Competing Agendas and the VET sector

One of the significant problems for the VET sector is that there seems to be conflicting agendas or at the very least differing agendas which create tension within the system, between a range of its stakeholders.  If we consider the major stakeholder groups within the sector and what it is they want from the sector we should be able to see where these various tensions lay.

I would argue that the following four groups encompass the major stakeholder groups within the VET sector within Australia.

  1. Students
  2. Employers and Industry
  3. Government (State and Federal)
  4. Education providers (Public and Non-public)

Now simply by glancing at this list it may be possible to glean particular areas where tensions might arise between the needs, wants and agendas of these various groups.  Let’s have a look the various groups then in detail and see what their agendas for being involved in the VET sector might be.

Students, it might be suggested have the simplest of  agendas in relation to the sector, however as we have already touched on this may not be as clear as we first thought or how we have conceptualised the student agenda in relation to VET may simply not be correct.  It is my contention that the primary reason, the main agenda which students have, for accessing VET is to obtain a qualification.  This is of course where the first tension begins to rise.  Students want a qualification, because they can convert that qualification into workforce participation of some kind.  However, it is important to note here that if the purpose of significant numbers of students accessing the system is to gain a qualification, this in and of itself says nothing about their motivation towards learning or becoming competent.  It seems anecdotally at least that one of the primary concerns of a significant number of students accessing the system, particularly at higher levels and where they have at least some work experience in their field is ‘How long will it take me to finish this qualification?’

Why is this the case? Why are students or potential students concerned with how long it will take them to undertake the program and obtain their certificate?  The answer is simple and it is that they intend either immediately or at some time in the near future convert their qualification into improved workforce outcomes for themselves.

Some people may be cynical of this line of thought and suggest that surely students want to learn, to be engaged in the learning process and to gain the skills and knowledge they need to improve their workforce outcomes.  I am not suggesting that this is not the case, I am simply suggesting that students want to achieve this in as short a time as possible and as we shall see it is this motivation or agenda which creates tension, particularly with the agenda of the government and to a lesser extent, employers, industry and providers.

Employers and industry might be expected to have somewhat similar motivations in relation to students particularly in relation to the time taken to achieve a qualification.  There is a very real tension which exists between, business and training, which I have discussed in a various articles, where the drive from business is for the delivery of training to be conducted in as short a time frame as possible in order to ensure minimal disruption to day to day business requirements. It is the case however that there is for employers, businesses and industry and inherent tension in this position as employers in a range of circumstances need to ensure that their employees not only have the appropriate qualifications, but also have the skills and knowledge which should underlie that qualification and failure to do so may in some circumstances have catastrophic repercussions for the business in question.  It is of interest to note that this internal tension not only exists between business and VET but also between business and general learning and development programs.  The issue is more apparent in relation to VET however as the training and assessment requirements for a qualification are in general more rigorous than those required for general learning and development programs.

Again when we look at the agenda of the government in relation to VET it may be easy to assume that from their perspective their primary agenda is workforce participation, however as with other groups we need to be careful and think about the situation further.  It is both unfortunate and true that most elected officials in charge of the VET sector have very little knowledge of how the sector works, its outcomes and the motivations of other players in the sector.  This could be said of a wide variety of ministerial portfolios though.  More so than any other sector of the educational landscape VET is seen solution to a range of differing problems.  Primarily most governments tend to see VET as a solution to, or at the very least a significant force in relation to, the problem of unemployment, however not necessarily in the way in which most people might expect.  While it is certainly the case that providing unemployed people with training in particular vocational areas, should have the effect of making them more likely to be able to participate in the workforce.  There is of course an additional advantage to having unemployed in training and that is that given the way in which statistics can be calculated it can be said that those who are undertaking study are not unemployed, therefore reducing the number of people who appear to be unemployed.

So while it may be important to a government to want people to undertake training to improve their skills and knowledge for better workforce participation, or to provide better quality of services, increase innovation and improve the general education base of the nation, it seems that it may also be true, particularly at certain times, that it may also be advantageous to governments to simply have significant numbers of people involved in education programs, particularly where those people would otherwise be listed as simply unemployed.

