Higher level teaching degrees and VET

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway that’s just my opinion.


NDIS, workforce planning and VET

I have been thinking a lot recently about the roll out of the NDIS across Queensland and the rest of the country and I have been to a lot of forums and discussions about how the community sector is going to find, and more importantly train, the 19,000+ workers in Queensland alone which estimates are suggesting will be needed over the next 5 years to accommodate the new system.  Apart from the sheer numbers of people that will need to be found and trained to be able to work in the sector, there are what appears to be a range of other issues floating around in relation to this workforce.

One of the problems for the community services sector has been that progression and advancement in terms of job roles, is virtually non-existent.  We talk a lot about upskilling staff and giving the skills to move into management and supervisory positions but the real truth is that with the vast majority of roles being at that coal face, support work level the chances of advancement are for most people is quite small regardless of the levels of qualifications which are held by the person and I only see this as getting worse not better.  There has also been a lot of talk and discussion around the need to professionalise the sector and make sure that the training outcomes for participants at any level are of high quality so that there are skilled staff available to meet the increasing need for staff.  It is my opinion, which I have to say is contrary to the views which are being widely spoken about, that rather than seeing more professionalism and more opportunity for staff to change roles and advance we will actually less.  The main single reason for this is the way in which the NDIS system itself is structured.  We will in my opinion see more and more staff employed for single functions rather than as general support workers in a lot of cases.  We will see staff employed as cleaners for example, whose sole role will be to assist clients with their general domestic duties around the house.  We will see staff employed solely as drivers, personal care assistants, community access workers, and the like.  Whereas at least some if not all of these roles could have been undertaken by a single support worker in a lot of instances we will see these roles split out and made roles themselves.  We will see this because it makes economic and business sense, it will be easier, and more effective in terms of both man power and costs for both niche and large multi channel providers to have specialists in various areas rather than simply generalist support workers.  The problem with this of course is that it will further restrict movement of staff across job roles.

The next question which raises it head here then is what role VET should play in this, what qualifications should we be considering and how can we ensure quality of the provision of these services. As I have often said, I saw the massive proliferation of Diploma of Community services and Diploma of counselling courses delivered under the VET FEE Help system as for the most part significantly damaging to the sector.  It was damaging in a two main ways firstly a lot of the students who were undertaking these courses were obtaining, at least in my opinion quite low quality training which really did not prepare them for the realities of the sector.  Secondly, it was in my opinion the wrong qualification for most people who undertook it.  It was undertaken by a significant number of people who were sold on the idea that it would be a pathway into roles within the community sector and that is, in short, a lie.  Obtaining a role as a counselor with nothing more than a Diploma and very little actual experience is virtually impossible, as is obtaining a role as anything other than a support worker with a diploma of community services.  Getting a role as a support worker is probably actually easier with a certificate III or IV, because the units and the skills and knowledge taught are designed for that style of role, whereas those in the Diploma are generally not.  There is also the additional issue that in a significant number of cases employers pay higher rates of pay to people with a diploma rather than a certificate III which make people with diplomas even less attractive in the market place.  When we add to this the issue of funding, where the vast majority of entitlement style funding is aimed at the certificate III level as well, I think we will see significant issues in relation to how employers, providers and the governments will need to deal with the NDIS workforce.

What does this mean for VET providers.  One of the significant shifts I think, will again be the rise of skill sets around certain job roles within the sector.  If you require staff to undertake cleaning or driving roles, an employer will be better served by employing people with appropriate skills and qualifications in that particular area and then providing them with skill sets to meet sector needs.  There will I think also be a market for somewhat niche certificate III qualifications where electives and imported units are utilised to formulate qualifications for very specific job roles. Someone whose primary role was going to be transportation could have a fairly standard certificate III in individual support but the inclusion of something like TLIC3011 – Transport passengers with disabilities (a standard elective) transforms it into a quite specialised qualification.  This is not only of use to employers seeking to train new staff for specific job roles, but may also make a graduate of a certificate III program more employable as they have a specific skill which may be in demand.

One thing I know for certain, the workforce requirements of the NDIS, and the reaction of various governments to this requirement is going to have a massive effect on the way in which community sector qualifications are delivered, funded and utilised.

