Queensland VETiS and the New ATAR, a disaster waiting to happen?

So as some of you may know, I have over the years been quite critical of a range of things which occur in the VET in Schools (VETiS) space, not only in Queensland, but in most other states as well.  Things such as the the clear lack of adherence by school based RTOs to the Standards, the qualifications and depth of industry experience of trainers and assessors (particularly those who are teachers) and the types and levels of qualifications which are being delivered.

So let me be clear right from the outset where my opinion lies, anything higher than a certificate III (and if I am being completely honest even Cert III level often worries me) should not be being delivered within a schooling setting.   The concept of the delivery of Certificate IV, Diplomas and even advanced diplomas to students who have not finished their secondary education is in my opinion ridiculous and fraught with dangers.  In addition while I have nothing but the utmost respect for Teachers, just because you are a teacher does not mean that you know a dam thing about vocational education or the needs of industry in terms of training deliver and assessment, and sorry, but if you are a PE teacher who has been RPLed through a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and  Certificate IV in Fitness so that you can deliver Certificate III qualifications to your students, unless you have a whole pile of industry experience (and I don’t mean teaching experience I mean actual experience working the industry you are training in), you ARE NOT qualified to train and assess your students and you are not complying with the Standards.

Now that I have been really clear about where I stand on this it will probably come as no surprise that I consider the Queensland curriculum and assessment authority’s (QCAA) stance on VET and the new ATAR system being introduced, as potentially incredibly damaging to the quality of training and assessment being provided to our school students, shortsighted and showing a complete lack of understanding of the VET system in this country, will have a devastating effect on the workforce participation potential and ability to undertake further training of a significant number of students, and is well frankly idiotic.

What you may well ask is happening to elicit this vitriolic response? It is actually quite simple, and revolves around the calculation of ATAR rank, and while on the surface it seems not to problematic, there is a mindset underlying it which has the potential to be incredibly damaging.  When calculating the new ATARs QTAC will calculate ATARs based on either:

  • a student’s best five General (currently Authority) subject results, as is currently the case for the OP system, or
  • a student’s best results in a combination of four General subject results, plus an applied learning subject result.

Now on the surface that seems reasonable, however as is often the case with these things the devil is in the detail and when you look further into what an applied learning subject result might be you find this;

The best result in a:

  • QCAA Applied (currently Authority-registered subject or Subject Area Syllabus subject) or
  • Certificate III or
  • Certificate IV or
  • Diploma or
  • Advanced diploma,

Did the person who came up with this concept, have even the slightest notion of what is, or should i say should be, involved in completing a Diploma of Advanced Diploma.  The QCCA is actively encouraging the delivery of programs of study which almost by definition will be rubbish, because there is simply no way in which (at least in most cases) the assessment requirements for studies at the level that they are talking about can be met within a school setting, and to think that this is possible shows an utter and shameful lack of understanding of VET and the AQF.  Further more they are encouraging the delivery of programs to students, which will make them ineligible for the vast majority of the post secondary VET funding options which are available for when they realise that their Diploma in Business is utterly worthless and will not help them to get a job. Why?  Because for the vast majority of actual funding programs, if you hold anything higher than a Certificate IV in anything you are automatically excluded. 

VETiS in Queensland is already a disaster and this will simply devalue further the qualifications which are being delivered through it more and deeply harm the outlook for students who have been sold the lie that the piece of paper they get from their school saying they are competent at a Diploma level (or really any level at the moment) will get them a job.


Vocational Education, Career Development and Employment

I went to a really interesting discussion hosted by ACPET last week centered on the theme, careers not courses.  As some of you may be aware this concept of career development, employment opportunity and workforce participation is a subject that I have viewed as quite important for a while now.  Too often we see post secondary graduates, whether from the VET sector or the University sector coming into the workforce either clearly not properly trained and assessed,  having not been taught particular units or subjects, or that the material they have been taught is out of date.  This therefore makes the student who was hoping that their qualification would net them a job when they were finished not actually capable of doing the role they are supposed to be trained for, yet not knowing that this is the case.  So they submit resumes and go to interviews (when they get past the resume stage) and almost never understand why they don’t get the role.  There are also a not insignificant number of people who get to the end of their study, get into the role they are trained for and find out rapidly that it is just not what they expected or what they want to do.

