Thank you, people of VET

I was looking over some of my more recent posts and even some of the conversations and commentary on the various forums, groups and places where I am active and I noticed that there was the sickly smell of dissatisfaction and negativity in the air.  So today I thought I might look at something different.  The people who make our vocational education and training system great.

Now be prepared for a bit of a shock here. I am not going to be talking about the political, or bureaucratic overlords, the researchers and academics, or the power brokers who are often mentioned when these discussions come up.  I want to talk about the real people of VET, the hard-working committed people who are out there on the coal face day in day out, doing their absolute best to make sure that the people they train and work with get the best possible outcomes from their programs.  I am not going to mention any names but I am sure that a lot of you will recognise who I am talking about.

People like the owner of a niche market RTO, who has struggled this year to keep his business and his people afloat amid what seemed like unending backtracking and nitpicking from the regulator, yet who still spent so much time assisting others in the sector to be better than they were.  The wonderful older lady, who is always willing to offer advice, no not just advice, wisdom, wisdom that only comes with age, experience and deep knowledge and commitment to the sector.  The man with so much experience in this sector, decades of experience, who has decided that enough is enough and that he is going to champion the cause of making VET  in this country as good as it can be again.

These are the people we should be praising.  These are the people we should be holding up to government and others and saying listen to what they have to say.  These are the people who are deeply committed to this sector, not for the money, or the accolades or the position it might bring them, but for the sector itself, for the students and the employers and everyone else who deserves to get a decent outcome from this sector.   These are also the people who in most cases I luckily get to call my friends, even when we don’t agree.

What is really interesting is that there are so many of these people out there.  People who have devoted so much of their lives and their passion to this sector.  People who wholeheartedly believe in the great value that sector can add to this country.  People who for the most part don’t get the acknowledgement they deserve.

So you know what, I acknowledge you and I thank you for all the great work you do.  And not just the people that I mentioned, all of you who wake up everyday and no matter what is says in the paper, how difficult a week it has been dealing with ASQA, or how disheartened you might feel,  you get out there and you make this sector a better place.  Whether it is making sure that every student who comes through your class gets the best opportunity for the best outcome they can achieve, helping others in the sector to understand how to be better at what they do, or tackling misinformation and skewed viewpoints head on. I want to take the time to thank you all for your contributions and to let you know that there is at the very least one person out here who really respects the work that you do.

Here is a challenge for everyone, think about those people in this sector who you know, who continually go over and above, who continually do all that they can to make this sector as great as it can possibly be.  Think about them, and think about acknowledging their contribution.  Think about saying thanks, because if it wasn’t for these committed individuals, and there is lot of them, this sector would be in a much worse place than it currently is.

 

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

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What can we do about the shambles that is VET?

Well VET is in the news again, more private providers deregistered or gone into administration, TAFEs failing to meet compliance standards, not assessing students properly and generally behaving badly, and everyone yelling at each other and trying to pass the blame.  It really is, well to put it mildly, more than a bit of a shambles.

Now I know that the vast majority of people in this sector, at all levels, whether they are trainers and assessors, administrative people, or management, and across all parts of the sector, private, public, not for profit, community and enterprise, are committed to doing the right thing and to assisting whoever they work with to achieve the best possible outcomes they can from their study.  I know this.  I know this because I have worked in and with the sector for years.  However, when someone from outside looks in or picks up the paper, or thinks about Vocational education as an appropriate choice, what do they see?  They see a shambles, a mess, and not just a small mess, a mess that has been going on for years now.  Infighting, bickering, passing of blame, atrocious business practices, appalling customer (student) service.  In short they see something like a cow that is stuck in the mud which would probably be better off put out of is misery before it sinks any further. And there is the trouble, we can talk about all the great things the sector does, all the wonderful people in it, how it creates opportunity and outcomes, and is an enormous benefit to Australia.  But, if the sector looks like it should be taken down to the abattoir and turned into pet food, then we my friends have a very serious problem on our hands.

So what can be done to fix this?  What does everyone involved in VET in this country need to do to turn all of this around?  let’s be really frank here, we need to turn it around, because we are being left behind and our reputation for being one of the best if not the best vocational education countries in the world is definitely starting to fray.  Just the economic impact of international students not coming here to study because our VET education system looks like a garbage dump is enormous.