Anyway that’s just my opinioni.

The Future of Learning and its effect on VET

I thought I might take a little bit of a different tack with my post this week and do some crystal ball gazing and look to the future and how technology is going to effect the way in which we learn and then how this might effect the kinds of learning that make up the VET arena.

Late in 2014 I wrote a couple of pieces on rapid skill acquisition and interface learning, a cyberpunk notion of simply jacking any skills or knowledge directly into our brains through some kind of brain/machine interface.  Imagine basically plugging a small usb stick into your skull and downloading all the skills, knowledge and physicality of say, how to service your car, and then when you were finished simply deleting it until you needed to utilise it again.  I suggested that in essence places such as YouTube already provide us with some of this by enabling us to watch how to do some specific thing, in order so that we might be able to replicate that skill ourselves for that specific task, without having to learn all of the skills and knowledge which sit around it.

Since then we have seen the rise of augmented technologies, Virtual reality, Artificial intelligence, machine learning and even robots.  Now while most of these new technologies are only being tinkered with in terms of their learning potential and despite what a number of pundits claim, will not reach their true potential in terms of how people learn and deliver learning for quite a few years yet, they will without doubt irrevocably change what human learning looks like in the future.

Augmented reality allows anyone with a smart phone to point it at an object and receive all of the information and bite sized learning objects they require in order to what ever tasks are associated with the object in question.  A care worker who is unsure of how to operate a new patient lift, simply points their phone at the lift and instantly they receive detailed instructions in how to operate it.

Virtual reality reality and robotics present a future where participants can be trained in fully immersive environments, interacting with the world around them as if it was real.  Add to this an AI controlled population (NPCs in gaming terms) with the ability to react in both expected and random ways to ensure that those undertaking training encounter a full range of circumstances and variations.

Online learning and Mooc’s facilitated, moderated and assessed by AI ‘teachers’ with student support and assistance handled by AI chatbots.  In fact it is more than possible to imagine an entire student experience from their first contact through to their graduation and issuance of certifications without the student at any point having to interact with, in real life (IRL), another person. Enrollments can already be handled by smart website interfaces, the addition of AI chatbots to lead the potential student through the process seems a very small step away.  Access to systems and learning platforms is already automated in most providers at least to some extent, with in a lot of cases significant amounts of communication regarding the course, content and assessments being handled through email.   Shared virtual reality simulations, where students and NPCs interact with both the environment and themselves, facilitated and moderated by an avatar of the AI controlling the entire system, utilising natural language processing based on machine learning to interact with students, conduct, collate and ‘mark’ various assessment pieces both from within the simulation and external to it.

So where do directions like this leave Vocational education, apprenticeships and the other educational activities we utilise currently?  Well if you talk about there always needing to be experts, sme’s and people to provide the system with information, or that there needs to be practical on the job components or that there will always be a need for face to face human interaction you are unfortunately, most likely wrong.  While we won’t see these things happening over night, we will see practical components, which were usually done on the job, moved to complex virtual simulations, why?  Well to give you an example staff working in the community sector, even with at risk clients, may go their entire working careers, let alone their on the job training phase without ever encountering a person at immediate risk of suicide and never know until the moment happens how they will react.  Complex simulations populated by AI characters, provide  a safe environment for staff to encounter situations which are rare in the workplace.  Working on car engines, dealing with electricity, building houses, all will be able to be simulated through virtual reality in such a way as to mimic the actions in the real world.  Simple economics are already moving many providers to more automated enrollment systems and as the levels of complex analysis and response available through ‘bots’ and other systems increases more and more of these processes can and will be successfully automated.

But then if other predictions are true and they probably are a vast array of the jobs that we currently train people for in this sector won’t exist in the very near future.  However there seems as with a range of other industries there may also be niches available to capitalise on gaps left by all of this progress.  Highly skilled teachers and trainers could impart their long held and well developed skills, knowledge and wisdom through ‘Artisan’ face to face models to those who wished that they or their children received their education in a ‘tradition’ environment, all of course for a substantial additional cost. I can see the advertising now.

