Let’s start being positive about VET

As some of you know I have been out of commission for a couple of weeks due to an injury to my hand, and during this little break from writing, I have spent a lot of time reading commentary, writings and discussions about the sector.  Something has struck me from all of this reading and it is something that really concerns me.  It seems that a lot of the commentators, industry leaders, thinkers and just people in the sector generally are spending a lot of time complaining and focusing on the negative issues which seem to be surrounding us.  Why does this concern me? Well mainly because we know that what it is we focus on and think about is what we see and what we get.  So if we continually talk about what is wrong about this sector, what needs to be fixed, and what all of the problems are, that is what we are going to see, that is going to inform our viewpoint of the sector and more importantly it is going to infect the viewpoint of others about our sector. Don’t get me wrong here, I like everyone am guilty of being critical of the sector and sometimes we do need to verbalise criticism, but too often I think this critical view takes over, so I want to try to change that a little today and see if we can’t just be positive about the sector for a while.

First off I am really proud of the sector that I work in.  I feel privileged to work in the VET sector, this is a sector that changes lives.  I was at a conference recently where a lot of people (and a lot a highly placed people) shared stories about how this sector had changed peoples lives.  Like the (youngish) grandfather who had improved his reading so much while undertaking a VET course that he was now able to read stories to his granddaughter and the massive change in the way he felt about himself that this seemingly small thing had created.  The kids from generationally  unemployed families, in deeply impoverished areas, getting apprenticeships and breaking out of the cycles that had been their lives.  People with Mental illness getting qualifications and training to help them to be able to work with others with mental illness to help those people on their own roads to recovery.

What we do in the VET sector is important!

We don’t just issue pieces of paper to people, or fill their heads with knowledge, or teach them how to perform tasks.  All of that stuff is well kind of the boring stuff of the sector, the nuts and bolts that sit underneath what it is that we really do.  We offer people the opportunity to change their lives, to have the opportunity to do things they are passionate about, to look at the world differently and explore the opportunities that are there.

VET changes lives!

I am so grateful that I have been able to work in the learning sector, be it VET or organisational learning, or professional and personal development for so many years, because it fuels that passion and that idea that what we do is important and let’s be clear it is not just important to the people we teach.  The importance of what we do if is wider than that.  We have seen recently several reports about the return on investment created by the sector, the value of international education, and the range of other important things that this sector does for the country as a whole.

So I have a little challenge for you all, Whether you are from the public sector (TAFE), a private provider, a not for profit or and enterprise RTO, let’s even if only for a little while try to focus on the great things this sector does, let’s talk about and share the good stories, the life changing moments, the things that really matter, because if we do that then we will improve the sector and the image of the sector far more than we ever could by focusing on the negatives.

 

Anyway, that’s just my opinion.

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On the Redesigning VET FEE-HELP Discussion Paper

So as most of you are aware the Redesigning VET FEE HELP discussion paper was released on 27 April with submissions closing on 30 June.  So what I thought I might do today is have a look through the paper and discuss some of the propositions and statements in it and then see where we land after that.

As I have said many times previously, I think income contingent loans for a vital part of the educational landscape, they allow people to study things that they want to study, some of which may not have direct correlation to employment outcomes.  They also provide an opportunity for people, who without these processes may have not been able to upskill themselves in relation to job roles then may be interested in now, or in the future.

The first part of the paper goes through the purpose and reasoning behind VFH and how and why the system was extended into the VET sector from the higher education sector.  Also interestingly I think, it points out some of the differences between the two sectors which have, at least in part have been responsible for some of the problems the income contingent loan process has had in the VET sector which didn’t occur in the higher ed sector.  These differences are things like lower barriers to entry, lower graduate pay rates, competency based rather than a graded system, lack of formal semesters, with the preference being for rolling enrollment dates and a not insignificant number of VET enrolments where the student does not intend to finish the course rather their intention is to only complete a small subset of units, which has an effect on overall completion rates.

It also makes the point that the regulatory landscape surrounding VFH is quite limiting in terms of responses.  Non-compliance with ASQA and the regulations do not have a necessary impact on the right of a provider to payment of fees, the department had only limited powers of audit and information gathering and limited capacity to take compliance action for RTOs who had appealed ASQA decisions.  As it sates in the paper ‘until January 1 2016 the only relevant consideration for determining a providers’ payments was whether or not the providers’ student had an entitlement for VFH’.  In addition it looks at the fact that there was massive growth in VFH between 2012 and 2015 with the highest grow areas being those where the students could be considered to be most at risk or vulnerable.  There was a 649% increase in indigenous enrolments, 503% increase in very remote enrolments, 181% increase for people with disabilities and 172% increase for lowest socioeconomic status quintile.  In fact the lowest increase was in the highest socioeconomic quintile.  Now while this itself is not necessarily a problematic thing as it may point to more people, who would not have usually undertaken training, entering the system, it clearly should have been a red flag given the outcomes we know have occurred.  There was also a significant increase in tuition fees from an average of $5917 for a diploma in 2012 to $14018 in 2015 with VFH loan values doubling from 2009 to 2015.  This caused a massive disparity between the cost of diplomas under VFH and price various state governments were willing to pay in terms of funding for the same diploma.  A Diploma of Salon management for example with a smart and skilled pricing of $6,330 had an average VFH price of $32,941. The other issue that sat along side this, was the issue that a great many of the qualifications with the highest levels of enrollment had little or no actual links to employment outcomes.  A prime example of this is the Diploma of Community services where there is little or no job outcome as the vast majority of employers in the sector want people with a certificate III or IV in aged care or disability or similar as these are the qualifications which are required for the vast majority of roles.  The paper then goes on to discuss a range of other issues, including the dominance of the system by a very small number of providers, before moving on to look at the current and future reforms to the system.  It does appear however, that the 2015 reforms are having an effect on VFH providers with all areas of complaints (with the exception of debt dispute, which is a lagging indicator of previous poor performance) have dropped, in most cases significantly.  It is also acknowledged in the paper the capping of enrolments at 2015 levels may have had an effect on some ethical providers, but that it was necessary to reign in the soaring costs associated with the program.

