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.

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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.

A Federal system for Vocational Education?

I for one have been for a long time now a proponent of the Federal government being in charge of Vocation Education in Australia, so as you might expect I have reacted quite well to the news recently that there seems to be once again support for this notion both Federally and by the States.  As I said I have for a long time thought that a set up where the federal government is in charge of the regulation and funding of a national system of vocational education makes sense.  It should make it easier to navigate the morass of funding that currently exists and changes whenever you attempt to work across state boarders whether from an RTO perspective or from an organisational perspective.  Having a single set of rules and criteria would certainly make a difference.

One of the significant things I think having a Federal system would do is to change the States from being on both the provider and funder sides of the equation.  Currently all of the states fund VET in their state, however they also provide vocational education through their network of TAFE institutes.  Moving all of the funding for the delivery of training to the Federal government would have the effect of TAFE becoming another provider in the market, simply a provider which is owned by the State government and the state government could then determine from its overall budget what amounts it wanted to allocate to the resourcing and infrastructure of their TAFEs.  It would see a transparency around what money being given to TAFE from the State government was actually being used for.  Now that is not to suggest that a federal system might not earmark a certain amount of money for delivery by public providers, but what it would do is clear up the sometimes muddy waters around what is support for delivery and what is support for infrastructure.

The other significant thing it would or should do is as I said at the start even out the currently differences in what is funded and to what level.  As I said a couple of weeks ago I was amazed when I found out that in Victoria every AQF qualification is funded, the amount of money simply varies, which is unlike Queensland and other states where funding is allocated to what is seen to be the needs of that State in terms of skilled workers now and into the future.  Having one set of funding rules across the country would work for everyone, it would make it easier for organisations (particularly those who work across the entire country or a number of states) to access funding for their staff training, which is as anyone who has ever worked in a L&D role in such an organisation will tell you is currently a brain melting nightmare.  It would work well for providers both niche and large.  For example we are one a small number of providers who deliver a particular qualification, currently someone from Queensland can obtain the qualification for around $100 (it is funded in QLD), where as someone from NSW (where it is not funded) would have to pay $3,500 for the same qualification.   The management of funding contracts at a provider level would also be much easier, no longer perhaps having to produce multiple reports for different states with different rules and requirements.  A federal system should have the effect of smoothing out a range of the issues which currently make funded programs across states difficult to manage for everyone.

So what are the downfalls, well there could be some issues where their might be a mismatch between the needs at a national level in terms of skills and the needs at a state level.  On a nation level there could be a shortage of appropriately qualified aged care workers say but WA might have a massive over-supply.  Conversely there could be no national shortage of plumbers but serious shortages in QLD.  Not that these kinds of issues could not be relatively easily addressed, it is just that given that we are such a large country it may be the case that such differences arise.  Although on a side note seeing these differences at a national level rather than at a state level might encourage the federal government to provide incentives for say aged care workers in WA to move to other states or plumbers to move to QLD.

I also don’t think a federal system would affect programs like for example Skilling Queenslanders for work, where the additional money in the program is not going to providers but to community organisations to support the learning activities of their cohorts.  There kinds of programs could still be funded on a state by state basis dependent on need, the funding source for the provider would simply change for the state to the federal government.

It would or should remove this ridiculous situation we currently have where while most of the providers in the country are regulated by ASQA, two states still regulate a portion of RTOs in their state.  All providers both public and non-public would be just that providers for a national system, providers with one set of regulations and one set of rules around funding.  I for one really hope it gets legs and gets over the line.

 

Anyway thats just my opinion.

So why do we still have more than one regulator in VET

I mean, lets get serious for a second here, ASQA has been the ‘national regulator’ for over 3 years now, and as from 1 April 2015, all RTOs are covered by the same set of standards so why, why are the separate regulators for Victoria and Western Australia.  Can someone please explain it to me because surely it can’t simply be these two states simply trying to flex their states rights muscles, and given that they only regulate those RTOs that only do business in their respective states it can’t be about the generation of income.  I for one am dumbfounded that we still have this ridiculous situation where some RTOs are not regulated by the National Regulator, for what to me at least has nothing to do with quality or costs or anything like that and far more to do with political points scoring and control.

It is not like ASQA is new or that there are different sets of standards (That dumbfounded me as well but that is a different story).  I know when ASQA first started that Queensland took a cautious approach and waited 12 months before referring powers, but it has been over 3 years now people, get with the program.  It can’t be  about quality, because first off everyone is governed by the same standards and secondly surely consistency of auditing and quality is better served by having a single regulator, whose job it is to make sure that all of their auditors apply the standards in a consistent way.

Now I know some people have a negative view of ASQA, but I and a lot of other people in the sector really have found them to fantastic, particularly in the last 12 months and when I see reports like the recent one from Victoria about the state government cracking down on dodgy providers accessing government funding, I can’ t help but ask myself, how many of these dodgy providers are regulated by ASQA and how many are regulated by Victoria.

So unless someone can show me an actual, real, logical, viable reason why we should have two states that are not regulated by ASQA, then Victoria and Western Australian, need to bite the bullet, suck it up, stop playing political games or whatever the hell they are doing and join the rest of us.

The sooner we have one single national regulator for everyone the better.

Anyway that’s just my opinion

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

A registration board for the VET sector?

Do we need a Trainer and Assessors registration board?

