anyway that’s just my opinioni.


Vocational Education, Formal and Informal Learning, and Organisational Development

I wrote last week about the connection between L&D and VET and asked why L&D departments chose non-accredited training over accredited training even when the costs involved were much higher.  Two of the strongest comments that came through from the discussion were around the time it took to get people through an accredited program.  This was not necessarily a criticism of the system as it was well understood that the time it took was directly related to the robust nature of the Australian VET system.  The second comment was around the complexity and amount of paperwork which was involved in the system, particularly in relation to government-funded initiatives.

So I thought today I would look at how some of these issues can be addressed though a model of training delivery which incorporated, organisational learning and VET into the one picture.  This model has been utilised very successfully by a number of Enterprise RTO’s as well as by organisations utilising external RTO’s.  In order for this to work successfully there needs to be close collaboration between the RTO and the L&D department, which is why this tends to work so well within an enterprise environment, but as I have said with good collaboration it works equally well with an external provider.

The first idea behind this model is a simple one – L&D departments are going to run non-VET training for their staff.  The second idea is just as simple – it doesn’t matter where you learnt it as long as you can show that you are competent.  If we take these two ideas and combine them together into a model, this becomes a very powerful.  The organisation can deliver the training that it wants and needs for its staff and its staff can work their way through the system to end up with a Nationally Accredited Qualification if they want, or at the very least a set of Units of Competency.

So what is the model.  Below is an example of how the concept can work within a community services organisation.



All staff at all levels of the organisation go through a standard general induction, the standard who we are and what we do style program.  Once that is completed each business unit then has a separate induction program specific to their own needs and training requirements.  A small number of Units of competency can be built in at this level, the completion of which along with the rest of the induction program can be linked to the probation periods and extensions.  Once the induction training is completed there will be a set of training programs that everyone in the organisation will be expected to undertake, from generic programs  like Fire safety and Workplace health and safety to more organisationally focussed program such as in this case, mental health awareness and strength based practice. Along side this training there will also be business unit specific training which is also required, a disability support worker for example would need behavioural awareness training, where as a senior manager might be put through a more rigorous financial accountability program.  There will then be a range of programs delivered by and for the organisation which are available to all members of staff, these might be things like communication skills, crisis intervention skills, computer skills, and a range of other programs.  Once staff have completed all of the mandatory programs (both generic and unit specific) they can then undertake any of the training available within any policy constraints put in place by the organisation.

So all that has happened here is that the organisation and any associated training providers have simply delivered the training that they would have normally needed to deliver.  However if the RTO (be it internal or external) has mapped all of the training being delivered and looked at the assessments and what gaps are needed to be filled in order to meet the requirements of training package, what has actually happened is that the staff member has progressed quite a long way towards a qualification.  Now they may need to do some additional assessment work, on the job training or skills observations by their managers and supervisors, but they will, if they wish and this system seems to work best if it is voluntary for any extensions over what is mandatory, have accumulated a group of Units of competency.  From here the staff member can sit down with the RTO, their manager and anyone else who may have relevant input look at the range of qualifications that the units they currently have could lead them to and what they need to do to achieve them.  What this means for the staff member is that they may be able to achieve a number of qualifications, rather than just one, by doing a much smaller amount of additional work.  This also provides both the organisation and the staff member with a little bit more flexibility in terms of talent and career development options as well.  Someone who is moving towards a management track can be encouraged to take more management based units to fill out their qualification, rather than practice based units which might be more applicable for a frontline worker.

There are a number of very useful things which happen within this system (particularly when any additional assessment or learning is made voluntary)

  • organisational training can remain the same, additional assessment are simply plugged in for those staff who wish accredited outcomes
  • staff with existing qualifications do not need to do additional assessment over and above what is organisationally required
  • provides flexibility in the talent management pipeline
  • allows staff flexibility in terms of qualifications and training
  • reduces the cost of delivery and the time off work costs associated with accredited training.

A more generic example of the model can be seen below.



The adoption of a system such as this allows for all of the training both informal and formal that is undertaken by staff and delivered by the organisation to be utilised towards a qualification or set of units of competency.

If not Industry Lead then what. Training packages, VET and the industry connection

With the VET reform process has come a lot of questions around the creation, development and management of the Training Packages which make up the VET system and there are currently two discussion papers released by the Department in relation to this.  Now even at this early point in the discussion there as been some robust discussion around the training packages, their content and their development.

When I start to think about this issue a couple of things come to mind for me, the first is, that I am not terribly interested in how the Training Packages were originally developed, they are what we have and the discussion should I thing focus on what is the best path forward from here.  I don’t think there is much appetite out there for the wholesale reinvention of training packages, but please correct me if I am wrong.

The other thing that sits heavy on my mind is this;

If not industry led, then what?