Anyway that’s just what I think



The business of vocational education – revenue streams and models

So today I really wanted to talk about some more specific items rather than theoretical positions.  What is often called where the rubber hits the road, and the obvious place to start is around the idea of revenue streams and business models.

Before I go any further I want to reiterate something I have said many times before.  There is always a lot of discussion around the topic of the cost of education, which is often framed by the statement ‘ education should be free.’  Now while I would hold it as a fairly self evident truth that education is a social good and that the ability of people to access quality educational outcomes should not by necessity be contingent on their own personal ability to pay for those outcomes, what is sometimes lost or can perhaps mislead people when this statement is used is the undeniable fact that there is always a cost associated with the delivery of these outcomes.  Someone, either the government, an organisation, an employer or an individual has to pay for the costs associated with the delivery of educational outcomes.  So with that said let’s move on.

Revenue streams

Realistically when we look at revenue streams within the delivery of vocational education (and I would argue education in general) there are only two types.  I will look at both of these types and the issues and advantages they have and then move onto the kinds of models which we have seen grow from these streams.

Government supported.

Those with a keen eye will notice I have used the term government supported rather than government funded in the title of this section.  The reason for this is simple.  In terms of what I am talking about here I want to include not just direct funding, say through entitlement programs or apprenticeships, but also also things like VET FEE Help, which is often considered fee for service, and targeted or one off government funded programs which have training as a component.  The reason for this is simple there is a common denominator across all government supported training, this denominator is the simple fact that how this funding is allocated, its level and even it very existence is utterly at the whim of government.   We need look no further than this year to see the issues which reliance on government supported revenue streams can have.  Changes to models in most of the states have irrevocably altered the landscape, with particularly in Victoria a significant number of providers either struggling or leaving the market because their funding contracts were not renewed.  We are in fact seeing the ramifications of removal of funding (albeit for different reasons) from a provider currently playing out with Dawkins/Vocation debacle.  The freezing of VFH payments at 2015 levels also had a similar effect where even quality providers have struggled to maintain their businesses as a result of the changes.  So given these issues what are the advantages to delivering government support training?  Often the big sell shall we say, is enrollments. people, and by people I mean potential students seem more likely or willing to enroll in these sorts of programs.  There is a consumer attraction operating for providers who are able to offer government subsidised positions in training courses.

Fee for service.

For the sake of this discussion I am going to take fee for service training to be any training for which there is not some component of government support.  This would therefore be where an individual, organisation or employer directly contracts or pays a provider for the delivery of an educational outcome.  It is an interesting side note I think that in the world of organisational learning and development fee for service training is the norm rather than government supported training.  There is a view, quite strongly held by some that fee for service training is the more secure and safe basis on which to build a training business. Now while I do not by necessity disagree with this as it is clear that there are definite advantages to fee for service training there are also still significant risks.  While the advantages are things such as generally higher levels of revenue, less time spent on reporting and other administrative activities and in general more flexibility in terms of the range of qualifications which can be delivered, it needs to be remembered that as with supported training, while it is less susceptible to the vagaries of government it is susceptible to the vagaries of business, particularly where providers deal with only thin segments of the market or where the market is highly competitive.  I know of a number of companies who were exposed heavily to particular market segments, one to the mining sector and one to government who had 60-90% of their business disappear overnight as a result of the GFC.  In one case the business has survived but is now a much smaller entity than it once was and in the other they have folded altogether.

Business Models

So with these revenue streams in mind we can then look at the various business models that have arisen as a result of them which will then eventually allow us to consider which of these models or others might be the most ethical and sustainable.

Rapid growth model (The VET FEE Help Model)

This type of business model exploded over the last few years since the introduction of VET FEE Help driven by government support, the ability to charge significantly higher prices due to that support, commencement payments and significant enrollment numbers driven by brokerage.  This perfect storm created an environment where an expansionist business model could thrive in a way that it had not been previously able to.  Organisations enrolled large numbers of students, which generated significant commencement payments from the government supported program (VFH) took that money, a significant portion of which technically should have been used to support the students learning experience and ensure that educational outcomes were met, and ploughed it into the expansion of the business, primarily in order to increase the size of the business to be able to then enroll more students, to access more payments and further expand.