So now let’s move on and have a look at the discussion questions posed.  The first question posed is whether there are additional eligibility requirements which might be necessary for the VFH system, with an additional question around administrative complexity in relation to LLN skills for potential students.  Now I am going to be a little controversial here because I think to a large extent both of these questions can in fact be answer quite easily.  Yes there should be an additional requirement for VFH students (which should if done well solve the LLN issue) and that is at a student not be eligible for VFH unless they have already successfully completed a course of study at Certificate IV or lower.  It is important I think to remember that is would not be a course prerequisite but rather a policy setting around eligibility for the VFH loan scheme.  If you have not completed a lower level qualification then you are not eligible for a VFH loan.

In terms of the lifetime loan limit for students I see no problem with it being part of and the same as the general Higher Ed FEE HELP system, providing of course there are some other refinements to the system put into place, particularly around the rising cost to students of obtaining a Diploma.  I have on a number of occasions suggested that the government rather than limiting the loan amount or price setting (setting a price that all providers need to charge) it rather needs to simply develop and publish, and force (through its VFH contacts) all providers in all of their materials to publish, a ‘recommended’ price.  I do however think that attempting to calculate this price, factoring in mode of delivery over complicates the process without adding significant value.   With this recommended price openly published providers can then still choose to charge whatever they wish.  Those who wish to charge lower than this may justify it by them being a TAFE or a not for profit or any other number of reasons, and equally those who charged a higher fee would then need to justify why their course costs where higher.  The justification process could also be one that was part of the VFH application process as well, where providers were asked to justify why their course costs were at the level they had set them if they were significantly over or below the recommended price.  I also think the concept of linking VFH funding levels to industry need, employment or pathways to further study has value.  A priority system (similar to that used in some of the states) could then be used to determine the level of VFH funding applicable to the course.  A level one priority program would have a VFH loan rate of 100%, Level two 75%, Level three 50% for example.

It is my opinion and one which I have held for some time now, that external, third-party brokers, should simply be banned from the VET sector.  They add zero value to system and only serve to drive prices up.  All marketing should be done by the RTO themselves and directly controlled by them.

Rather than simply a VFH ombudsman a far more elegant solution would be to  appoint a VET sector ombudsman, however it is acknowledged that given the way in which various powers are spread across the states this may be significantly more difficult to achieve therefore it seems that an ombudsman to deal with VFH.  It would be my suggestion that this simply be a short-term appointment to deal with the current issues with its continued necessity being considered after changes to the system had been implemented.

I am also in favor of provider cap of some description.  A provider should on application to utilise VFH estimate the number of VFH students they will have within the next financial year.  This initial estimate should be capped at a level not exceeding 75% of their current student enrolments.  This estimate process could then simply occur each year which any increase on the previous years cap of more than 10% requiring justification as to why the number of enrollment will increase that significantly.

In terms of quality measures the links between results of ASQA audits and non-compliances and continuing VFH approval should be significantly strengthened, with higher quality standards being applied to all VFH providers through the provisions of the contractual arrangements.  This should include student completion and progression rates and additional outcome measures around employment and further study outcomes resulting from the various courses of study.

It should also be the case that with any new standards/contracts that all current providers be required to reapply for VFH status under any new system.  There should be no providers who are simply moved to the new system.  The current system should be finalised at the end of 2016 and all students either given two years from their initial enrollment date to finalise their course of study or moved onto the new system where appropriate.  In addition there should be a legislative time limit placed on all approvals (no more than 3 years) which should also be at the discretion of the minister to alter or removed as deemed  necessary on a provider by provider basis.  All providers approved to deliver under VFH should be, as with most funding contracts with the various state governments, required to report their avetmiss data on a monthly basis.

I think the current tuition assurance system is solid though there needs to be stronger links between the government and the providers of the schemes in order to ensure that students are provided with the range of protections which they require.

It is and continues to be my position that upfront payment of fees is in general a mistake and the system should be moved to a model which is more reflective of completions rather than commencements.  A fuller discussion of this can be found here.

Anyway that’s my opinion.

 

Quality of assessments in VET Discussion paper – A discussion.

So the Federal government has just released its discussion paper on Quality Assessments in VET.  This is part of some ongoing movements around the Certificate IV in TAE and other matters that has seen the new qualification being held back while the powers that be see what they can do about the perception at least, that there is a significant problem with how assessments are being carried out in the sector.

My initial comments on this are simple.  There is nothing wrong with the Certificate IV in Training and assessment, particularly as an entry-level qualification into the sector.  The problems with assessments in my opinion have very little to do with the Qualification and a whole lot to do with;

  • Inappropriate delivery and assessment of the qualification itself by unscrupulous providers simply out for a quick buck, and
  • pressure being put on trainers and assessors to ensure that people are deemed competent, again by unscrupulous providers out for a quick buck.

The problem here is not the qualification.  The problem lies squarely at the feet of providers themselves.  If the TAE is delivered and assessed properly, and the assessment processes within providers were up to scratch then there would be no issues.  The Department, ASQA and the sector itself needs to man up and end the shonky delivery of this qualification.  We all know whose TAE qualifications aren’t worth the paper they are printed on, but no one seems to want to do anything about it,  and when someone suggests that we do, the old catch cry of not more regulation leaps out of the woodwork.

 

Now that I have got that out of the way let’s have a look at the questions/proposals in the first half of the discussion paper.