The first thing that needs to happen, is we need a common voice.  All of this bickering, infighting and blaming everyone else has to stop.  I know that TDA, ACPET, ERTO, AEU and every other interest group out there is trying to support their membership, but sometimes it doesn’t help!  Sometimes your agenda is harmful to the sector and just makes everything worse.  If this means that some TAFEs have to be closed or suspended from delivering courses, because they broke the rules and did a really crap job then so be it.  Stop defending them and blaming others.  If private providers don’t meet the standards or behave unconscionably, then don’t defend them, throw them out and advocate for their suspension or closure.  Stop defending these appalling behaviors.

Then, come together and present a single unified vision for the sector, put your agendas away for a little while and come up with a single plan.  Here’s the deal to, if some interest group, or peak organisation or union doesn’t want to play, then so be it, address it, say that they wouldn’t come to the party, couldn’t let go of their agenda, and don’t want to be part of the vision, and then present a cohesive plan for how VET should be run in this country and just ignore them.

If you are a provider you need to do the same thing. Stop just thinking about yourselves, stop looking at just the bottom line, stop thinking about how quickly you can pay off your Porsche, stop thinking about your next expansion and how you can slip in via the side door and get on the good side of the government, or increase your influence by pandering to a particular party line.  Its rubbish and you are stuffing it up for everyone else.  Start realising that this isn’t about you, it’s not about you scaling the bureaucratic ladder until you get to dizzying and rarefied heights, or creating a small fortune you can shift offshore.  It’s about the students and the industries that rely on you providing qualified, competent students, that they can employ.  In addition, stop defending other providers who have done the wrong thing, or better yet, tell someone when they are breaking the rules, you know stand up for the sector you are supposed to be invested in, rather than just yourself.

The same goes for trainers and assessors, and admin people.  I know that you are the guys who usually get shafted.  You are the people who have to put up with everything that flows from the top down and often for so many reasons, you don’t get any say, or choice, or have the ability to say anything without repercussions, or to just walk away and go somewhere else.  Here’s the thing though, if you don’t do something, or even try to do something, you like everyone else in the sector is complicit in this behavior.

Some of you might have noticed that I didn’t mention the government here at all.  Didn’t make any suggestions about what they could do?  That’s because they don’t have to do anything really.  Regardless of what side of the political landscape they are on, they just need to essentially do what they are told.  They need to support the sector in the way it needs to be supported.  They need to stop listening to one interest group over the other, or relying on academics or bureaucrats, who have never worked in the sector a day in their life to inform them.  This however can only happen if the sector comes together and presents them with a single unified vision and plan to drive VET forward and make it work.  If we can’t do that then governments are always going to play one off against the other, and pander to the side that is going to get them more votes or raise their profile.  That is what governments and ministers do.

The real issue here of course is if you don’t do something about this yourselves, then someone else is going to.  Someone else is going to come up with a grand idea of how to reform the sector and get in the governments ear and then you are stuck with whatever you get and its your own fault.

Anyway, that’s just my opinion.

 

One set of rules for all Providers?

Right, first off the bat, this is probably going to get a little ranty, so if you don’t feel like listening to me have a rant, albeit a rant with some facts to back it up, you might want to stop reading now.

Secondly, I am a supporter of TAFE.  I think as with non-public providers, public provider (TAFE) for the most part do a fantastic job and are a vital part of the fabric of VET in this country.

As I said in a post more about 18 months ago the VET system in this country is supposed to be regulated against one set of standards, which apply to all providers whether they are public, private, not for profit, community education or whatever.  If you deliver vocational in this country you are supposed to meet the standards and if you don’t there are supposed to be penalties for such non-compliance.  Clearly this is the biggest pile of horse s**t that has ever been perpetrated on this sector.