It is also important to remember that wrapped around this agenda and any other agenda the government may have about vocational training and education is the fact the, at least in Australia, governments both state and federal are substantial financial contributors, either directly or indirectly to the costs associated with students obtaining vocational qualifications.

Various levels of government provide direct and indirect financial support to students, employers and industry, and public providers (TAFE), through a variety of channels and programs, however as myself and others have discussed at length, this creates an additional agenda for governments around value for money and return on investment.  This is simply because there are not inexhaustible public funds available to be funnelled towards vocational education.  It is this environment in particular where there is a mixture of public and private sources of financial inputs into the system, a limited resource environment, and a desire to create best possible returns on those investments, which reinforces the education as a business mindset, which is to my mind, and I have discussed this elsewhere, the mindset that should be adopted by all providers within the sector.

The other factor which arises in relation to the government financial commitments to the sector, relate directly to the impacts of policy settings and decisions on the overall health of the sector, and the perceived impact this has on both the sector and those in government.  One of the shining examples of this was the issues surrounding the VET FEE-Help program.  VFH was an in income contingent loan scheme, similar to the system used to fund students participation in the Higher education sector  The policy and contractual settings for which created a situation which had a devastating effect on the sector as a whole, on the perception of governments ability to manage the sector and on students ability to be able to convert their qualifications into usable workforce participation outcomes.  This statement should however not be taken to suggest that the entry of unscrupulous providers into the system for the sole purpose of utilising the VFH system to amass profit was not the actual cause of the issues.  It is simply to suggest that a funding system, the settings of which allow such behaviour to occur in the first place, show the deleterious effect to government decisions and policies can have upon the overall system.

All of this also sits atop specific agendas in relation to vocational education, which form part of the various party platforms.  At the far left of the spectrum we have the greens with an ideological position that non-public providers should receive no funding at all and that the government should support TAFE (public providers) to the exclusion of any other providers who might wish to be part of the system.  One the right, the Liberal party has an ideological position which favours competition in the market place, a more open view of access to funding, and a position which looks at the public providers, at least to some extent, as simply another provider within the system.  Somewhere in the middle we have most Labor, which while tending to fall more towards the public provider position held by the far left, sees a not insignificant place for private providers within the overall system.

When we then add the agenda perspective of VET providers (RTOs) both public and private we can start to see why we need to develop a way of thinking about the system which is able to address these tensions.  What then is the motivation of RTOs?  I think that this is both an interesting and troubling question for a lot of people and the initial off the cuff responses of a significant number of people will at least to some extent depend on their view of education, its status as a public good, where they sit upon the political spectrum.  It is not uncommon to hear criticism of private, though I prefer the term non-public providers, as being less concerned with educational outcomes and more concerned with profitability.  It is also not uncommon to hear criticism of TAFE (public providers) as being more concerned with administration, staff entitlements and titles, and maintaining the status quo, over education outcomes.  Both views are wrong and are based on long term misunderstandings in relation to the vocational education market and the goals and agendas of its various stakeholders.

It is very easy to make generalisations about the various types of providers in the sector, however it is important to realise that for the most part these generalisations are simply incorrect.  It seems that for the vast majority of providers both public and non -public that the motivation behind them is to produce quality student outcomes.  There is an issue with this motivation; while it would be wonderful it all students could always be provided with all the support they required to be able to undertake their chosen program of study and have the best materials, teaching, and administrative experiences, this cannot always be the case.  All of that costs money and someone, somewhere, sometime has to pay for it all and realistically payment can only come from one of three places, employers and industry, government or the students themselves.

The hard truth of vocational education, and in fact of any facet of formalised education, is that it is a business.  Whether you are a non-public, for profit provider, or a public TAFE, there is no difference.  There is not an inexhaustible amount of money, nor will students, employers or government simply pay any price for training and qualifications.  All providers need at the very least to be self-sustaining in terms of their income and revenue regardless where that revenue comes from and more and more we are seeing pressure on all providers to do more for students for less. This is particularly evident in terms of direct, entitlement style funding from government, where the expectations on providers are being raised while the amount of funding is decreasing or remaining the same.