  1. RTO Limitations
    • Is it appropriate for large number of RTOs to deliver the TAE qualification – NO.  The TAE should be a qualification for which obtaining approval to deliver is a rigorous process, including having not just the assessment tools, and staff audited, but also to have the delivery of the program audited.  TAE should be a special scope item outside of other areas as it is the key component within the system.  The number of RTOs delivering the qualification should be reduced by ensuring that there is a heavy and continuing compliance and regulatory burden on any RTO that decides to place a TAE qualification on scope.
    • Should RTOs be restricted from issuing to their own trainers and staff – NO.  If the audit and compliance system is rigorous enough there should be no problems with issuing to internal staff.
    • Should TAE be available through RPL – YES.  There are significant number of people within this sector who are highly skilled and whom undertaking a full assessment process whenever there was a package change would be overly burdensome.  Again if the regulatory controls are right RPL is appropriate.
    • Should TAE only be delivered by practitioners with a specific period of training and assessment within the Sector – YES.  At least 2 years FTE.
    • VET trainers should have higher qualifications – YES.  Anyone training the Certificate IV TAE, should hold that qualification plus and additional higher level qualification relation to VET.
    • Should there be a practical component – YES.  There should be either a work placement (for those not currently employed) or evidence of work (for those currently employed).  It does have to be long 50-80 hours would be more than sufficient.   This would ensure that graduates had actually spent time with real students and undertaken real assessments.
    • Should participants in TAE be employed in the sector prior to entering the course – NO.  This would overly constrict entry into the sector of people who might otherwise be able to undertake a TAE course and become quality additions to the sector.
  2.  Skills and Qualifications of Trainers
    • Should a design and development unit be made a core part of the Certificate IV and would this improve outcomes – NO and NO.  Including a unit on design and development would do very little to improve student outcomes at a certificate IV level.  Design and development of assessment tools is skill which is above the AQF level of a certificate IV.  Assessment tools should not be being designed by someone who only holds the entry-level qualification unless that person has substantial experience within the sector and in relation to design and development
    • While there should be some weight given to majority considerations, these majority considerations should be tempered strongly with the views of key stakeholders (as long as those key stakeholders are chosen wisely) and the strength of the arguments made.  The idea of who are the key stakeholders for the TAE is an interesting one to ponder.  I believe there needs to some representation from the sector itself, but which must include representation from both the coal face of delivery through to RTO/provider management.  There must also be strong representation from government (The department of education) as they are the major stakeholder in this (you can disagree with me if you like).  In the long run it is the government who is the ultimate customer for the vast majority of VET work that occurs, be that through funding or loans, or special purpose project or what ever.  The system belongs to the government so it is the major stakeholder.    Now I know that there are going to be calls here for the unions (AEU etc) to be involved and the academic VET research set, but in the long run the decisions about the TAE have to be made by the sector itself and the government, others can have input and ideas and the decision should and must sit with these two groups.
  3. VET Professional association
    • Is there a need to have a national VET professional association – YES.  This to me is a no brainer, of course there should be.  Should membership be mandatory in order to work in the sector, yes, but there needs to be levels.  So the first would be an associate member shall we say which would be open to anyone who had a TAE with very little additional in the way of requirements.  From there, various level could exist depending on the experience of the person, continuing professional development, independent evaluation of their work and skills etc.  This would make it easy to delineate between those at the top of the profession and those just beginning and would also encourage the continuing improvement of skills.  There should also be categories for  Trainers/Assessors, Management, compliance etc and a person should be able to be in multiple categories.
    • The big barrier to this is of course money.  It would either need to be funded by the government or it would need to be a membership fees based process.  The problem with being funded is obvious, in that money would be need to be found somewhere.  With membership fees two things would need to happen, one, it would need to be ensured that membership was not just a you pay your money you get your piece of paper deal or there would be no point.  On the other hand the process would need to not  be overly convoluted or expensive as this may be a disincentive to gaining higher levels of membership.
  4. Activities of a VET Association
    • It needs to be a register of VET practitioners
    • Develop and implement a CPD system for the sector
    • Approve professional development activities for CPD points
    • Promote VET sector work as an attractive career path.
    • While these activities need to be coordinated at a National level, but in particular the CPD program could be achieved through existing groups and or other external structures which were approved as CPD
    • There are a number of bodies with significant sectoral membership which could be utilised.  One example would be ACPET, although this might be met with resistance from the public sector, another might be something along the lines of AITD, which is already a membership organisation for the learning and development sector and which has a significant number of VET sector members.  In addition a private sector organisation like VELG which already has a solid VET membership base may also be an option in this area.
  5. Models for a VET association
    •  I have a preference for the type B model, it is the simplest, funding can be easily accounted for, and maintenance and management of registration and CPD needs to be held centrally anyway in my opinion.
    • While model A has advantages in that it takes into account things which already exist, I think it would be too hard to manage overall and membership would not be centralised.
    • Model C is simply a registration model as far as i am concerned and would add nothing to the sector.

Well so there you have it, my thoughts on at least the first half of the paper.  I will make some comments on chapter two of the paper later in the week.

An enormous thank you to everyone

I just wanted to say an enormous thank you to all of you my readers, both directly via the blog and those who contribute to the conversations on LinkedIn and Twitter.

When I started this blog a number of years ago,  back in 2011 as a bit of a thinking and conversation place for myself mostly around organisational learning, there was no way I ever thought that it would grow into what it is today, one of the most read blogs on Vocational Education and Training in Australia, with such an outstanding group of people who offer their own insights and commentary on the subjects and topics I talk about.  I have gained so much both personally and professionally from little project.

I am deeply humbled when I look at the number of people who visit this blog every day and the number of those people who choose to comment and interact either here on the blog itself or on LinkedIn or Twitter.

I like so many others of you believe deeply in the importance of the Vocational Education and Training sector to Australia’s future and ongoing prosperity.  It is easy at the moment to get caught in the darkness and the negativity and to fail to see the amazing work that so many people and organisations both public and non-public do in this sector to really help people, to change their lives. Everyday I hear stories of how VET has changed people’s lives and taken them to places they never imagined that could go and it makes me proud to part of it.

And while I am saddened by the activities of such a small proportion of sector, who put their own wealth over the outcomes that are possible for so many people who utilise vocational education. I am deeply proud to be associated with and be friends with so many outstanding people whose sole  goal is to provide Australians with the best possible educational outcomes.  I feel an enormous sense of privilege to not only know you all to one extent or another, to have so many of you read my sometimes a little ranty musings, but just to be able to work in this sector .  A number of years ago at the Australian Training Awards I was asked what it was that had kept me involved in Learning and Development and the VET sector for so many years.  My answer was simple, because when I wake up and go to work, I know in my hear of hearts that we are doing something good, something worthwhile, and something that changes people’s lives.