For the last few years we have seen the media, the unions, governments and regulators attack, on what at some points seemed to be a daily basis, non-public RTOs.  Now to be fair some of this was legitimate, but it is also fair to say that there was a hell of a lot of massaging the truth, to sell more papers, push a particular agenda or to grab the best sound bite.  The reputation of the sector and in particular the non-public part of the sector was basically covered in petrol, lit on fire, and burnt to a crisp, while at the same time the AEU and others held TAFE up to be a shining paragon of how Vocational education should be delivered.  The regulator (ASQA) took those RTOs who had done the wrong to task, deregistering some, applying sanctions and constraints, taking others to court and generally pursuing breeches vigorously.  The same can clearly not be said for how TAFE in general is regulated and treated.  Let’s just for a minute look at some of the ‘issues’ there have been with TAFE over the last couple of years and particularly very recently.

Kangan – Unsecured student records in an abandoned building

TAFESA – Aircraft maintenance certificates ‘not worth paper they are printed on’ 

TASTAFE – Jobs for the boys, or in the case girls

Kangan (again) and South West TAFE – rorting funding around engineering training and assessment

GOTAFE – What appears to be enrollment fraud

So let’s exclude the TASTAFE jobs for the girls scandal for the time being and just look at the other examples.  Any single one of these would have resulted in serious regulatory action if not deregistration of any non-public provider who had been found doing these things.  In fact the most recent with GOTAFE was exactly what a relatively large non-public provider was in fact deregistered for last year.   What then has happened to the TAFEs involved, well GOTAFE appear to have been reprimanded by the Department and TAFEA are embarrassed.

REALLY!

Where are the sanctions, were is the action from the regulator, where is the constant media attention day after day, where are the politicians jumping up and down.  I notice the Greens who were so quick to condemn the actions of private providers have been, well, silent and invisible about these issues.  And the AEU, the AEUs response to the most recent GOTAFE scandal was basically, its not the TAFEs fault they were forced to do it because the government didn’t give them enough money.   Again, you have got to be kidding me.  When a non-public provider did the same thing the AEU wanted them hung drawn and quartered but now that it is a TAFE its not their fault. Hypocrites.  

And where might one ask is ASQA, the national regulator, who is the regulator of note of all of the providers mentioned.  Nowhere to be seen.  I don’t think ASQA has made any single comment on any of these issues, not a single one, yet again had this been done by a non-public provider they would have been making statements about how they were cleaning up rouge providers, applying sanctions and deregistering providers.

Why nothing from ASQA you may ask?  That’s easy these TAFEs are state owned entities, who are clearly being protected by their respective state governments as the government knows that forcing a TAFE to close because it was well, rubbish, and deserved to be deregistered would have such a detrimental backlash on their electoral chances in the next election that not a single one has the backbone to actually let these activities by properly investigated and regulated.

So while non-public providers are still being sanctioned and have penalties imposed for their assessment practices not being perfect, or their compliance paperwork not spot on, these TAFEs are off doing whatever the hell they want with what only can be described as impunity.

The idea that there is one set of rules that apply to all of the providers of vocation education in this country is a steaming pile of garbage, and perhaps all of those people who have banged on for months and even years about the evil horrors of non-public providers, should perhaps, just once, look in their own back yard, take responsibility, and get their act together before they some vitriolically attack the non-public sector.  But we all know that is not going to happen.

Oh and on top of all of this Victorian TAFE teachers through the AEU Victoria have taken their bat and ball and gone home because it is outrageous to expect them to teach for about half of the time they are at work.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

 

Higher level teaching degrees and VET

So as many of you are aware there has been some new research which has come out about degree qualifications and teaching in VET.  Now it is important to note that I have not at this point had an opportunity to look over the entire study and the conclusions that it draws, however given the information which is available there are at least some questions I think are worth airing.

Firstly however a comment, I always find it interesting when academics suggest that VET needs better teaching qualifications when most academics don’t have any formal teach qualifications at all, they are simply experts (they have a PhD or similar) in their field. So I always tend to think that if University ‘teachers’ are considered to be capable because they have experience in their field, why is their this suggestion that it should be different in VET. Some if not most of the VET people who get the best outcomes for their student are those with the deepest industry experience and currency.  So with that little comment out of the way.