So while the motivation of providers may well be to deliver high quality student outcomes, and I have no doubt that for the vast majority of providers this is the case, there are very simple economic factors which place pressure on the delivery of these services.  It is not economically viable for any provider, public or private to run a program at any level for only a handful of students.  TAFEs are often criticised for cancelling programs due to lack of number, however the very fact they have to cancel programs shows that there is fundamental economic factors at work and is a perfectly acceptable reaction to these factors.  If the cost of the delivery of a course is $20,000 and there are only three students enrolled for which the total income that the provider will receive is $9,000 then clearly the additional $11,000 must come from somewhere.  Either the government, an employer, or the student themselves must pay more for the course or revenues generated from other parts of the business will need to be redirected to subsidise the course in question.  Now some may feel that utilising revenue generated from other courses or activities to subsidise courses which have low student numbers is an acceptable use of those monies, particularly if it does not affect the overall financial viability of the provider, however supporting programs in one area with funds from other areas is fraught with issues and can create extreme difficulties where the initially more financially viable course becomes less viable.  The other significant issue which exists for those who would  suggest that subsidy from revenue of otherwise non-viable programs is appropriate, is an argument around fairness and equity both for students and in the market in general.

As we can see there are a significant number of tensions which exist in the VET sector both internally to the various stakeholder groups as well as between them.  There are a range of motivations and agendas attached to the various stakeholder within the sector, which unfortunately do not always sit comfortably with each other and as a result this increases the complexity of the industry, the development of sound policies and the development of ethical and sustainable business models  which can in fact cope with and respond to these various agendas.

 

VET provides great outcomes. It just has to be done right.

We have seen recently with reports from NCVER and Skilling Australia that Vocational Education in this country is not actually, as some would like everyone to believe, a poor cousin to a university degree.  In fact it turns out that in a range of areas Australians, may actually be better focusing on obtaining a vocational qualification than a 3-4 year university degree.  While this may come as a surprise to many people outside the sector, I would hazard a guess that most of us within the sector are certainly aware that often a VET qualification provides much better outcomes in terms of workforce participation than a university degree.

Take for example the community sector, while it is certain that there are employment opportunities for university graduates in the sector and that the sector is growing substantially and will continue to grow over the next few years at least, the vast majority of roles which exist and will be created over the next few years are roles where qualifications at a certificate III or IV level are far more appropriate than higher level and degree qualifications.  Why?  That is a really easy question to answer, level III and IV qualifications provide students with the hands on skills they need to have to be able take on the range of support roles, which make up the vast majority of roles available.  They provide potential employees with actual skills and knowledge which enables them to take on the day to day activities which are required in these roles.  As someone who has recruited large numbers of staff for these sorts of roles, someone with a Certificate III or IV, is in most cases a much better choice than someone with social welfare style of degree.  This is also not just something which is just part of the community sector, there are many sectors where this is the case.  Outside of this, many apprenticeships, provide higher levels of income at completion, than are available to recent university graduates.

A lot of the perception has to do with how the University sector has been promoted and funded over the last 20 years and the general lack of promotion and appropriate funding programs of the VET sector. It also starts at high school, where VET has often been considered to be the solution for those students whose grades were not good enough to gain them an entry into a university degree, rather than a viable alternative to university for a wide range of students.  This of course stems from a general lack of understanding of the sector both from people outside the sector and unfortunately in too many cases from people within the sector as well.  I have often spoken at length of the generally woeful job that is done of promotion of this sector as a viable alternative to university and given this, it is little wonder that the idea that a university degree produces a better outcome seems to be the predominate viewpoint.

There is a side issue which goes along with this as well, which is that these workforce outcomes are of course contingent on the fact that VET providers are actually ensuring that the students who come out of there courses are competent and have been properly trained and assessed.  It is also important that students are enrolled in courses which are going to deliver workforce outcomes for them rather than those where the outcomes are far more tenuous.  Again if we look at the community sector we see significant numbers of students who were enrolled in Diploma’s of community services and counselling on the back of government funding models who are struggling to find employment because they would have been better off and had better workforce participation options available had they undertaken a certificate III or IV program.