I still believe that and feel that way today, what we do matters, it changes lives, it creates futures for people and hopefully makes us better people in the process as well.

So to all the friends I have made along this journey, my readers, be they regular or one-off, all of the people who comment and offer their views, the people I agree with and those who challenge and argue with me.  Thank you and I look forward to us all continuing this journey for a long time to come.

So why is TAFE so stressful for trainers?

So I have read a couple of articles recently about how being a teacher at TAFE is so stressful, particularly at the moment and over the weekend I was having a discussion with a friend of mine (who doesn’t work in the sector) who only half-joking suggested that VET people had the life because they got all this extra time off that people in other job didn’t on top of their actual working hours being really flexible and things like that.  I corrected him and said that conditions like that really only existed in the public system and that most people working in VET in the non-public arena didn’t have those kinds of arrangements and really just worked the same kind of hours and had the same conditions as pretty much everyone else.  I found his response to this quite interesting he said,

Why? It’s no wonder that TAFE is stuffed then.

It actually got me thinking a little bit about this whole situation and in particular the rhetoric from the education unions about how working conditions for TAFE people have been so badly eroded, are under attack and how TAFE teachers are so stressed because of it.  Now this is not a swipe at TAFE teachers in general as I know that the vast majority of people who work in the TAFE system, like those in the non-public system are hard-working, committed people, who just want to achieve the best outcomes they can for their students.  However I am legitimately wondering what is so stressful;

  • Being asked to be at work every day of the working week?
  • Not getting 10 weeks leave a year?
  • The possibility that you might be made redundant?
  • Having to teach more than 3 days a week?
  • Being asked to do some more work?

Outside of the TAFE system this is simply called having a job.  Now I know that I am being a little naughty here and little tongue in cheek, but I really do want to know what is so stressful.

One of the other stressors that has been raised is the concept of increased casualisation of the TAFE workforce.  Sensible business practice suggests that you only employ enough staff permanent staff to cover the standard ongoing workloads, if there is more work, or specific skills or knowledge that is required that is not currently in the organisations, you hire it in, usually on casual, or contract basis, this is what happens everywhere.  It is a waste of organisational resources to have people sitting around with nothing to do, while you are still paying them, just on the off-chance that you might need them 3 months down the track.  As a lot of you know I ave been around the L&D, VET and organisation learning scene for quite a while now in a variety of roles and often these roles were contract roles (3-24 months) to do specific jobs, using my specific skill set.  This is also the case for a substantial amount of the people I know who work in the sector, with the exception of a few who have had long-term enterprise level positions, I think for most of us our careers have been a mix of permanent, part-time, casual and contract work, it is the way the industry works except it seems in the TAFE sector.   It seems to me that the only part of the VET sector where there appears to be this concept that a role would be a job for life, is the TAFE sector.

So here is my question;

Why are TAFE teachers so stressed?

Is it just that they are used to a certain level of conditions and expectations, or is it that really they aren’t and it is just a beat up by the unions or are there some actual stressors outside what would be expected if you worked outside the TAFE system?  I don’t know, but I would love to know what everyone else thinks.

 

Anyway that’s just my opinion

Intersecting VET and L&D

In response to some discussions around models for the delivery of non-accredited training along side nationally accredited training and why L&D departments choose non-accredited training over accredited I thought that I might pull some of the threads of posts and bits and pieces together so that they were all in one place.

The Learning and Development and Vocational Education Disconnect

Australia has one of the best Vocational education systems in the world.  It is well generally well respected and provides both individuals and organisation with nationally accredited outcomes and qualifications, which are transportable across industry and provide a mark of competence against a defined set of criteria.

So why then do organisations make choices like these?

  1. $3000 for a Prince2 Course over $3000 for a Certificate IV in Project Management
  2. $250,000 for the C.A.R.E program as opposed to a Certificate IV in Child, Youth and Family Intervention.

This paper will look at the reasons behind the choices that are made by Learning and Development professionals working in organisation, the drivers and considerations and how that effects the usage of the Australian Vocational education system.  It will also consider the drivers from the VET sector, both at strategic and coal face levels that tend to perpetuate and reinforce the decisions made by organisations.  The disconnection between these two sides of the equation will be evaluated and model developed which can assist both organisations and training providers to be better able to communicate and meet learning needs, both at an organisational and individual level.

In order to do this it will be first necessary to look at what motivate the purchasing decisions of organisations with respect to training.  What causes an organisation to choose one learning program over another, this is of particular interest when the price points of the various learning programs in question are often very similar.  In addition to the choice of program there will also be a discussion around the choosing of providers for the delivery of learning programs and how the choice of provider can affect the purchasing decision.  The purpose of training from both the organisation and the individual will also need to be considered.

Once the organisational side of the equation has been considered we will move to the provider or VET side and consider both the strategic and coal face positioning which tend to put the VET sector at odds with the need of industry and organisations.  In order to do this there will need to be a consideration of what is the purpose of training from the point of view of the VET sector and the business and funding models which have been adopted in the sector as this it will be seen, is one of the key issues in translating VET training into organisational learning. In addition issues around the pricing of programs, delivery methods, facilitator qualifications and experience, reputation and brand will also be considered as again all of these have the effect of creating a disconnection between needs of the organisation and VET sector.

With the disconnection considered and understood and the issues which cause it out in the open, the discussion can move to looking at a range of strategies, particularly from the Training organisation side of the equation which can assist to overcome this disconnection.  There will also be a limited discussion as to what could be done on the L&D side to assist in overcoming this disconnection, but as we will see this is a problem which is best address at the VET sector side of the equation as they possess a level of flexibility (even if they don’t know it) which can easily navigate creating a better connection.

