Grassroots and start up Learning and Development

Today I thought I might give the world of Vocational Education a break and have a look at some issues that more focused around corporate learning and development and in particular early stage, or greenfields corporate learning and development. As many of you know apart from trying to run RTOs and navigate the VET sector for more than a decade, I have also been heavily involved in the world of L&D and in particular the world of shall we say grassroots L&D.  So I thought that I might share a few of the insights I have gained over that time.

Firstly what is grassroots L&D?  It’s that L&D role where in real terms you are starting from scratch.  Now this might be for a wide variety of reason, organisational restructure has centralised learning functions and created a new L&D department, L&D has been just in one part of the business and there is a need to make it organisational, the organisation is relatively young or has undergone rapid growth making L&D a focus,  or as happens in a lot of cases for some reason L&D has been badly neglected and everything has basically run down and virtually stopped.

This can be frightening place for an L&D professional to find themselves.  Usually we land in roles where there is already existing structures, where we have the foundations.  Training is being delivered, there is a team who are familiar with the business and its needs, a structure around budgets and finance, you know all of those things we expect to have in an L&D department.  Often at the grassroots level, even in a larger organisation you will find that the L&D team is a team of exactly one, You.  So on top of managing, you may also be developing and delivering training, doing the administration, implementing technologies, and on top of that trying to recruit new staff to take the load off.  The other pressure which is often present in these scenarios, is the pressure to get things up and running as soon as possible so to speak.

It is this expectation of creating something relatively quickly, which can cause heartburn for some L&D folk, primarily because we are often used to having data, strategies, platforms and frameworks already in place to allow us to move forward.  So what most people do is to dive into developing their strategy and framework, start doing TNAs, auditing compliance training and certifications, all those things that we know we have to have in order to deliver meaningful learning experiences to our staff.  This however could be a very costly mistake in terms of you longevity in the role.

Why?  Well because in most of these situations we are dealing with organisations,  managements teams and even boards who may not grasp the complexity of the L&D function.  This is of real concern when the L&D team has been created because the business has discovered a gap, or in some cases a gaping black hole which they need to address and address quickly. They often don’t have time to worry about how things are going to be evaluated for example, they just want them to work.  Getting some kind of training started in a particular area may be far more important than making sure that training is totally aligned with the business plan and strategic goals.  In these cases getting all of your ducks in a row before you start may well leave you in a situation where you find yourself having to justify your achievements. Often in these cases as well there can competing agendas across the business, particularly when L&D has become a more centralised function, instead of being within business units and under the control of Mangers or GM’s.

So what do we do, how can we get done what the business needs, or thinks it needs and still set ourselves up to be able to move forward strategically at the same time.  As many of you may already know I have been a fan of training impact maps for a very long time.  When I first saw one in Brinkerhoff’s book High Impact Learning, they struck a chord with me as a useful tool for ensuring what we are delivering meets the needs of the organisation.  They are incredibly useful in these greenfields style situations where the business wants a solution but is not sure what that solution could be.

How does this work, it’s really simple, get the business, or business unit or even the board to fill this out, with or without help from you and then use the information contained in it to create whatever intervention is necessary to meet the needs outlined.  Here is  hint though, if the business can’t fill out these sections, then training may not be the answer and you may need to have a longer conversation with people.  Another quick hint, and this is really important, resist the temptation to provide the business with ideas around measurement of success, if they don’t come up with it they won’t own it and if they don’t own it and they didn’t tell you that was what they wanted to measure, then you are potentially in for a world of hurt, when they come back and say we actually wanted to see an improvement in X why did you measure Y we don’t care about that.

Part of the trick here also is to get them to ask the right questions such as;

  • Who is the Target group for training,
  • Why are we doing this training, what result will it mean for the business
  • What are the tasks that the target group do that this training is seeking to improve
  • What are the skills and knowledge that staff need to perform these tasks
  • Which of the strategic goals of the business does this training relate to and how, and
  • How will you know if this training has been successful.

So if you can get them to fill this out properly you will have achieved a couple of quite important things, firstly as i said above you will have a nice base from which to look at what interventions you will need to develop to meet the need.  Secondly you will have started the process of the business thinking strategically about its learning and development needs, the value that training brings to the organisation and the need make sure that training that is being delivered or requested will actually meet the needs of the organisation and staff.

Now you should be up and running and can start to build and deliver things and then hopefully start work on some of the other areas which will need your attention.