Of course when you start to think about this issue it becomes really obvious that there is no quick fix here.  It is caused by a number of different failures throughout the system.  The first failure point if that of the mismatch between qualifications, and the requirements of industry and employers, and this is certainly not an issue which can or will be fixed overnight.  It is also one which has a more significant effect in some industries, particularly within fast-moving industries, than in others, but given that training packages define the parameters of the training to be delivered and changing them has traditionally be a long slow process and one in which industry and employers have not stepped up as much as they could have it would seem that this issue may be difficult to address in the short-term.

There are a couple of things which I think can be done, at least more easily than reconnecting training packages and industry, and that is this idea of career development or advice and using that advice and its outcomes to inform training programs, units of competency and placements, so that it maximizes the opportunity for the student to both understand the role they are being trained for, and their ability to actually be hired and function in that role.  The question then becomes how do we achieve, how do we map qualifications, training, and student outcomes, with industry or employment need.

The first step is that people who are giving advice to potential students, particularly where those students are younger, actually need to understand both the training industry and landscape, and they need to understand the requirements of industry or the roles that they are advising people about.  The sad state of affairs is that for the most part this is not the case, at best they have one but not the other.  There are a few notable exceptions of course, but still at the moment they are exceptions nothing more.  Why? Well that is a relatively easy answer, the vast majority of people who are advising potential students are employed by job agencies, apprenticeship and traineeship providers, or educational providers (RTOs for example).  They are not in a real sense career advisers, their real role is something different, either placing people into training programs, or placing them in employment.  Their function and agendas may not be as student centric as we might like to think.  Of course as with everything I am generalising here and there are certainly, for want of a better word, advisers, who are student centric and seek to develop a relationship with the potential student which will provide that person with as good an outcomes as possible.

The other part of the equation here is the training providers.  Training providers need to understand the employment market into which their graduates will be entering.  They need to understand the skills and knowledge and the units of competency which best fit the industry or part of the industry into which the student wants to work in, and more importantly that knowledge needs to be current and accurate.  They need to understand the set of units, and the knowledge and skills which come out of those units, which will maximise the students potential to work in the area they want to.  The problem is of course that there are a lot of courses out there, particularly in the business and community services area, but in other areas as well, where the units taught and the content of those units is so generic that it virtually prepares the student for nothing at all except for a long list of rejected resumes.  One of the reasons why, in a previous role, the organisation i was with had its own RTO was to ensure that the units covered in the course, their content, how they were delivered, and what was expected during placements etc was controlled and produced graduates with the right set of skills to move directly into employment in the organisation.  We also did extensive pre-enrollment testing and discussions to ensure that the people entering the course were a good fit and were likely to complete.  Now I know that some of the apprenticeship agencies and job agencies (some of the better ones) are doing this.  Testing candidates to see how they cope with change and to look for what careers might suit them the most.  And this sort of activity is vitally important because, just because a year 12 student says he likes to play video games and wants to be a game designer, does not mean that it is the best choice for him, (the game design industry in Australia directly employs only about 900 people btw) and may actually harm his chances of getting meaningful employment or doing further training to change careers later, due to impacts upon funding.  It is really important to note here that I am not suggesting that we need to stream and railroad people out of careers that they actually wish to undertake, I am just suggesting that there a lot of people who are being trained who really don’t understand the nature of the industries or work that they are being trained for, and if they had been provided with a fuller explanation of the various careers which were available to them may have chosen a very different path.

The other thing which is important here and is which often overlooked is the fact that industry needs to come to the party as well, they need to be clear about what skills and knowledge they require of potential employees and work with providers to deliver on those skills and knowledge.