To keep VET providing significant outcomes to students and other stakeholder we need to ensure that we are vigilant about not only competence, but the appropriateness of qualifications for the outcomes that the student and employers want.

Costs, Benefits and the value of a VET qualification

What is the value of a VET qualification?  I have recently found myself rolling this question around in my head quite a lot in an attempt to come up with some way of looking at qualifications within the sector to determine whether, particularly for individuals, they are worth undertaking.  What I mean by this is simply if I spend $5000 on  a course of study am I likely to as a result of that qualification get a return on my investment of at least equal to or hopefully more than the amount I spent.  Given that most people undertaking VET courses do so to improve their workforce position (about 80% of all students according to NCVER figures) what we are in reality saying here is if I spend $5000 and I going to get that back in the form of wages or earnings as a direct result of having that qualification.

Now I know that it is the case that not everyone does a course of study in order to directly influence the amount of money they are paid for their labor or services and that people undertake courses for a variety of reasons, I guess I am simply trying to see whether their might be a way of evaluating the ‘value’ of a course in such a way as to be able to give us meaningful information about the likelihood of the course having an impact on a students employment or workforce opportunities.

Here is an example of what I am talking about, which course offers better value to a student

Course A:  Course cost $15,000.  Average wage of person with Qualification $100,000.  Percentage of graduates who gain employment within 12 months 10%, or

Course B:   Course cost $5,000.  Average wage of person with qualification $50,000.  Percentage of graduates who gain employment within 12 months 80%.

Given these two options, which one would you choose.  If we don’t consider anything else apart from the information provided, which course offers the better outcome and more importantly can we even actually make such a determination.

Is it the case that even though it seems that most students undertaking courses are doing so for improved workforce outcomes, that the actual value of the qualification itself is not derived from actual improvements in workforce outcomes, but is in fact determined by other more intangible factors.

So I have a question for all of you out there and it is just this – What is the value of VET qualification and can we encapsulate that value in monetary terms?

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.

Does Public VET mean Quality VET?

Before I start I need to make something clear, I think that a well supported public VET provider is, for the most part, a vital part of the VET landscape in this country.  There is work and projects which are done by the public provider which are either not done by non-public providers or only done by a small number of non-public providers, usually from the not for profit sector.  This piece should also not be taken to be criticism or bagging of the public provider sector, but rather a look at what seems to be a view being pushed by a range of particularly media commentators that the Public provision of VET through TAFE automatically means quality.

Firstly then a couple of facts.  The vast majority of private, again I prefer the term non-public providers, deliver high quality outcomes for their students and employers.  We can see this from NCVER data, and a range of reports from the various state and federal governments.  We can also see this from the small number of non-public providers who have closed or been closed as a result of the fall out from the VET FEE Help issues.  As I have always maintained there were about ten or so providers who were not playing the game as it should have been played so to speak.  10 out of around 4000 or about 0.25% of all providers.  Enough defending the value of non-public providers however’ what is a far more interesting phenomenon I think is the calls from various commentators, that governments should be cordoning off more funding for public providers, because, and this seems to be a common theme, public providers provider quality training.

It is important to note here that I do believe that for the most part public providers (TAFE) do provide quality training outcomes to their students and employers, however as with non-public providers I simply do not think that we can automatically assume that public means quality in all cases and in all courses.  We certainly cannot assume that public means better than non-public in all cases and in all courses.  There are numerous examples across widely varying industries of non-public providers delivering training of at least the same, if not better quality than that which is delivered by TAFE.  Just as there are examples in the opposite direction as well.  TAFE does some things very well. Non-public providers do somethings very well, and across the board there are things are probably not done as well as they could be.

Of course the point of this view is to push the agenda that because TAFE equals  quality that TAFE should get the lions share of government funding.  The interesting thing is that it already does.  The vast majority of government funding and training monies go directly to TAFE, in fact in most states the split between public and non-public when it comes to funding is about 80/20.  So somewhere in the vicinity of 20-25% of government funding goes to non-public providers, while 75-80% goes to TAFE.