Now while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this model or approach, it is contingent on the actual delivery of the education outcomes which are part and parcel of the government support. I think most people still feel the anger and the ramifications which followed on from when it was discovered that in some cases these rapid growth model businesses were producing completions rates in the low single digits

Funded delivery model

This is a model which has been adopted in a number of areas, one area where it has and is used a lot is in the community services sector and in particular by not for profit organisations.  This is a model which seeks to develop a scope of delivery which maximises the access the provider has to programs which attract direct government funding. (rather than support) The costs associated with a student entering the course are kept as low as possible, which then allows, hopefully, volume of enrollments across the range of courses to offset the costs associated with delivery.  Given that this model is popular within the NFP sector the drive for profitability is generally less and there is also usually lower overheads produced by thinner staffing models and often training being part of a larger business.  Under for profit models however, as with the Rapid growth model, there is a need to continue to generate enrollments across the suite of programs offered in order to maintain both sustainability and profitability.  It is in general difficult for providers delivering under these models to expand without external or organisation investment, or through debt raising.

Fee for service niche model

A significant number of providers in the fee for service market apply a niche market model to their delivery in order to limit costs and to enable a targeted spend in terms of marketing and positioning.  This model often sits at both the top and bottom end of the market in terms of qualification level with providers tending to either deliver high level qualifications or their own accredited courses where while numbers are small, associated fees can be quite large due to low competition.  Or at the other end they tend to deliver low level (often short course programs like white card, RSA or First Aid) where while competition may be significant, volume is very large and recurring, so that even a small margin on low cost programs multiplies out to significant revenue.

Everything to everyone model (The public provision model)

This is a model where the provider has a massively large scope, spanning foundational and certificate I programs through to very high level programs, across multiple training packages, with the vision shall we say of being able to cater for the needs of any student regardless of their choices in terms of study.  While the other models I have spoken about above generally apply to the non-public side of the education market this model is or has been the model in which the public provider has operated also since the beginning.  It is important however, as I said early on in these pieces that regardless of models we should expect our public providers to operate as businesses, at least with regards to providing the best possible ROI on investment and value for money in terms of costs of delivery, given that by in large most public providers would cease to be able to operate without the support they receive from their respect government owners.  Problematically given that they are owned by various governments essentially they are seen as having to provide services across markets and areas where there is little or no chance of breaking even let alone creating even a small profit margin.  There is significant tension between the ability of these providers to naintain cost effective delivery and ROI and the demands placed upon them by their governments.  Of course the argument is that the purpose of a public provider is to ensure that services are available in markets where without significant government support such provision of services could not occur.  Additionally it is also argued that often there are other social assistance requirements which public providers have, which increase the tension between their delivery of programs and the costs associated with the delivery of those programs, particularly, though not limited to administration costs, which if we look at various reports and budget submissions may be as high as 60 cents in every dollar of funding in some cases.

It is important to note that I have here only covered, in broad strokes some of the models which exist in the sector, primarily to see how streams of revenue impact upon the kinds of models of delivery which exist and how those models in turn utilise the revenue streams on which they are most focused.


How did you get here? How did you become a trainer?

So while reading through some LinkedIn posts this morning I came across a post on how trainers are recruited, what people looked for and the like.  There was also a number of people who commented that they were having difficulty finding work in the Learning Sector, because they didn’t have enough experience, but they couldn’t find anywhere to get experience.  One of the people who posted asked how people started their career in training or learning or whatever you want to call this space in which we work which prompted me to think about a couple of things.  Firstly how I got started in this industry and secondly the differences for people trying to get into this industry today.  So first off I thought I would share my story about how I got here and then look at how things are different today.

I started in the sales and motivational training arena many, many years ago with a large financial services and insurance brokerage and then moved through a range of HR/L&D roles all with differing levels of actual training delivery, across a range of employers and industries.  A lot of it was contract work or startup work (before startups were all tech and cool).  I work in cleaning, manufacturing and distribution, project management and IT.   I had a couple of short stints with TAFE in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, while I was finishing up some university study and after having a break from working on a range of large projects including the Sydney Olympics.  Once university was wrapped up and my head had got over the horror of the Olympics, I went on higher level degree work and teaching at university. After that I went back to training, mostly non-accredited, where I was training between 1500 and 3000 people a year and managing a team of trainers, and at the same time did an RTO initial registration and start-up with the organisation I was working with.  I then moved into enterprise level L&D in government, managing accredited and non-accredited training across a range of teams.  From there I moved to the same kind of roles in the not for profit and community services sector, though the connection with VET was much more pronounced.  All throughout this though and even now I still train, in some roles there was a lot, in others not much, and now as with the last couple of jobs, I have the luxury of training pretty much only when I want to actually train.