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Time for reflection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

 

Some Quick Facts about ASQA regulatory decisions and uneven playing fields

Since 2011, ASQA has made 592 regulatory decisions (according to their own website) of those only one decision, or about 0.15% of all regulatory decisions, were in relation to a TAFE.  The one and only regulatory decision which was made by ASQA about a TAFE was in 2012 and related to TAFE NSW Western Institute, where they suspended four units of competency from being delivered and said if the TAFE wished to deliver the program in the future they would have to submit an application to do so.

Now Mark Patterson the Chief commissioner of ASQA in a comment on Linkedin said the following “We have taken in excess of 50 regulatory decisions which impact directly on TAFE. They like other RTOs are provided the opportunity to rectify non compliances. The VET market is dominated by private RTOs both in market share and numbers of RTOs so it should be unsurprising that there are more regulatory decisions that impact on private RTOs.

The first question this raises is, if you have made in excess of 50 regulatory decisions against TAFEs where is the evidence of this, certainly not in your own database it would seem.  Now Mark did say that providers are given the opportunity to rectify non-compliance’s which is fair enough, however if we look at the information, about what decisions they publish, again according to their own website,

ASQA publishes decisions:

  • to impose an administrative sanction—either to cancel registration, to suspend or amend the scope of registration, to shorten the period of registration or to give a written direction—on a registered training organisation under Section 36
  • to impose a condition on a registered training organisation’s registration under Section 29(1)
  • to reject an application to renew a registered training organisation’s registration under Section 17.

It would seem according to the only publicly available evidence that in all of the 50 plus regulatory decisions made by ASQA in relation to TAFE, on only 1 occasion, was anything that fitted into their publications rules done.  So let’s be clear here, on the available evidence in more than 50 decisions ASQA has (except in one case) not even given a TAFE a written direction or imposed a condition.

Now certainly there are substantially more non-public providers in the market than TAFEs, however it also needs to be remembered that TAFEs in general have much higher enrollment numbers that the vast majority of non-public providers and to be fair it is statistically probable that we should see more regulatory decisions in relation to non-public providers than TAFE, however I find it difficult to believe that the ratio is 591:1.  If we look at it as a percentage 14% of non-public providers have had some kind of regulatory decision published against them, as opposed to 2% in relation to TAFE.  Again the size of the margin is something that I find difficult to see as justifiable.

The other question which I have in relation to this is a really simple one.  Does ASQA have the power to actually deregister a TAFE and would they ever be willing to do that.  I think there is a simple answer here and that is that regardless of what a TAFE  did, (and we have seen TAFE do some things, which at least in my opinion a private provider would be deregistered for), ASQA would never be allowed to deregister one, and even that by itself is enough to suggest that there is not an even playing field.  If one part of the sector gets, it seems, to say sorry, we won’t do it again, we have a new process, and then just move on, there will always be a grand canyon of inequity in terms of regulation between the public and private sector.

 

ASQA: A divided and broken system of regulation

Back on the 20th of September I posted a piece entitled ‘One set of rules for all providers?‘, suggesting that far from it being the case, as ASQA so vehemently pronounces, that there is one set of rules for every provider regardless of there size, or whether they are publicly or privately owned, the State owned providers are treated far more leniently than any private provider and given access to modes of rectification which are simply not available to non-public entities.   So now six weeks or so later and after the lapse of the month deadline TAFESA was supposedly given by ASQA to rectify the debacle that was, and probably still is their training and assessment practices what has happened?

NOTHING!

Why has nothing happened you may well ask, and that really is the burning question here.  But first let me remind everyone that the last sanction listed on the ASQA decisions database against a TAFE was back in 2012.  So why time and time again do we see public providers, TAFEs, being caught out breaching the RTO standards, having poor, or in some cases it appears non-existent assessment practices and never do we see any of these breeches met with any sanctions.  We see this because despite what ASQA might claim and want us to believe, the regulatory system for the VET sector in this country is broken and divided and certainly not one system for all.  In fact I am amazed that ASQA representatives can claim that all providers are treated the same with a straight face, when there is overwhelming evidence that this is not the case.  The issues with TAFE SA alone are enough to show this.  If the level of non-compliance that has allegedly been found there was found at a non-public provider, they would have been deregistered by now. Will that happen to TAFE SA?  Not a chance, they will apologize, say that have changed their systems and processes and will do better, and at worse they might stop delivering some of the programs for a few months, but then it will be straight back to business as if nothing has happened.