As most of you know I am a strong supporter of the VET system in this country and it capacity to increase workforce participation, provide a skilled workforce for the current and future needs of industry.  However the only way in which it can meet the needs of industry is if industry are the central to informing what the required skills and knowledge.  If we look at the first principle from which the reform process is being undertaken  namely;

The national system of qualifications must provide a reliable signal to employers about the skills an individual has, and must be underpinned by industry-defined occupational standards that:
• reflect the technical and generic skills and knowledge that are required in jobs;
• provide a basis for consistent assessment of competence in those skills
across the training system;
• provide a mechanism for the national portability of those skills; and
• are flexible enough to cater to the needs of different individuals, employers
and industries, including as these change over time.

A couple of really important things come out of this first principle for me and these are the ideas of providing a reliable indicator to employers about the skills of individuals, the technical and generic skills and knowledge required for Jobs and flexible enough to meet changing needs over time.

For me as I have always said, the VET system is about at its base vocational outcomes, it is about providing matching the skills and knowledge of students to the needs of the industries in which they are going to be employed and for me if the skills of the graduates do not map onto industry need and expectation then the system has failed.

The question that comes out of this for me is, if the system is related to vocational outcomes, the needs and expectations of industry, how can this be achieved without the strong, connected and engaged input from industry.  One of strong criticisms of the current system is that it struggles to keep up with changes in industry and employer  practices.  This along with an apparent mismatch (in a number of qualifications) between the skills and knowledge of graduates with the needs of employers and overly complex and bloated training packages shows what happens when is not as engaged and connected to the process of development as they could be.

So if at least part of our goal is to ensure that graduates of the VET system have meaningful employment outcomes from their qualification and that industry and employers get the skilled workforce that they need both now and in the future it seems to be absolutely necessary for industry to be a the leader in the development of what is required in the various units and qualifications that make up the training packages and that means that there needs to be more, better, consistent and real, actual engagement  and consultation between industry and whoever ends up developing the packages themselves.

VET Reform–Training Packages; The industry-training connection

As I think everyone is probably aware by now Minister MacFarlane announced the demise of the Industry Skills Councils when their contracts around the development and maintenance of Training packages ends.

As  lot of you know I have for a long time been fairy critical of at least some of the ISC’s and their work with the various training packages.  I think the the Minister is right when he says that business and industry feel as though they are left out of the development process and aren’t getting what the need or expect out of graduates of the these programs.

Now if we put aside arguments about quality of training and the like, it seems clear that there are a lot of training packages and qualifications out there that miss the mark in terms of providing employers with graduates with the skills sets that they require.  The level of flexibility to be able to provide a training program which meets the need of both and employer and the packaging rules can sometimes be difficult and graduates can sometimes be missing critical skills needed for more specialised areas of the industry.

As I I have said previously (and I am happy that the Minister seems to be thinking in the same direction) the skill sets and knowledge requirements for job roles must come from within the relevant industry, it can’t and shouldn’t be driven by training providers.  If industry provides the basis, that is the skills and knowledge that various job roles require, then it is the role of the training industry to take that information and to translate it into trainable outcomes, outcomes the ensure that graduates of the programs should everything else being equal, meet the needs and criteria of employers.   The fact that it does actually meet those needs and more than that, that it is understandable by employers needs to be firmly ascertained.  Too often employers have not been kept in the loop or simply don’t understand why training has been constructed in the way in which it as, and that is not their fault, it is ours, if industry doesn’t understand how training works, what the outcomes are and why things are how they are then that is clearly the fault of the training industry.

So for the most part I think the Minister is right, at least in theory, how it plays out in practice will of course need to be seen, there needs to be a much stronger link between industry and training, but with each party providing input into their areas of expertise.  And let’s not forget as I often say, this is Vocational Education and Training we are talking about so if the programs aren’t providing real vocational outcomes for graduates, then why are they even programs and why are they are being to delivered to students.

VET-FEE HELP, Diplomas, Certificates and actually getting a job

If you have no other skills or experience is a Diploma going to get you a job!


There had been a lot of talk recently about VET-FEE Help programs, the cost of the Diploma and above qualifications and the way in which these courses are being marketed by some RTO’s and their Agents, but in addition to all of the other things that trouble me about this issue, Debt, quality, outcomes, what really worries me is that it seems that a large amount of the marketing of these programs is being done to people who do not have any other formal qualifications and little who possess little or no experience in the area in which they are commencing study.  Which leads me to today’s question,

Is that Diploma that you spent $10-20,000 on actually going to help you get a job if you don’t have any experience or would you have been better spending $3000 or less (and much less if you are eligible for government funding) on a Certificate III or IV?