I had no qualifications when I started, but to be completely fair and honest, pretty much no one did (I fear I am giving away my age here a bit as well) as the BSZ only came into being towards the end of the 90’s and I only got that after a long argument about how stupid it was that I could teach at Uni but not a TAFE (Yes, yes I know there is a difference).  There was also way back then, less separation between L&D and HR, a lot more cross over of skills and way less specialisation, so it was much easier to move organisations or change roles.  There was also less unemployment it seemed, but you know rose-colored glasses and all of that.  So this all got me thinking about people trying to get into the adult post-secondary training/learning industry today and whether if I was starting out today a journey like mine would be possible or if the whole thing was far more complicated now.  The other thing I got to thinking about is how I hire people today to be trainers or L&D people and what my hiring practices meant to people who were trying to get a start.

A number of people have commented that they have found it difficult to get work in the industry, because while they have relevant qualification they don’t have experience, primarily experience in training and assessment and these people have legitimately asked well how do I get experience if no one will hire me.  This is I think particularly telling on the assessment side of the picture.  The only place were VET assessments are done, are in the VET sector, so where else are you going to get experience except in the sector you are trying to break into.  It is relatively easy to get experience in delivery of training or presentation skills, but experience in assessments is far more difficult to come by.  I have occasionally done deals with people, mostly ex students or people otherwise connected with the organisation around giving them experience in assessment work and training delivery, but only in cases where the skill set they had, was one that was useful or where we needed someone to meet a particular niche need.

I don’t necessarily pay a lot of attention to qualifications though when I am looking to hire a new trainer.  I have found over the years that unfortunately too often people who look good on paper unfortunately don’t stack up that well in the interview stage.  As part of the interview process I always insist that someone who is going to be in a training role, even if it is only a small part of the role, delivers a 15 minute presentation on a topic of their own choosing, first up, before the formal interview process begins and I am always stunned by how many people who look good on paper fail at this step.  Skills and attitude are way more important to me than qualifications, particularly TAE qualifications.  I can get you up to speed and am more than happy to invest the time to get you through you TAE properly if you are good at delivery and have the right set of other skills and the right attitude.  So what do I look for;

  1. Relevant, recent industry experience (if you have been a trainer for 10 years and haven’t had any real industry hands on experience in that time I am probably not going to hire you)
  2. Good front of room skills (you had better engage me in first 5 minutes of your presentation time)
  3. Great Communication skills
  4. A real willingness to work (don’t start asking me about how much time you spend in class vs how much assessment or things like that, because you will do the work that needs to be done, and if that means you spend a week or two doing nothing but delivering training that is how it will be)
  5. Some actual knowledge of the VET sector (if you don’t know the basics of how it works why are you even here)
  6. Qualifications (industry first and then Training)

And finally it will help if you know someone who I know or am aware of, because I am going to look at your LinkedIn profile (you had better have one) and if there is someone linking us in some way who I can ring and have a chat to about your skills then that will help a lot.  I don’t really trust references that much unless I know them.

Now I can see the people who were talking about not having experience thinking well I am never going to get a job, but think about what I am interested in.  I want you to have skills in the industry that you want to train in, good communication skills and a willingness to work and what sells me in the long run is your 15 minute presentation and whether you really are willing to work and trust me if you aren’t willing to work you won’t make you first 3 months.

Two things I say to people who want to be trainers or work in learning roles

  1. Figure out why you want to do this, what is it that drives you to be part of this profession
  2. Figure out what you are good at and just how good you are at it.

Why, because this profession isn’t for everyone, I have seen so many people over the years, come and go, struggle to find work, or be unhappy with their roles simply because they never figured these two things out.


Anyway that’s just my opinion.