Once all of this has been discussed a model will be presented which can assist all of the stakeholders involved in the process to better understand the part they play and to provide a framework upon which to build their own unique structures.

Issues for Learning and Development Staff

 

Organisational learning is an unwieldy beast at the best of times and the Learning and Development professionals who attempt to herd this group of cats are always looking for ways to meet the needs of the both the organisation and its staff.

So let us go back to the initial question that I posed right at the start.  Given that Australia has a robust and well respected vocational education system, why then do organisations make choices like these?

  1. $3000 for a Prince2 Course over $3000 for a Certificate IV in Project Management
  2. $250,000 for the C.A.R.E program as opposed to a Certificate IV in Child, Youth and Family Intervention.

If we consider the first example, why would an individual or an organisation choose to spend the same amount of money on a program that in its own words, simply provides a methodology for project management over a course which would provide them with the actual skills and knowledge needed to run a project?  In example two, why would an organisation spend a large sum of money of training that has been developed in another country, does not have rigorous assessment and competency standards attached to it and while used widely, is not considered to be the industry standard, rather it is just one model amongst a number of models and offers staff little transference of skills should they move to another organisation which does not utilise that model?

There is as would be expected not a single answer or factor that is behind choices like these however there are a number of commonalities which we can consider and address in order to ensure the best possible chance of connection between the two sectors.

The first and probably the most obvious reason or factor present in decisions like these, relates to timeframes.  Most L&D departments are under pressure to deliver programs in quite short timeframes, (Can I have that as a half day?) which I have explored in other works.  There is almost always a pressure from the business to ensure that staff are not taken ‘off the job’ for more time than is actually necessary.  In this way a program that runs for five consecutive days and then is finished may be preferable to a program that runs for 6-12 months even if it only runs one day a month.  The logistics around making staff available are easier for one off programs.  In a lot of cases particularly where the person is in direct client facing roles, other staff have to be moved around or rostered in order to allow for a staff member to go on a training course.  It is also often the case with VET training that there will be work that the staff member is required after the delivery of the program itself to meet the assessment criteria of the program.  This then in a significant number of cases leads to the staff member applying to have some of their work time allocated to completing their study which in turn puts addition time and resource pressure on the business manager.

The other time related factor which often comes into play here as well is that of the time commitment necessary from any managers, supervisors or team leaders involved with the staff who are undergoing training. With most professional development programs as opposed to national accredited programs there is little or no involvement needed from the supervisory staff of those undertaking training.  However this is in most cases not the same situation when we look at VET training.  There is almost always in the case of VET training a requirement of ‘on the job’ observation or training which needs to be undertaken with the staff members in question.  This is often further exacerbated where the manager or supervisors are not in the same workplace as the staff requiring supervision and observation and by the by the fact that often these activities have to happen on more than one occasion for each participant.

There is also the issue of the time involved for the individual L&D staff members, with professional development style programs there is often not a lot of additional work which they are required to undertake.  Again this is often not the case with VET training, in particular where the training program being delivered is not simply a generic program.  There is time spent consulting with the RTO around the content of the program, looking at what needs to contextualised to the particular business unit or units who are being trained, signing off on paperwork, which it of particular relevance where VET training is being delivered through a funding or subsidy program such as an apprenticeship or traineeship scheme.

Even if we just consider the issue of time it can be seen why a lot of organisations and L&D units would opt for short course professional development style programs, where the time and resource costs are quite low over nationally accredited training.

Learning and Development staff are often asked by the business what the Return on Investment (ROI) was for training that was delivered, either in terms of particular programs or as whole.  Unfortunately one of the things that RTO’s in general do not do particularly well, and we even see this at a national level is terms of the kinds of data that is collected, is evaluate their training well.  In fact it seems that the data that is often collected is often not the data that organisations are even interested in.  We find that completion rates data is collected almost all of the time, yet only 33% of organisations view it as being valuable data.  Yet we see that data around job and business impact is rarely collected but is rated as extremely valuable by organisations.

Often training providers in the professional development market have developed systems to make it as easy as possible for them to collect the kinds of data that organisations view as valuable and have large stores of this data which they can utilise to be able to show that there are (or appear to be) very solid business reasons in terms of ROI and other measures for an organisation to invest in their training programs.  When the collected by most RTO’s or even by the government through agencies such as NCVER is put against this data it is lacking and does not offer a compelling case for and organisation to choose VET training over professional development training.

The issue of data is one that also ties into another big issue which is that of brand and reputation.  If we consider Prince2 training, why would an organisation or an individual choose to spend $3000 on a Prince2 course when they could spend the same amount and get a certificate IV or even a diploma of project management through the Australian VET system?  One of the most powerful and significant reasons behind this choice is BRAND.  Prince2 is a powerful brand, it is an internationally recognised and accepted certification of knowledge of the Prince2 project management methodology.  It is a ‘requirement’ for employment in an ever-increasing range of government and public service positions, as well as in the private sector, so strong in fact is the brand that often experienced project managers with degree level study in the field, find it difficult to obtain roles without it. When we consider the Brand strength of VET against this background again it can be seen why organisation and individuals would choose Prince2 over VET.  Now while it may be true that the brand strength of individual providers or particular programs could be quite high, when faced with an initial choice about which program to choose the overall strength of the Prince2 brand overshadows the strength of the overall VET brand.  Add to this the issue that a lot of people in organisations and even in L&D departments do not understand the VET sector and how it works and are often confused by the rules and regulation, the choice seems even easier to make.