How then have we got to a system that is so broken and so badly weighted against non-public providers.  To be fair at least some of it is our own fault.  As a sector we saw the issues of VET Fee Help and the actions of the Careers, ACNs and Pheonixs and we (or at the very least those bodies who were supposed to be acting on our behalf) didn’t speak up or take action against them.  This of course played into the hands of the media and those like the AEU and others whose agenda is to end non-public delivery of VET, by giving them ammunition to smear the entire sector.  So bad were the excesses of the few that Ministers had little choice but to react with a big stick, if for no other reason than to save their own political skins.  If we then add to this the fact that TAFEs are state owned entities, which the state utilises not simply as educational facilities but as weapons of policy enactment across a range of areas, and in  addition so heavily heavily unionised, that whenever something happens which the unions don’t like, the social media storm which erupts is of category five proportions.  It is no wonder the system is broken. Any minister or even the regulator itself that ever suggested closing or curtailing the activities of a TAFE due to non-compliance, would be met with such a media storm, both through traditional and social channels, that it is unlikely they would emerge with their skins, let alone their careers, still intact.  So as a result of this we now have a system of regulation which is deeply skewed in favour of the public provider and which actively over regulates and over sanctions private providers while all the while claiming this is not the case.  ASQA has become a political weapon rather than a fair and equitable regulator.

So what is the answer?  It is simply that peak bodies like ACPET need to step up and call out this atrocious and unfair treatment and the inequity which exists, because this is supposed to be a level playing field and ASQA is supposed to treat all providers the same.  In fact everyone needs to step up, everyone needs to voice our opinions and call out these issues.  We need to embarrass and force the regulator to do its job properly and the government to let it.  Lone voices in the wilderness are not enough here.  If as non-public providers you want to actually see some change to this, if you actually want to be treated fairly, you, yes you, need to step up and you need to force those bodies that are supposed to represent you to step up as well.  Create a storm on social media, don’t let the news stories die, be loud.  Why do you think so many people believe the rhetoric from the AEU, it’s not because they are right it is just because they are loud.  And if you don’t step up then this situation will continue because no one else is going to do anything about it.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

A war on TAFE? Some VET facts and myths.

Recently again, my news feeds, social media and other outlets have been jammed with the AEU, Greens and Labor people talking about the war on TAFE and that non-public providers are causing the death of TAFEs in Australia.  To be fair I understand what is going on here;

  1. A not insubstantial number of AEU members in various states are TAFE workers.  In fact the overwhelming majority of AEU members from the VET sector come from TAFE.  It therefore makes sense that the AEU vigorously pushes the TAFE bandwagon.  Less TAFE staff means (probably) less AEU members, making them a less relevant voice in the VET sector.
  2. The Greens with their deep ideological commitments to public provision of a wide range of things including education and a VET policy that says no funding should go to non-public providers at all, coupled with a solid understanding of their voting base, means that there is a war on TAFE, resonates with their political agenda and makes them more palatable to their voters.
  3. Labour.  Well with deep connections to the Union movement, a lean towards the left, and again a good understanding of their ‘true believers’ talking up the death of TAFE makes sense.  It also helps that they can use it to kick the government as well.

The fact that these are the main groups behind the various save our TAFEs movements makes it pretty clear that a lot of the rhetoric around this and a lot of the negative press leveled at the non-public side of VET is, well, driven by political and ideological agendas.

Now two things before I go on.  Firstly let me make it abundantly clear that the position taken by the government and its advisory groups are, just as much as with the groups above, driven by ideological and political agendas.  Secondly, as I have said so many times before, we need to have a strong efficient and effective public VET education system in this country, losing it would be a loss for Australia.  However, we also need a vibrant and well supported non-public system as well.

Let us then jump away from the rhetoric and agendas and just look at some facts however, and then perhaps we can make some considered conclusions about some of the recent rhetoric.  Now bear in mind these facts have come from data publicly released by NCVER.

Myth Number One: Private RTOs have grown out of control.

Fact Number One:  A small number of private providers (and some TAFEs) substantially increased their enrolments mostly on the back of the flawed VET fee help scheme.  However 47% of all non-public VET providers have less than 1,000 Students.

Myth Number Two: TAFE provides a far better quality of training than non-public providers.

Fact Number Two:  If we look at the Employers’ use and views of the VET system 2017 report from NCVER we can see that Employers report a 91.5% satisfaction with private providers against 85.6% with TAFE as well as an 82.9% satisfaction rate for the delivery to apprentices and trainees as opposed to 81.8% for TAFE.