So if TAFE already gets the vast majority of government funds allocated to training already,  and if across the board it really doesn’t seem to matter where a person goes to get your training done, as they are probably going to get a quality experience, which meets their needs and provides them with the outcome that they desire regardless of the choice them make, where, oh where is this view coming from.  Part of it is certainly ideological and interestingly I have no real problem with groups, particularly political parties, taking their ideological stances, I just want them to be honest about it.  I don’t care whether you are a politician, part of the education unions, an academic or a researcher, or anyone else for that matter, if you are making a stance on ideological grounds then at least be willing to tell us that.

What this sector needs going forward is not infighting between the various parties, interest groups, providers, media and others, who are whether consciously or not, promoting a particular ideology or agenda.  We need facts and informed discussions.  We need everyone to sit down, put their baggage, their ideologies, to one side, and listen to what other people are saying.  Listen, then openly talk and enter into meaningful discussions about what is best for this sector and the vital part that it plays in the future of this country.

Advancing Skills for the Future – QLD’s Draft VET strategy

As some of you may be aware the Queensland state government recently released their consultation draft of their strategy for VET entitled Advancing Skills for the Future, so I thought that I might have a bit of a look at what it says and the effect this might have on VET in Queensland.  I will however caveat all this by saying that as we are due for an election in Queensland in the next 12 months, the strategy whether it is good or bad, may never move forward, but hey that is the nature of the sector we work in.

Firstly there is the obligatory simple statistics in the introduction, 1430 providers (both public and private), $810 million and change in funding spread across 600 or so PQS providers, again both public and non-public) and in addition 14,000 government-funded students in 2015-16 over 2014-15.  Make no mistakes VET is big business and touches the lives of a massive number of Queenslanders every year, with more than 270,000 funded students alone in 2015-16.  These types of high level statistics tell us very little about how the sector is operating or which bits might need to change.

Next we come to the now absolutely obligatory statement about the future of work, STEM and advanced technology and automation in the workforce.  This is the world we live in now and let’s be honest any government or organisation that isn’t embracing this view of the world right now is going to be left behind.  We then have a piece about how the whole VET system works and who is responsible for what and then some more statistics about how well the Queensland VET sector is doing.  So far all pretty standard stuff and what you would expect.

Now however we get to the meat of the strategy with the governments vision for VET: In a changing world, all Queenslanders are able to access – at any stage in their lifetime and career – high
quality training that improves their life prospects and supports industry development and economic growth. There are also three key areas that the government see as being crucial to their ability to deliver this vision, which are;

  1. Industry and innovation
  2. A quality system, and
  3. Access and participation

The rest of the paper then looks at what the government intends to do in relation to these areas and what goals it wants to achieve.

Industry and innovation

Job Queensland get a fairly big mention here, particularly in relation to its administration of specialist funding and what seems to be its key role of listening to what is it that industry wants particularly in regional and remote areas.  There is a recognition here that the fastest growing job market over the next few years will be health and social assistance with a projected rise in numbers of employees of around 11% or one in five of every new job created.   While this recognition of the fact the sector will grow over the next few years my only concern is that I have seen so many numbers released around how many new employees will be needed by so many different agencies and departments that have to think that perhaps someone has it wrong, but then again it is probably far better to prepare for a high need in term of new employees and over compensate than it is to come up short.  There is also an additional commitment to STEM and related activities which is again something which should be expected.

 

A quality system

I have often suggested the Queensland has had its finger on the pulse and has better managed its state based funding arranges that a lot of the other states and it seems that this tighter control over who can deliver funded training in Queensland and the management of risks around it will continue, with the tightening of entry criteria and reporting and renewal of contracts based on the quality of the providers and their outcomes.  In addition and this is something that I really do welcome, is a commitment to providing better information to the public about both the sector and the variety of choices which exist for students who wish to engage with it.  That this includes a commitment to improve how VET in schools works and the advice given to young people at school and school leavers, an area which has been sadly lacking over the past few years.