Given that L&D departments, even very large ones, are often both resource and finance poor in relative terms, one might think that offering a government subsidised training program or a program that came with financial incentives for the organisation itself, may well swing the pendulum back to the RTO side of the equation.  Unfortunately there are a number of reasons why this is not the case.  One of these is of course perception of value.  If something if free, incentivized or subsidised then there is always the possibility of it being seen as being less valuable, though of course this is not always the case.  This however is not the main reason here, the main problem is that of business or organizational fit and need.  When I was running an L&D department responsible for the delivery of training to more than 35,000 staff, it was not uncommon for me to receive between 3 and 10 phone calls a week from training providers, both RTO’s and not.  The difference between the two groups approach was very stark, in most cases the RTO lead with words around free training, government subsidies, and incentives for the organisation, essentially they were selling the money.  They were wanting me to buy the programs that they were funded to deliver now there is nothing wrong with that at all, except I was necessarily interested in putting staff through a whole Diploma of Management when all they really needed was a course on communications skills.  Now the approach from the other training organisations was more often than not the exact opposite.  They asked me what it was that our staff needed, what was the biggest issue we had and questions like that.  Also where they couldn’t meet the need that we had, they would point us in the direction of someone else who could rather than attempting to fix us into the box that they had already drawn.  The point is that for organisations in particular and even for a significant number of individuals it is about business need, it is about the skills and knowledge they require, it is not about the qualification.  Also and this is very much and organizational mindset but it also applies to individuals as well, they would rather spend the money to get exactly what they want, rather than get something that is not  exactly what they want but is free.

When we take all of these issues, in conjunction with the perception that VET programs are difficult at access administer and manage (whether it is true or not)  it is easy to see why both organisations and individuals might choose non-accredited professional development programs.

So why choose VET

So given all of the issues above why would an organisation choose to send its staff to a nationally accredited VET programs, what would prompt someone to choose a certificate IV in project management over a Prince2 Foundation program.  The answers are as you would expect fairly straightforward.

One of the most significant reasons for organisations choosing to have their staff undertake VET programs is the robustness of the system, particularly in terms of assessment of competence.  Unlike the vast majority of professional development programs which staff attend, accredited training has actual assessment which the student is required to undertake, which are then marked against standardised criteria to determine that persons competence.  This is particularly attractive to organisations who work in areas which could be considered to be high risk or where parts of the business deal in high risk areas.  Should something tragic occur within an organisation which results in the serious injury or death and the organisation needs to testify about the competence of its staff, being able to say that staff had undertaken nationally accredited and been deemed competent, is far more potent than saying that they attended a 2 day course with no assessment of competence.

Probably the next most significant reason for choosing a VET program is reputation, not the reputation of the VET brand in general, although the stronger the general VET brand is the better, but the reputation of the individual RTO and its relationship with the organisation.  Most managers and organisations and even L&D specialists have very little idea of who provides good training by just looking at a website, talking to a sales person, looking at government statistics or reading a brochure.  It is all really the same at that level there is no difference and everyone can claim to be the best at what they do.  If I had a dollar for every time someone had sent me an email or pick up the phone and asked me “So is this training course any good?” I would be a far richer man than I am.

Now if the program costs $50-$100, it’s a half a day and only one person is going the risk is not too great.  You could even use them as a test case, to evaluate the program and report back.  However, what it the training is $3000 per person or 250 staff want to do it.  That changes the ball game very rapidly, and as the spend goes from thousands to tens of thousands and sometimes even beyond the need for there to be something, other than just a certificate (even a nationally accredited one) becomes more and more important.

This is why reputation in the marketplace, connection and networks are so vitally important.  If you are just one of five people who rang the L&D person this week offering them free management training, there has got to be something that is going to separate you from the rest.  If there isn’t you are not going to get past the first phone call.

Part of building that reputation or making yourself stand out and be different is to do the other things that L&D people, managers and organisations want you to be able to do.

  1. Customisation, and
  2. Integration

Let’s look at customisation first.  A lot of the training providers talk endlessly about their ability to customise a program to meet the needs of an organisation.  How many of them actually do, I think unfortunately, or fortunately for those who do, not many.  Often customisation means nothing more than choosing different electives, although not too different or there might not be someone able to train them. Just changing electives however is not customisation, customisation is building the training program in such a way that it achieves the goals that the organisation wants.  It is about using their documents, their policies, their procedures.  It is about building a program that produces a participant who has the skill set that the organisation requires and is able to utilise them.  The complaint about this kind of customisation is that you still have to do what the training package says, they have to be assessed on the performance criteria.  That is true, but I don’t think that anyone ever said that that was all a program had to contain.  It doesn’t say anywhere in the packages that you cannot add additional information or assessment or training.  What it say is that this set of skills and knowledge, assessed against this set of performance criteria is the evidence that is required to deem this person competent in this Unit of Competency.  The other issue that is often bought up is where there is something in the performance criteria that for whatever reason the organisation doesn’t do or do completely differently.  An example of this is a unit of competency around strength based practice in support work and counselling.  There is a process mentioned in the performance criteria which while correct and used by a lot of practitioners, is probably not used, described differently, used differently, by equally many practitioners.  So (leaving aside questions whether or not the criteria should actually even be in the unit) what does customisation look like here for an organisation that doesn’t use it as to meet the performance criteria you can’t leave it out.  You simply do both and assess both, and tell the students that one is preferred method where they work now, but there are other organisations which prefer to use the other method.  Is it a little more work?  Yes, but it will also make the organisation much happier than saying well we have to teach them this method because that is what the training package says and then let them come up with a solution around how to train their staff in their preferred method.

Customisation is actually an enormous strength within the VET system as opposed to many of the other proprietary training programs that are out there, most of which can’t be changed and customised to suit particular circumstance, because the material is copyrighted and licensed and often the people delivering the training have no say in the content because of this and in order to meet the criteria of the provider that owns the program they have to do things in a particular way, over a particular number of hours or days.  Everything is tightly controlled.  This should not be taken to mean that we can and should ignore the rules of the VET sector, things like Volume of Learning, rules relating to assessment and evidence, however the space circumscribed by those rules allows us much more latitude to be able to develop and deliver a program that meets the needs of our clients than most licensed training would ever be able to do.

The other enormous strength of the VET system in Australia is its ability to integrate with what is already being delivered and done within an organisation as well as with training which comes from other sectors of the market, outside of VET.  This is because for the most part the Australian VET system is content free, it does not worry where your knowledge comes from or how you acquire it, it is simply concerned with a student’s ability to meet the demands of the performance criteria.  This makes it extremely flexible and able to integrate into a wide variety organisational training plans and structures.