I think if we are being really serious about this, the answer is pretty straightforward; if you don’t have relevant experience or other qualifications a Diploma is not going to get you the job you think it will.  Lets look a scenario or two shall we.  So you are in your 20’s and unemployed, your friends say you would make a good counsellor, so when you see an add on Facebook to become a counsellor for no upfront charges and not have to pay until you make a certain amount of money you jump at the chance, particularly when you get a free Ipad as well.  So you do your course (which in reality ends up costing you nearly $20,000, but you don’t really notice because it is on VET-FEE Help), get your certificate and go and go and look fora job.

Now the real question here is is this person going to actually find a job as a counsellor?  My initial reaction is probably not, (ok they could set themselves up in their own business, if the course they have just finished is accredited with one of the registration bodies for counsellors, bet they didn’t ask that before they signed up) I don’t know many organisations who are going to employ someone with just a Diploma of Counselling and no other experience in the Community Services sector, particularly when there are a lot of people out there with higher qualifications and better experience.  So in the end the person takes a role in an organisation as say a support worker, or an admin assistance or intake officer, if they can get one, over people who actually have a qualification (which is likely to be  a cert III or IV) relevant to the role.

This is of course not just the case in the community sector, is just having a Diploma in Project Management is going to land someone a role as a project manager, probably not, again they will probably end up in a role like a project officer or something similar.

Of course the real problem with both these scenarios is that the person in question has accumulated a massive debt, to get (if they are lucky) a role they could have got with a qualification which would have cost them much less.

Unless you have some relevant experience, or at least some other relevant skills, then a Diploma by itself is not going to necessarily help anyone get a job, and they may well have been better off in the long run, doing a government-funded Certificate III program and saving themselves $10-20,000 in Debt.

But you know, that’s just my opinion.

Apprenticeship and Traineeship numbers down

So the NCVER have released their December figures for Trainee and Apprenticeships and there is a decided downward direction to the numbers.

So what do these number mean if anything at all.  The Australian Industry Group suggests that “These downward trends reflect continuing employer uncertainty about the state of the economy” and to some extend I think that they are correct and when this is coupled with the changes made by the previous federal government to the funding arrangements for trainees and apprentices the effects has been increased.  Lack of commencement payments, a smaller list of qualifications available and smaller payments overall doesn’t just hurt RTO’s it damages the ability of business to be able to fund the training of staff, particularly in an environment where businesses are uncertain about the economic climate.  Organisations will where they can attempt to recruit staff who already possess the qualifications they require rather than recruiting and then training themselves.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not suggestion that the government should fund qualifications all over the shop (we have seen the disaster that that can cause), nor am I suggesting that the government needs to increase the the amount of finding.  There does however need to be a rethink of how training is funded.  Take for example the idea of a commencement payment, even a relatively small one.  this payment can be used to alleviate some of the cash flow issues that can be involved with completion only funding.  The RTO wants and needs to be paid and doesn’t and probably shouldn’t have to wait up to two years for the person to finish in order to receive payment from the organisation. so business ends up carrying the cash flow issues of paying the training company upfront, or in installments, which can be sustained by larger businesses but which makes it more difficult on smaller businesses to be able to train their staff.

The other side of the coin is that there needs to be real vocational outcomes for people doing any program funded by the government.  If their funded qualification doesn’t have solid vocational outcomes and links then why  is it being funded when there are certainly lots of areas out there where there are clear needs for people with the right skills and qualifications.

or you know it could just have been because it was approaching Christmas.   🙂

The Australian Training Awards and the importance of VET

As a lot of you are already aware I attended the Australian Training Awards last week and was fortunate enough to named as the winner of the Leadership in VET Quality  for 2013.

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These awards really are a night of celebration for the Vocational Education and Training industry in Australia and the support shown by various Australian Governments over the last 20 years has been amazing, as has the work of the wonderful and equally amazing Training Awards team.  They do a stunning job each year and deserve as much congratulations as the winners and finalists.

There is something far more important than just a celebration going on here though, particularly for the Students (apprentices, trainee’s etc).  This night is something that both changes lives and puts a spotlight the quality of vocational education in this country.  If you have any doubt of the quality of training in this country and the fact that it is of such immense important to the students we interact with then you need to go and watch the videos on this page.  Real Stories Real Achievements.  It is also a shame that a lot of you won’t hear the stories straight from the mouths of last years winners of the changes in their lives that the awards and their qualifications have bought them;  from starting their own business and being and agribusiness ambassador to Argentina and Russia to packing up their bags straight after the awards to go to England and Europe to work in some of the biggest and best hairdressing salons in Europe.

Qualifications change lives, the work we do with our students, be they school based or mature aged makes a real difference, it allows them to do things and have careers that some of them would never have had access to without their qualifications and the support of their teachers and trainers and everyone else in the industry.

People whinge and moan about the state of the VET industry in this country, but if you want to see the state of the industry, the importance of it and how much of a difference it makes you have to look no further than the results of the Australian Training Awards.

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