 

Access and participation

In what is by far the largest section of the paper the government goes on to talk about how it intends to achieve its goal of All Queenslander’s having access to skilling pathways
that enhance employability and social wellbeing.  After a discussion of what is currently happening in Queensland, which for the most part, at least in my opinion, is working well the paper goes on to discuss the future direction.  We will be seeing more Skilling Queenslander’s for work which given it has been the flagship employability program of Labor in Queensland for a number of years now should not be surprising to anyone and neither should the goals of better engaging with vulnerable youth, particularly those who have already intersected with the justice system.

There is also, again not unsurprisingly, a commitment to TAFE.  A commitment to ensure that grants allow TAFE to have up to date resources and training facilities and to properly provide the services which they are supposed to deliver.  There is also a commitment to look at the TAFE Queensland Act 2013 to ‘ ensure it enables the public provider to fulfill its role in meeting government priorities and providing commercial and non-commercial services in a competitive environment.’

Overall I have to say that when I finished reading this paper, I was, well a little blase about the whole thing.  Yes it contains a lot a high level goals as one would expect in a strategic document, but very little in the way of meat.  There in of course lies the rub.  It is difficult to know, guess at or comment on a lot of the commitments in this paper simply because we don’t actually know what they mean or more importantly what the government means by them.  What does the statements about the TAFE QLD act or looking at the appropriateness of grants to TAFE mean?  What does a high quality provider look like under PQS?  How does the government see it providing for the training of 20-50,000 new health and community services workers over the next 5 years?  These are all questions for which no answers are given and while we may be able to hazard a guess of the broad direction some of these commitments might take, given the platform and proclivities of the current government, we certainly cannot read anything certain from this document.

So as a high level strategy document, it does its job, however there are still a significant number of questions that need answering about how this strategy is going to be achieved.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

 

 

Rebuilding VET

So  a number of people over the past few weeks have asked me about my opinions about how we can rebuild and revitalise VET in Australia.  While I have in the past spoken about what I thought might be specific changes to particular parts of the system, I have to at least some extent shied away from proclaiming my view for a future of VET.  One of the reasons for this is that, to me, a lot of what happens in this sector, a lot of what the sector does and the vast majority of the outcomes which are produced are excellent.  I am not sure that the sector needs a reimagining or wholesale reenginerring of how it operates.

If you listen to the left you will hear the constant chant of TAFE TAFE TAFE, get rid of private providers and the system will be right.  If you listen to the right, it is all about market forces, competitiveness, and the free market and here of course is the rub, they are both right and they are both wrong.  The answer lies somewhere in between.

We need a strong public provider and a strong network of private providers to make the system work effectively, more importantly though we need both groups to be treated the same and regulated the same, and not just in name only, in actual practice.

We need to recognise that trainers and assessors in this industry need to have three skill sets.  They need to have a deep understanding and relevant, up to date knowledge of their industry; they need vocational currency.  They need to have and understanding of the VET sector; how assessment processes work and what it means for someone to be competent, and they need to be good at presenting the material they are covering in an engaging and meaningful way, so that students actually learn what they need to.

We need the owners and senior managers of of all providers, be they public or private to really actually put students and their outcomes first.  Yes sustainability is vitally important, but we are in the business of education, so the actual education should be our focus, not how much money we can make, or whether or not we have the best office or the best view, or what awards we get.  The outcomes for students should be at the heart of what we do and if it isn’t we should probably get out and find another sector.

We need the regulator to actually regulate.  More than that however, we need to regulator to act fairly, consistently and in timely manner.  It is essential that providers regardless of whether they are public or private, new entrants or longtime RTOs, catering to 100 students of 10,000 students that they will be treated and assessed fairly and consistently and that breeches dealt with appropriately.

We need to government to invest in the VET system and to invest in it properly.  There is a need for sensible long term commitments to funding plans, be they direct entitlement style funding, organisational funding or contingent loan facilities.  The commitment however has to be long term and it has to address the skills and knowledge needs of this country moving forward.

Sounds really simple doesn’t it.

 

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