The concept of how integration works is quite simple.  It relies however on combining what I said above, that it doesn’t matter to the VET system where you learnt something, just that you can show that you’re competent and the fact that L&D departments are going to run non-VET training for their staff.  In fact in most organisations the amount of non-VET training which is run far outweighs the amount of accredited training that is delivered.

So if we look again at the example of the community services organisation which is utilising an overseas training product to ensure their staff have the skills and knowledge that they feel they need to have.  Now at a very basic level we can take the training product in question and whatever assessments form part of it (if any) and map this information across to for example a Diploma of Child, Youth and Family Intervention.  Now certainly we may need to add additional assessment pieces, including things such as workplace observations in order to ensure that we have enough evidence of competence to meet the requirements of the training package.  From there staff can go through the non-VET training just as they would have previously, undertake the additional assessment tasks which are necessary and any other work and assessment which may be necessary and then at the end of the process not only have they successfully completed the training the organisation requires, they have obtained a nationally accredited outcome from that training as well. This is of course a win from everyone who is involved in the process.  The staff get a transportable, recognisable qualification, the organisation gets it staff trained in the program that they require and the RTO gets business that it would not have otherwise got.

This concept of integration can be taken much further however.  Rather than simply looking at the outcomes of any particular course or program we can look at the overall picture of training within the organisation and create a model of delivery which further improves the outcomes of process.

So what is the model?  Below is an example of how the concept can work within a community services organisation.

2015-02-23_113932

 

So how does this all work?  All staff at all levels of the organisation go through a standard general induction, the standard who we are and what we do style program.  Once that is completed each business unit then has a separate induction program specific to their own needs and training requirements.  A small number of Units of competency can be built in at this level, the completion of which along with the rest of the induction program can be linked to the probation periods and extensions.  Once the induction training is completed there will be a set of training programs that everyone in the organisation will be expected to undertake, from generic programs  like Fire safety and Workplace health and safety to more organisationally focussed program such as in this case, mental health awareness and strength based practice. Alongside this training there will also be business unit specific training which is also required, a disability support worker for example would need behavioural awareness training, and where as a senior manager might be put through a more rigorous financial accountability program.  There will then be a range of programs delivered by and for the organisation which are available to all members of staff, these might be things like communication skills, crisis intervention skills, computer skills, and a range of other programs.  Once staff have completed all of the mandatory programs (both generic and unit specific) they can then undertake any of the training available within any policy constraints put in place by the organisation.

So all that has happened here is that the organisation and any associated training providers have simply delivered the training that they would have normally needed to deliver.  However if the RTO (be it internal or external) has mapped all of the training being delivered and looked at the assessments and what gaps are needed to be filled in order to meet the requirements of training package, what has actually happened is that the staff member has progressed quite a long way towards a qualification.  Now they may need to do some additional assessment work, on the job training or skills observations by their managers and supervisors, but they will, if they wish and this system seems to work best if it is voluntary for any extensions over what is mandatory, have accumulated a group of Units of competency.  From here the staff member can sit down with the RTO, their manager and anyone else who may have relevant input look at the range of qualifications that the units they currently have could lead them to and what they need to do to achieve them.  What this means for the staff member is that they may be able to achieve a number of qualifications, rather than just one, by doing a much smaller amount of additional work.  This also provides both the organisation and the staff member with a little bit more flexibility in terms of talent and career development options as well.  Someone who is moving towards a management track can be encouraged to take more management based units to fill out their qualification, rather than practice based units which might be more applicable for a frontline worker.

There are a number of very useful things which happen within this system (particularly when any additional assessment or learning is made voluntary)

  • organisational training can remain the same, additional assessment are simply plugged in for those staff who wish accredited outcomes
  • staff with existing qualifications do not need to do additional assessment over and above what is organisationally required
  • provides flexibility in the talent management pipeline
  • allows staff flexibility in terms of qualifications and training
  • Reduces the cost of delivery and the time off work costs associated with accredited training.

A more generic example of the model can be seen below.

pathway

 

Now admittedly in order to make this sort of model work effectively there needs to be very close collaboration between all of the stakeholders in the process, particularly the RTO and the L&D staff.  However, once implemented a system like this delivers a wide range of outcomes for everyone involved.  The adoption of a system such as this allows for all of the training both informal and formal that is undertaken by staff and delivered by the organisation to be utilised towards a qualification or set of units of competency.

 

Challenges for VET providers

There are a number of challenges which exist in trying to intersect the needs of L&D with the needs of VET providers and unfortunately a lot of these challenges relate to the mindset of the people involved on the VET side of the equation.  As I have suggested earlier one of the problems is that the VET sector often thinks in terms of Qualifications and what is funded and what is not and try and sell the qualification they think might be the best fit, or more often than not the qualification that they have on their scope rather than providing what it is that the business needs.  So the question that VET providers need to ask themselves is a simple one ‘Are you the same as the last guy?’

Ask yourself this, ‘Are you just another provider delivering Management, Community Services, Hospitality, construction or some other set of qualifications? Are you actually doing something different or are your programs, approach, materials and delivery just the same as the RTO or TAFE down the road?  If they are than you might have a problem.  If your selling point is price, or that the training is free or heavily subsidised then you might have a problem as well, simply because you are not, in most cases the only choice out there that organisations have.

  • What is it that you do that is actually different from the RTO down the road?
  • What is it that you do exceptionally well?
  • What are the Big, Brand Ready skills of your people?

Providers also need to look at what they are ‘selling’ and how it is packaged.  Are you the fifth person this week who is going to talk about the Diploma of Management, or the first person to talk about your customisable leadership and management development program?  Here is an example of what the right branding and wording can do for a program.