Innovation, technology, automation and RTOs

Some of you may have notice that I have been talking a lot recently about financial viability and the RTO/VET sector and that the delivery of programs of learning are a business and the more we adopt business ideas and models around what we do the more sustainable we can make our organisations whether they be small or large.  So I wanted to continue in that same vein today but from a slightly different tack by looking at the idea of how innovation both in how the business of learning is run and innovation in how we deliver learning to students can have a marked and in some cases quite quick effect on overall viability.

Firstly lets look at the business side of the business, administration, management, compliance, finances all of the things that make it possible for an organisation to deliver its product or service in this case learning.  There are of course the simple things like how easy is your website for people to navigate and find the information that they need to make a decision.  Is it just as easy for a corporate L&D person or a manager who want to access training for their staff to find out what you do as it is for an individual?  Does your publicly available information even say that you work with organisations or is it all aimed at individuals? Does your website have the ability to capture information on visitors or the ability for them to sign up for a newsletter or the like so that they can be marketed to later? Can a student apply to enroll from your website?  These are simple things but they are also very important things that often are missed out by a business.

More and more these days we hear about automation of routine tasks and activities, but think about how many of the processes in your RTO are automated.  One of my friends who recently completed a course with a relatively well-known, but smaller provider, received their Learner Questionnaire in the mail, was somewhat confused that they couldn’t just do it online and wondered whether or not this was standard practice.  The moment a student completes their last unit of study a letter containing a link to the survey site we use (we don’t use surveymonkey we use a wonderful site called TrainingCheck) which holds an electronic copy of the questionable is automatically emailed out to them.  The same goes with welcome letters and requests for USI numbers automatic emails are generated by the RTO management system we use (Jobready) based on differing sets of criteria.  Now the vast majority of good quality RTO management systems have these functionalities in them but still there are organisations that don’t use or in some cases don’t even know they can do things like this.  But why is this sort of automation important?  Well because it frees up everyone involved in the process to do the tasks that actually generate the income which the organisation needs to remain viable.  The great thing about automation is that once you start to look at what you can do and how it might work you start to see a whole range of other things that can be partially or completely automated.   We have over time automated a large range of processes within the RTO both for students and for staff and trainers and in long run it makes everything much easier for everyone involved.

What about the money side of the business then, how is invoicing of students and the general finances of the RTO handled and who can and should have access to various bits of this information and when.  Not so long ago a worked for a large organisation whose entire financial management system (except for corporate credit cards to some extent) outside of the financial department itself was ‘paper based’.  There were forms for everything for generating an invoice to getting something paid for all of which had to be printed out (only a small number of the forms were actually editable) filled out, scanned and then emailed or posted to Finance and then they would use their system to deal with it.  Getting financial information just as difficult (in reality it was actually far more difficult) as only Finance had access to the Finance and if you wanted information you had to fill out a request and they would get it to you in a few days, as long is it wasn’t the last or first week of the month.  To be fair they did produce a report for all of the executive managers and directors for all of their various business units, but managers (those that didn’t report directly to a Director) had no visibility over how they were going on a day-to-day basis unless their managers and directors passed the information on.  Now I understand that the larger an organisation gets the more complex things like finance become, and the more difficult it sometimes becomes to interpret the information in financial reports and when this is coupled with issues of confidentiality, and delegations of authority that it can become a real problem waiting to happen.  However, the people who are actually responsible for whether or not your business is viable, should be able to have access, relatively easy access to the financial information they need to be able to make informed decisions about their business area.

So let’s then move away from the business side of things and have a look at the other side, the actual process and delivery of training and assessment.  It is important I think at this stage to point out that when I am talking about innovation and automation etc in this regard I am not talking about making a course shorter and calling it intensive or innovative, just to provide the organisation with the opportunity to get paid quicker.  What I am talking about here is actual real innovation which improves both the outcomes for all stakeholders.  I am still amazed by the number of providers who run term based or course based programs which have set enrollment and start dates and if you miss the start date you have to wait until the next course starts.  Why not instead structure the course around subject areas or units of competency and run a rolling set of workshops which people can just enroll into and commence whenever they want.  Yes it is a little more difficult to manage (particularly if you aren’t automating things) but you don’t lose students because they have to wait until they can start.  All of your material should be available in a range of formats as different people will prefer different formats for their learning and your systems should be able to cope with assessments in different formats as well.  Do you record your face to face sessions so that they can be viewed later or allow people to join in remotely using video conferencing software and programs?  Do you chat rooms and forums where students can get together without having to be in the same room and talk about the course and ask questions both of other students and the trainers?