Unless we have these links between industry, providers and advisors, greater knowledge of options and the effects of various options on future choices, and truly independent advisors, it seems difficult things will improve.  What we need is an ecosystem, where the potential students are getting, timely, independent, accurate and individualised advice, which leads them to providers who create individualised learning plans for these students, based on what the student wants and what industry needs, with placements, internships and other pre-employment opportunities offers by employers to provide student with well-rounded experiences and the best possible opportunity to convert their qualification into a workforce outcome.



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.



Is there a problem with VET in Schools?

We all know what VET is schools is, vocational qualifications delivered through the secondary school system, with either the school being a registered training organisation in its own right or where it is tightly partnered with another provider.  Well it appears that there may be some problems?  I say this because it seems that there are a number of investigations, research, internal and external consultations going on at the moment at various levels across the country and it seems from what I have been told by more than a few sources that the results of these investigations for want of a better is well, not great, perhaps even damming.

So what is the problem?  It seems that the numbers of students completing certificate i and ii courses through the various VETiS programs is dropping, replaced by year 11 and 12 students undertaking certificate II and IV and in some cases even higher level qualifications.  Now you might be thinking is that actually a problem, delivering the higher qualifications will give the student advantages over just having a certificate i or ii when they leave school.  Now while that might be the case if these qualifications were being delivered properly, but it seems that at least two investigations have found that that is simply not the case.  They seem to have found that these higher level (certificate III and above) programs being delivered within the school environment are being significantly dumbed down, often having very little connection to the industries they are supposed to be being trained in, insufficient workplace based learning and placement time and a lack of properly qualified trainers.  All of this is leading to students finishing year 12 with a piece of paper they think is going to help them get a job, but is really in terms of their skills and employability little more than a certificate of attendance.

Now if these rumors (and I have to stress here that no one at any of the Departments of Education has verified any of this, at least not officially) are even somewhat true, it points to some significant issues within VETiS.  I was concerned sometime ago what I noticed more and more secondary schools delivering Certificate III and above programs internally as I had always viewed the role of VETiS to be preparatory, providing year 11 and 12 students with pre-vocational, and pre-work level qualifications, those qualifications that usually sit at a certificate i and ii level.  Given the changes to a range of qualifications where work placement and more assessment criteria based on actual work have been included, it has for a while now seemed difficult to me to figure out how a secondary school RTO could be meeting all of the requirements of at least some of the programs they are delivering, at a certificate III level.  The of course seems only to increase substantially as we move up the AQF levels.  I am also entirely uncertain that whether or not the vast majority of secondary school students have the capacity to be able to successfully complete diploma level study in particular while still in school.  This should not be taken to suggest in anyway that there aren’t schools out there that are doing fantastic things for their students in the VETiS space, or that some students may have the capacity to undertake higher level studies while still in school, it is however something we need to look at very very carefully.

It is already extremely difficult for school leavers to find employment, particularly employment in areas that they actually want to work in, not preparing them properly for entry into the workforce is only going to make that situation worse.  We may think that providing a student with an ‘easy’ route to a certificate iii or higher during their time at school, particularly where that student may not be going excel in other more traditional curriculum, will assist them to find work when they leave.  It won’t.  If they are not properly competent, even if they do get a job, they will find themselves out of a job just as quickly and find getting another job in their industry much more difficult.

VETiS should be there to prepare students to move into either further study in their field or to start work and learn while working.  It does that best at least in my opinion, by providing them with those courses which prepare them, which provide them with the basics of work of their particular industry, those traditional certificate I and II level courses, not certificate III and above.

I certainly hope that the information around the VETiS sector that we are seeing is not correct, but sadly for my experience it does seem to be the case.  I think VETiS is fantastic and I would hate to see it damaged by the pursuit of extra funding and an ‘easy’ solution for some students.

Anyway that’s just my opinion

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