NSSC Position Paper – The Case for a New Vocational Education and Training System – Part One

The National Skills Standards Council today released their position paper on

‘Improving Vocational Education and Training – The case for a new system’

and it makes some interesting reading across the board.  I am going to take some time to look at various aspects of the position and offer some commentary.  the position paper recognises that “Damage to the reputation of Australian vocational education and training and national recognised qualifications represents a significant threat to Australia’s prosperity and growth‘ and that this problem has 3 contributing factors:

  • Inconsistent quality of training and assessment of RTOs, undermining the integrity and value of vocational qualifications held by all individual learners and employees.
  • Lack of comparable and reliable publicly available information regarding an RTO and its performance upon which learners, employers and governments can make decisions regarding training.
  • Significant diversification, growth and change in the provision of vocational education and training evolving and reacting to a changing economy and market. In particular the regulatory framework needs to be updated to reduce unnecessary regulation and reflect the move towards various forms of learning entitlements or subsidies and extensive and growing competition across the diverse provider cohort. 

In response to the problem and the factors contributing to it the NSSC considered 3 options, namely;

  1. retaining the status quo
  2. making minimal change by realigning the AQTF with the NVR Quality Framework
  3. reforming the system with stronger, clearer, and targeted standards. 

The first option ‘retaining the status quo, is seen and I believe correctly as an unsustainable option, having multiple regulators and standards brings only inconsistency and confusion, not only to the industry, but to consumers both individual and organisational. The other issue and one which I have been banging the drum about for a while, is that without robust regulation around the quality of training that is being delivered and assessed confidence in the system is eroded, RTO’s providing quality training (with longer timeframes to achieve competence) will be forced out of the industry as a result of weekend wonder courses, which are done on a much cheaper basis both in money and time.  It will also increase the cost to employers who rather than being about to trust that new staff with a particular qualification will have a certain level of knowledge, will need to test and retrain staff just to get them to a basic level of competence.

Under Option 2, the AQTF would be amended to align with the NVR legislative instruments. This would involve: minor changes to the wording of the AQTF; and the separation of the AQTF into different standards documents that directly align to the NVR legislative instruments.  This option as with option one, and again I agree with the NSSC paper, seems not to provide any of the certainty that the industry needs in order to be able to flourish and to ensure that there is confidence in student outcomes, both for individuals and organisations and that quality of training is maintained.  The other issue with this option, which is raised by the paper, is that it is likely to increase operating costs for RTO’s  without providing any real benefits.

Option 3: Australian Vocational Qualification System – NSSC’s recommended option.  Before we go any further and start to look at the option itself and what it contains, I for one agree that there needs to be substantive change to the current system and that there needs to be a realignment of the way we think about training and the organisations that deliver it.  Now lets look at what is being suggested.  I think from a position point of view the following statement from the council sets the scene nicely for what comes after,

The Council believes that all training providers that issue nationally recognised vocational qualifications must perform to high standards. The Council acknowledges that while many RTOs not only comply with the current standards but exceed them, there are too many examples of RTOs that issue nationally recognised vocational qualifications that are not consistently meeting the standards and are not valued by employers. For example, it was these practices that led the Productivity Commission, researching into the delivery of the Certificate IV in Aged Care to conclude that there are some registered training organisations that are not delivering accredited courses to the standard required. 

The New Australian Vocational Qualification System

Licensed Training Organisations – the NSSC proposes that training organisations which issue vocational qualifications be called ‘Licensed Training Organisations’, and through regulation be awarded a licence to issue vocational qualifications for up to five years. This shift from registration recognises that providers are afforded the right and privilege of issuing vocational qualifications that are nationally recognised and which are essentially developed for and the property of all Ministers responsible for skills and employment, on behalf of all Australians.Regardless of the form, purpose or ownership structure of the provider, all LTOs issued a licence under the new AVQS must comply with the regulatory standards hereafter called the ‘AVQS Quality Framework’. As defined below, the standards applied under the new system will set a higher bar for providers issuing vocational qualifications, raising the quality of training and assessment and better ensuring the integrity of the qualifications issued to individuals. 

I am not sure what changing the name actually achieves here, but the concept behind it, that of it being a right and a privilege to issue vocational qualification is right headed.  For too long it has seems like this industry (or at least significant parts of it and I know there are plenty of people out there for whom this in not the major driver, but as an industry we need to be clear about the purpose) is driven by money, mostly government funding.  One thing that I think will have a significant impact on this vision and how it plays out is the recommendation for a single set of standards, which makes no differentiation between RTO’s applying for registration and those already registered.

The existing standards for providers are currently split into standards for initial registration and standards for continuing registration; with the AQTF further split between conditions and standards. The NSSC proposes that a single set of standards, with no conditions, applying to providers that have been registered for a period of time as well as new entrants to the training system. This means that the ‘bar’ for entry is equally as high for a new LTO as for a practising one, with every learner able to expect quality learning regardless of how long their LTO has been licensed.

I really like this idea and have never understood why there was a difference between registration and re-registration and a single set of standards Australia wide, applied to all RTO’s no matter whether they are public, private, or enterprise or whatever WILL make running and administering and RTO much simpler in the long run.  Clarity around standards will make a difference.

So I am going to leave it here for today, tomorrow I am going to look at the first four of the actual standards that the NSSC have produced, those relating to training and assessment, some of which worry me a little, but most of which I think are long overdue.

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