Everyone talks about things like clustering and holistic assessment, but often what ends up happening is that students end up answering the same sorts of questions over and over again through a course and the assessor keeps marking them, because no one took the time to identify all of the similar questions and map properly across the whole qualification rather than just the unit.  Also as I have said before integrating assessment and training into what organisations are already delivering  and working closely with students work supervisors and making the forms they need to fill out as easy and straightforward as possible increases the amount of information you will receive and their willingness to assist you and the student.

Now I know some of you are going to look at this piece and say ‘yeah I know all of that’, but that isn’t the challenge here, we all know what we should be doing to make things work better and more smoothly, but let’s have a good look at what we are actually doing in practice, see what else we do and build on the good things we already have.


Anyway that’s just my opinion.


EduTech VET Leaders Congress – A Quick Roundup

So the EduTech VET leaders congress is over for 2015 and as most of you know I was the chair of the congress for the two-days.  So I thought for both those of you who were they are everyone else I might give a quick roundup of some of highlights and some of the more interesting discussions that came out of the congress.  One of the most interesting talks of the two days I think was Simon Breakspear’s talk on Wednesday morning on equipping VET teachers to harness digital technologies.  What particularly resonated with me was that just adding technology to a course or a program does nothing to help learning or completions, there has to be a purpose to the technology and it has to linked to the outcomes of the course.  We should always be asking ourselves how does this technology assist learner outcomes.

Also really interesting were the last two speakers on both days of the congress, who both talked about working with disadvantaged groups  of learners and the challenges associated with particularly building those basic level skills which are often missing for a lot of these clients.  Given that we do a lot of work with that client group, it was good to hear some of the solutions that others had come up with, particularly utilising video conferencing as means of delivering training to groups in different locations, having the facilitator in one location and the learner groups in other locations, so that they still get both the experience of working together as a group and the face to face facilitation model of delivery that is often really needed with these groups.

The other really interesting talk for me was Phil Loveder from NCVER talking about the future trends for the sector approaching 2020, as  lot of people at various streams of the conference said openly, between now and 2020 there is not going to be a lot significant changes it will be just a continuation of the directions we are currently heading.  It was also interesting to hear that the VET courses that currently have the most enrollments, community services, construction, retail, health are the same areas where there is going to be increasing demand as we approach 2020 , which seems to bode well for us to be able to meet the jobs needs in those areas.

The panel discussion on Tuesday where we discussed funding issues in the sector also raised a number of important issues, including on from Rory O’Brien about the difficulty that TAFE in NSW had had in adapting to the new Smart and Skilled program particularly around the reporting requirements required for payments to flow through under the scheme.  There was also quite a good discussion about the need to rethink entitlement lists of priority occupations as a means of funding, unless they were really actually tightly linked to job outcomes and needs and perhaps program style funding, which was designed to address particular needs either within participant groups, or within employment areas seemed in a lot of cases to produce better results, particularly where there were arbitrary limits put on the number of people who could receive training under various entitlement lists.  The point was made that it seems strange that given that something like the Certificate III in Disability and other community services qualifications were clearly an area where there would be significant growth and need for new, trained, employees in South Australia for example the Disability qualification  had only been assigned 200 entitlement places, while other programs were growth was already slowly had substantially more or unlimited places.

One of the things that overall we kept hearing through the two days though was that while there is going to be significant growth in online learning and delivery across the board (Craig Weiss in a recent talk suggested that by 2020 about 90% of all training would be being done online and Craig is right more often than not when it comes to these things), we need to understand why we are doing things online.  There needs to be a purpose to online delivery and it needs to link strongly to the learning outcomes that we want from the course.  Technology for technology’s sake doesn’t improve outcomes.

So if you are in or can get to Melbourne next year make sure you get along to EduTech 2016.


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