My first worry here is study size and knowing who it was that the survey was sent to.  570 and 360 respondents out of a supposedly 80,000 strong workforce seems a little low to me to be jumping to conclusions from.  I mean that is after all less than 1% of the total workforce.  My other initial concern is who it was sent to.  I don’t think I ever remember seeing anything about this survey anywhere or anyone at all mentioning that it was underway.  I could be wrong or my memory could be going, but if anyone out there got an invitation to respond to the survey let me know I would be really interested.  I am interested because, often these studies do not cover what could be called a definitive cross-section of the industry.  I am reminded of some research done around supporting students with disabilities which was presented a NCVER No Frills a number of years back, where it turned out that the researcher had only spoken to TAFE providers about how they dealt with disabled student and when asked why she had not contacted any non-public providers her utterly ill-informed answer was ‘private providers don’t deal with students with disabilities so there was no point in asking them’.  Now I am not saying something like that has occurred in this survey, but it would be really interesting to see if all of the parts of the sector had been able to give input and if it had covered all of the states.

Now I come to the real question I have about this paper, what is the evidence for a statement like  “Whether it was in VET pedagogy or something else, a degree or above really made a difference to things like a teacher’s professionalism, their contribution to the organisation and a deep understanding of the necessity of audit procedures.”  Is it just anecdotal or is there something more substantive.  Is it based on the response from teachers themselves saying they thought it made a difference or is there some other more shall we say robust data, or even feedback from their managers and employers about how their professionalism or contribution increased as a result of undertaking a higher degree.  I mean the cynic in me always says, if I had paid a significant sum of money for a degree and someone asked me if it was worthwhile, people are mostly going to say yes, even if it wasn’t just to appear to not appear to have made an error in judgement.

All that aside however, it is important to note that I am not against people in VET getting higher level degrees, nor am I against the concept of these degrees. I do however think that any change in policy to suggest that higher level qualifications become the standard or the entry point should be resisted wholeheartedly.  What VET needs is people who are highly experienced and appropriately qualified in their fields, who are passionate about passing that knowledge on to students and consistently ensure that they are current and well versed in industry practice.  Then we need to provide them with appropriate training qualifications to be able to effectively pass that information on and to assess the competence of students effectively.  That is what this sector needs not more people with degrees, who haven’t actually been in the industry for years because they have been to busy getting their degree.

Here’s an idea, before any more academics tell the VET sector what is good for it and that having university teaching degrees will raise the standard of teaching, how about we change university policy and force all academics who are teaching at university to have higher level teaching degrees and lets see how well that goes down.  I still remember that idiot academic last year complaining that he wasn’t being allowed to teach in the VET sector because he didn’t have a certificate IV TAE, even though he had a PhD in his field.  Just because you have  PhD in something doesn’t mean you can actually teach what you know to anyone.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

A view from the outside – sort of.

Now that, as many of you know, I am out of the day to day business of vocational education and in a more organisational learning and development (among other things) space, I have been looking at the VET sector through a somewhat newish lens, though a lens I have admittedly looked through before and I am troubled by what I see.  Someone asked my the other day what I thought the biggest issues facing the sector were.  I started to suggest that the kinds of things people have heard me talk about at length and then it struck me that I needed to push all of that thinking away and have a fresh look at the sector as someone sitting outside of it, or at least only on the very edge and so I did and I realised something.

No one outside of the sector actually cares about what is happening in the sector.  No one really cares about the problems with the TAE, whether ASQA is doing the right thing the right way, compliance issues, what the issues with amount of training are, no one actually cares.  They only care when they go to a provider, ask for what they want, and get told they can’t have it or they can’t have it in the manner in which they want it, and even then they don’t really care as they will either except it or simply go to another provider.  And I am not just talking about business’s here, I am talking about individuals as well, and that is a very very big problem for the sector.

Yes lots of people are involved in the sector, lots of people, millions in fact gain education, training and qualifications through the VET sector in this country, and even if we discount international students and training there are massive sums of money involved and VET is a critical part of our economy, not just in terms of that money, but in terms of the generation of skills and knowledge within this country, in terms of making us as a whole, smarter, better, more skilled, and more knowledgeable.   But again, very few people outside the sector actually care.