Myth Number Three: Private providers cherry pick students and courses and leave TAFE to do the heavy lifting with remote, disadvantaged, disabled and indigenous students.

Fact Number Three:  Private providers actually deliver to 50% of all indigenous students, 43% of all students with a disability, 54% of the most disadvantaged students, and more than half of all remote and very remote students.

Myth Number Four: TAFE does the vast majority of the training of trainees and apprentices.

Fact Number Four: Non-public providers delivered 45% of apprentice and trainee enrollments.

So I am just going to leave those here for you to think about for a little while and remember the old saying ‘Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

Have a great weekend everyone.

Things which might actually save TAFE

As I am sure you are all aware there have been conferences, talks by leading academics, pieces in the various papers and policy positions bandied about recently, all with the theme of how to save TAFE or that TAFE is at the tipping point of losing relevance and going the way of the dodo so to speak.  I am also sure that you are aware that the solutions posited by most of these pieces have in essence been, give all the money to TAFE.  Give TAFE between 70 & 100% of all the funding provided for the sector, the figure changes depending on who you listen to, provide it with rescue packages and invest heavily in it and everything will be ok, because it is the public provider and therefore always the better choice than non-public providers.  Of course it is difficult to see how the rhetoric could be different to this given the agendas and political leanings of the some of the groups involved, notably the AEU and The Greens.

What I find interesting about all of this rhetoric about ‘saving TAFE’ is that the vast majority of people in the non-public part of the VET sector fully support having a strong, vibrant, effective and efficient public VET system, operating together with strong, reputable non-public provision of VET through for profit, not for profit, enterprise and community providers.  However the position from the ‘save TAFE’ groups seem to be non-public is bad and should be shut out of everything and TAFE is always better.  I just find the difference in viewpoint to be really interesting.

If we take what seems to be a more reasonable position and one which has for many years had, for the most part, a level of bipartisan support, the idea that we need both public and non-public provision of vocational education in this country, then what might be some things which could actually improve things at TAFE.

All TAFE teachers get 4 weeks leave and the whole contact and non-contact hours rubbish is scrapped.  

There was hue and cry from the AEU Victorian branch recently when the Victorian government suggest that TAFE teachers should spend 900 rather than 700 hours teaching, about half of time they are paid to be there.  One of the reasons TAFE is seen as inefficient and costly is around the costs of it teaching and delivery of its teaching services.  For example, virtually no one else in the country gets approximately 10 weeks leave a year.  Why is this a problem, a colleague recently waited nearly 10 weeks for TAFE (not a QLD TAFE) to get back to him with a date for one (that’s right one) day of training for his staff.  The issue, there were only a limited number of people who could teach the class and they were having difficulty fitting a day into their schedule.

Remove TAFEs ‘social responsibilities’ and let others for example community and not for profit providers do it instead.

A lot is made of the additional ‘social responsibilities’ which have been put upon TAFE by governments.  Why not simply divest TAFE of these responsibilities and find providers in the NGO sector who can do it, leaving TAFE to do what should be its reason for existence TEACHING and EDUCATION.

Remove as much of the duplication of services and administration as possible.

This one is just a no brainer for me, and I know that several states are doing just this now, TAFE QLD for example.  The costs created by duplication of services and administration is in some cases very much like an episode of ‘Yes Minister”

Review and overhaul the management structures.

Again, what seems to be a no brainer, make TAFE as lean and flat in terms of its management structures as it can be, much like a lot of the high quality private providers.

Make TAFE actually accountable for the quality of their training and assessment activities in the same way non-public providers are, and make management responsible and subject to penalties if things go wrong.

Currently no one seems to take responsibility when something goes wrong with a TAFE (look at the recent example of TAFESA) and certainly no one is ever held responsible, accountable or suffers any penalty for things that happen under their watch.

So there we go, there are a couple of ideas for making TAFE great again, without simply just throwing money at it and hoping something works.  If any of you have any other ideas I would love to hear them as well.

Now I know that some of you are going to come back at me and say that this will cost jobs, and this will strip staff of their hard-won entitlements, but lets back the truck up a bit, you may not be able to have your cake and eat it.  Maybe, just maybe if you actually want to save TAFE there might be a cost in that, which people are going to have to accept.  You know like a 20% rise in teaching hours or less management and admin staff, but hey you wanted to save TAFE remember.

Anyway that’s just what I think.

Have a great weekend.

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