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and assessed,  having not been taught particular units or subjects, or that the material they have been taught is out of date.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?


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.

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.

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.


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