Now to be fair this is not an active dislike of the sector, the rampant hatred of all things VET that we saw in the thick of the VET fee Help debacle has dissipated, it is simply that VET  is not on the radar of most people as something which is important, that they need to understand, or that they need to care about.  It is at best a piece towards the back of the paper to which people either respond with ‘bloody dodgy private providers’ or ‘bloody TAFE.”  The sector has unfortunately become something that people only take an interest in, when they intersect with it and then their interest is purely, for the most part, about how they get what they want from the system and once they have it the sector floats away from their lives.

We even see this when if we listen to the way the which the sector is thought about by not only those outside of it but those inside of it as well.  Principles, guidance counselors, and parents who view the sector as somewhere for those kids who aren’t going to get into university to go.  Providers, consultants and all of the other ancillary business’s around the sector itself, who see the sector as a way to make money.  Bureaucrats,  unions, governments and those in positions of power who see the sector as a means to an end, stepping stones in a career, or organisations who see the industry as nothing more than a way to train their staff for as little actual cost as possible.   Please don’t get me wrong here I am not suggesting this is the way everyone thinks, but I can tell you it is far more prevalent than you might want to think.

So why is this the case, the answer is both simple and complex.  It is simple in that there is no single connected vision for vocational education in this country, there is clear no statement about the value of vocational education.  Governments talk about how important it is, but generally only to those from the sector, and in the background keep reducing in real terms the amount of funding the sector has. It is never the center piece of discussion, jammed in between K-12 and University and seen by many nothing more than a way to appear to reduce unemployment.

There is no single driving vision, that can be clearly articulated and disseminated, talked about, and used to educate the public on the enormous value that this sector brings to this country and that is real shame.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.  Hope all of you that went had a great #2017NVC and learnt something that you can take back and make the VET sector stronger.

Total VET students and courses 2016 – First look

Woohooo, it’s that time of the year again.  NCVER has just released the Total Vet students and courses Data for 2016.  Yes I know lot of you are now going ‘you’re weird’ and to be fair you are probably right, however, there is more often than not some lovely little gems of information tucked away in this report.  So lets have a look at what it says and see where that takes us.

First the highlights; 4279 providers delivered TVA training to about 4.2 million students in 2016, which represents an almost 5% rise in the number of enrolled students over the 2015 figures. There was also an around 1% rise in the overall participation rates in VET in the population aged 15-64, with  participation highest among 15 to 19 year olds at 46.2%.  This is on the back of an almost 3% decrease in the amount of commonwealth or state government funded training and while management and commerce remains the most popular field of education despite a 5.8% decline in program enrollments, the heath sector saw the largest one rise increasing by 30% in 2016.  The other interesting fact is that about 10% of all of the RTOs listed on Training.gov.au had no enrollment activity during 2016.

So what do all of these highlights mean, before we dig a little bit deeper into the data.  I have to say that realistically it seems to paint a fairly good picture for the VET sector in Australia.  We are seeing solid levels of participation across the Australian population and far more importantly I think we are seeing almost 50% of the 15 to 19 age group involved in some kind of VET activity in 2016.  The decline in funded programs is however a concern, and a concern that must be addressed by both state and federal governments.  For too long now the VET sector has been under funded with the amount of public money coming into the sector reducing in real terms and falling further and further behind K-12 and university funding.

So what other pieces of information can we glean from the report.  Well Queensland had the highest overall number of providers at 1270, with VIC close behind with 1100 and NSW third with just over 1000 providers.  As you would expect the three eastern states dwarf the other states, with each of them having more providers than all of the other states combined.  This trend is also echoed in the total student numbers a well.  NSW leading here with 1.1 million students with both VIC and QLD coming in not far behind, each with over 900,000 students.  When we look at the student numbers a couple of really interesting points pop out.  Firstly female students increased by 10.5% to 2.0 million, with the proportion of female students increasing from 44.1% to 46.5%.  In addition indigenous students increased by 20.1%, accounting for 4.0% of the total estimated VET student population and students with a disability increased by 1.8% or 4.3% of total estimated students.  All other things being equal, this has to be a great result for the sector, with those populations which have traditionally struggled comparatively in terms of workforce participation and education, becoming more engage with vocational education.