Boring – Community Sector team leadership skill set

  • Long winded and difficult to get buy in for because no one knows what it means
  • Low price point due the sector always claiming to have insufficient money
  • Low numbers of attendees

Rebranded – Health Leaders Program

  • Partnered with Gym (they provide the healthy)
  • Accredited outcomes are optional, participants choose to be assessed
  • Marketed the skill and knowledge outcomes not the unit outcomes
  • Strong Brand – ‘Strong – Skilled – Successful
  • Much higher price point (claims of having no money disappeared)
  • A tailored experience for all participants and organisations
  • Extension of market to outside of community services
  • Much higher attendee numbers

A few simple changes and a realignment of thinking took the program from one which had an intake of about 30 participants per year at about $695 per participant to one which enrolled 160 participants last year at an average price point of $3260 per participant.  All of this because it was targeted at a perceived need for organisations rather than as simply an accredited program.

Now I am not suggesting that rebranding and repackaging something is always going to have this effect or that this kind of process is appropriate for everything and every kind of program it does being to point out something important.  There is an old saying that comes from the world of sales which is

Sell the Sizzle not the Steak

Remember the steak is the qualification or accredited outcome, the sizzle however is why it is important to the organisation or individual.  The other point to be made here is that cost and subsidies are often less important that organisational need and fit.  So what is the sizzle and what isn’t

The Sizzle isn’t;

  • We put 20 staff through a Certificate IV in Frontline management;
  • All of our support staff have a Diploma of Counselling; or
  • 75% of our managers have completed a Certificate IV in Project Management.

Why aren’t these the sizzle?  Well because whoever has paid for this is likely to ask and expect answers to things like;

  • What is our percentage increase in sales as a result of that program;
  • Have we seen a decrease in client behavioural issues;
  • Good, so we have seen a reduction in cost overruns and are meeting project deadlines?

So don’t start by telling L&D people what qualifications you offer or what subsidies are available, ask them instead what their biggest issue is right now and show them how you can solve it.  However, there is an important addendum to this and that is if you can’t solve it and solve it well – tell them and walk away, unless you know someone else who you know can solve it.  Remember if you hand them off to someone who you know and trust to help them, they will remember you both.

What is Industry Currency?

If a person with a Certificate IV in Training and assessment had not delivered any training for say 2 years, would we consider them to have industry currency?

Why am I asking this question?  Well because the answer that we give has, I think, profound effects on what we should consider industry currency to be in the VET sector.  What if while they had not delivered any training, they had attended two training conferences each year, for example the AITD conference and the VELG conference, would we consider them to be current then?  Now when we start to extend this thinking and ask questions about what industry currency might mean in other sectors the issues start to become obvious.

Take a person who is training a Certificate III in plumbing, who has been a trainer for say 5 years, but who hasn’t actually picked up their tools and done actual work in the industry since they became a trainer.  Are they current?  This of course can be applied to all of the various parts of the VET sector, be it community services, trades, business it doesn’t matter the issue of industry currency is significant, because how can someone train a student in the latest practices and how they are utilised and applied unless they know these things themselves because particularly in some areas, while having the knowledge of how to do something is great, the actual application of that can be more challenging particularly in real work situations.

So what do I think industry currency is, well lets start with what I don’t think it is.  I don’t think going to a couple of conferences or attending a webinar or a course is satisfactory, neither do I think that being a member of an industry association (unless continuing membership is through a CPD process) makes the grade either.  I certainly think they are a start and for someone who has only just moved away from working in their industry to becoming a trainer, this might be enough for a little while, but the longer it has been since a person has actually worked in the sector in which they are training, the less I think these sorts of activities count as valid examples of industry currency.  If you have been a trainer for 10 years and haven’t work in your sector in that time, I struggle to see how you might still be competent.

One of the key components of industry currency for me, and one which I see is often missed is actually going back and working in the industry again, getting a feel for it and the changes around how things are done.  It is easy I think, for us as trainers to get somewhat comfortable in teaching what we know and how we did things, but in a lot a sectors now, best practice, applications, processes change rapidly and while yes we can gain knowledge of these things through seminars, courses and conferences as I said above, sometimes there is a significant difference between the knowledge and the application of that knowledge in an actual working environment.  To give a personal example, I used to do a lot of training in the area of enterprise level applications, particularly in the project and contract management space.  Now it as been 5  or more years since I actually worked in that space at the coal face of project management and the enterprise systems that support billion dollar projects.  Now I have kept up with the literature, attended the odd conference, still possess all the relevant qualifications, played with new products as they have been released and the like.  However I would not and have not for a number of years now considered myself to have industry currency and it would in my opinion take me a significant amount of time to get that currency back.  Why, the simple reason is that I don’t work in that industry any more, I am not immersed in the how and the why of things every day.

Over the past few years I have been lucky enough to be involved with training providers who have been either part of organisations delivering services in a particular sector or who had very tight links to organisations who do, which has given an insight into what real industry currency looks like.  It looks like staff who not only work as trainers but also as professionals in the industry (maybe only once a fortnight or once a month, but still actual work with real clients).  It is being embedded in the sector that they work in, seeing and interacting with clients every day they are in and around the office, whether they are working as trainers or as industry professionals.  It is strong links to the provision of services and how that is achieved; currently for example, the general manager of our disability and mental health services sits in the office next to me and almost every morning we sit in our outdoor area, have a coffee and talk about what is happening in each of our areas and across the sector, which provides both of us with insights, information and actual real world examples of a range of issues which we probably would not get if we weren’t so connected.  In previous roles my counselling trainers either volunteered on crisis phone lines or work directly with clients face to face or both, disability trainers worked with people with disability and youth work trainers were youth workers.  Everyone was essentially an industry professional first, even the staff who had been trainers for 20 years.

Now I acknowledge that for these kinds of organisationally embedded training providers it is perhaps easier to achieve this level of industry involvement, engagement and currency and that for a TAFE or a private RTO where they are not tightly part of an organisation, achieving this may be more difficult, but we have to do better than thinking that a couple of conferences and some PD count for currency.  If you haven’t done actual work in the sector you are training people in more than 2 years I personally think you probably don’t have currency.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

Paul Can be contacted through

Rasmussen Learning Solutions or Spectrum Training

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