When we consider the data around program enrollments, that is what people studied and how, we see a trend or a movement which I think is going to continue into the future.  Across the board in 2016, compared with 2015 national training package program enrollments decreased by 4.1%, while skill sets increased by 111.6%.  This is something that a significant number of commentators including myself have been suggesting, has been occurring and will to continue to occur over time.  I would suggest that in our fast changing workplaces, both workers and employers are looking build and improve specific skills to meet market demands quickly and effectively, thus preferring skill sets and single unit training over full qualifications.

The largest percentage of enrollments was, as we would expect at the Certificate III level with 26% of all enrollments, with diploma level and certificate II qualifications coming in next, both with in excess of 16% of enrollments.  These are the core business areas for the VET sector so the fact that they account for in excess of 60% of enrollments is no surprise.  We saw the health sector record the largest growth of all fields of education increasing by 30.3%, however troublingly we saw by contrast, Natural and physical sciences experienced the largest decline in program enrollments, decreasing by 15.0%.  While our ageing population and the ever growing need for health and allied health professional is clearly driving the growth in that sector, I suspect that a severe misalignment between the training packages and the needs of the science sectors may be the underlying reason behind the decrease in enrollments there.

So that’s it for a first look, I think there are real positives that the VET sector can take from the data in this report, but there are also some things to consider quite seriously, such as the continued decrease in funding and the lack of student enrolling in science related courses.  It will be interesting to see if anything else pops up out of the data as it it looked at more closely and read in conjunction with other data.

Anyway, that’s just my opinion.

 

Apprenticeships – Time for a Change

This has been something which has been on my mind for a few months now and I have had a number of conversations with people inside and outside the Apprenticeship system or more precisely the apprenticeship management system.  The main arm of the management of apprenticeships and traineeships at the moment is the Australian Apprenticeship Support network or the ASSNs which is an evolution of the previous systems that were in place to help everyone involved, employer, student, provider and the government to get the best outcomes out of the system.  Before I go on, it is important to note that I am not talking about apprenticeships and traineeships themselves or how they are structured, delivered or anything like that. What I want to talk about today is the future of the ASSN and whether or not it is a model which is viable to take us forward into the 2020’s or if it really is something which has had its day. This should also not be taken as an attack on the organisations which form the ASSN or the work that they do.  It is certain that they, for the most part do a fantastic job.  The issue is whether or not the approximately $190 million which the government providers these organisations to provide this service is the simplest, most effective and most efficient method and whether not there may be better ways of delivering this service.

Why I say this is because in this digital world, it seems a little difficult for me to understand the need to have people driving around, talking to employers and providers, recruiting, mentoring and all of the other things they seem to do, when the underlying process should be very simple.  Now there has been a move to streamline the system with the AASN now utilising a lot of electronic forms and data, rather than the clearly time consuming and costly paper system which used to exist and this in itself points to the crux of the idea and the problem.

It seems to me that we may have an over complicated system providing a solution to a problem which is quite straightforward.  There are in essence only three parties which are involved in the apprentice or traineeship, that is the student, the employer and the provider (RTO).  Surely in this age of digital disruption some sort of self service model for employers, where they simply registered to become a employer for an apprentice or trainee and picked the RTO they wanted to use from a drop down box of government contracted providers, with a portal for students to then apply for the available roles is something which is not beyond the realm of imagining let alone creating.  There seems to be little or no reason why contracts and agreements, payments etc could not be handled through the same system.  All that would then be required would be a group of people to ensure, that the various requirements of the whole process were being met and that it was producing the outcomes which were required.

Now I understand that I may have grossly oversimplified the entire apprenticeship process, however that was to some extent my purpose here.  Why would I do that?  To point out that I think the days of the AASN are numbered.  I think that within the next 2-5 years we will see a significant shift in the way in which these services are delivered to stakeholders on behalf of the government. We will see more self service style options and more centralised management of the the system, why?  Because it is cheaper and has the potential to be more efficient.

If I was an AASN organisation I would be thinking about where my next income stream was coming from.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

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