 

After my previous post and a number of comments and discussions in a variety of forums, I got to thinking about this idea of a registration board for Trainers and Assessors in the VET sector.  Now I know this idea has been floated before, and that there are several groups out there who have or are attempting, as membership organisations, to utilise this idea to lift the general level of professionalism in the industry.  But lets face facts, unless membership of an organisation is linked to some kind of regulated authority to train, then there is always going to be a systematic failure.  There are registration boards for Teachers in all of the states, statutory bodies, set up to regulate and determine who is appropriately qualified and suitable to teach in a our primary and secondary school systems,  so do we need something like that?  A single national registration board for all trainers and assessors in the VET sector.    While I think in the long-term that might be a very good idea, I think there might be an alternative which at least in the shorter term may have a significant effect on the professionalism of the industry.

A registration board for all Trainers and Assessors delivering a Training and Assessment Qualification!

So if you want to be able to train others in the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment or above or any qualification from the TAE package, you would need to be registered by a single national board which provided you with an Authority to Train.  It should like most other boards of its ilk, charge membership fees which would be used to cover the expenses of running the board, and have clearly defined membership entry and maintenance requirements.  These requirements should revolved around skills and knowledge as well as experience.  Imagine the difference that would be made overnight if the ‘TAE registration board’ required 5 years of training experience before you were able to apply for membership to allow you to deliver a TAE qualification.  Gone instantly would be the incidents of doing a weekend TAE this weekend and then teaching the same class the next weekend.  A skills and knowledge component, perhaps an exam could be added into the mix for initial registration, as well as strong on going CPD requirements including delivery thresholds, peer supervision and mentoring requirements, then add to this penalties for non-compliance including suspension and de-registration and even just at this level, directly aimed at those teaching TAE qualifications this would have a rapid and marked effect on the quality not only of the TAE suite of programs, but a knock on effect to all other qualifications as well. This added to increased regulatory pressure at an organisational level would should see the quality of the qualification and the sector lifted quickly.

Now people might argue against this proposal in a number of ways.

This is industry is already over regulated

I am not sure of this for a start, but even so the vast majority of regulation at this point in time sits at the level of the RTO.  Trainer registration sits at a personal, not organisational level.  It is something that is managed by a person for themselves.  Individuals can choose whether or not they wish to be registered and have an Authority to Train or not.  Trainers and Assessors not delivery TAE qualifications would not be required to undertake registration, although there could either initially or over time a registration process developed for those who did not deliver TAE products.

The cost of a TAE qualification would go up

Probably, but is that a bad thing?  Is a $300, 2 day, Certificate IV in Training and Assessment really worth the money it is printed on for anyone?

Who would run it

The simple solution in my mind would be the regulator (ASQA).  Given that it needs some kind of regulatory force behind it to be effective, it either needs to be the current regulatory body or some of other statutory body.  I suppose it could be an independent organisation, but issues of continuity always concern me in these cases.

It is another expense for the Trainer 

I, as I think most reputable training organisations would be more than happy to pay the registration fees and associated costs of our TAE trainers or in terms of a new employee who came with registration, renewals of the registration for as long as they worked for us.  However that aside it would be an expense, yes, but it seems one that anyone who was interested in the quality of training and assessment would be willing to pay.

 

The single most important thing about this however, is that it needs to have regulatory force, it needs to be built into the standards that Training providers delivering TAE qualification may only employ registered trainers to deliver those qualifications.  No working under supervision arrangements or anything like that, you either have the registration and the authority to train or you don’t and if you don’t you can’t be employed in a role relating to the delivery of TAE qualification.

 

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

 

 

Fruit of the poison tree – The problem of non-competent trainers

So what happens when a trainer or assessor who is not-competent assesses someone as competent?

 

So I have been involved in a number of discussions recently about the quality of delivery and assessment of the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and the resulting competence of ‘trainers’ as a result of that.  Now before I go any further here it is important to note that this is not just something that is occurring in the non-public sector, but across the board, we are seeing it seems just as many people coming out of TAFE lacking the skills and knowledge they should have as we are from the non-public providers.  A lot of the conversation has been around the problems of finding good, competent capable staff out of what seems to be these days an absolute tidal wave of rubbish.  People who can’t present, don’t know basic things like the principles of assessment, or how to unpack a unit of competency.  Now of course over time some of these people are going to become competent despite their original non-competence, but there still exists of course the problem that at the time the certificate was issued they weren’t competent and therefore should not have been given the qualification in the first place.

Now there has been much discussion about what should be done about this and how it can be addressed, but there seems to be a consensus that at some point the regulator must have to step in and cancel or withdraw a whole pile of qualification which were issued where they should not have been.  Now whether or not this will actually happen is certainly a matter for conjecture, however a recall of this nature would have quite a significant effect on people who had built careers on these qualifications which have been found to be soiled.  This is even more problematic for those who were actually competent in first instance but whose qualification is called into question by association or for those who have become competent since the issuance of the certificate.  Now the argument could be made that  given that they are now competent or were competent originally the withdrawal or cancellation would not prove to have an adverse effect because they  would simply need to provide evidence of that competent to acquire a ‘real’ qualification. The big question which pops up then however is who is going to pay for that. If the person in question undertook their qualification in good faith, and then at a later date the regulator removes that qualification then it would seem that either the company that issued it (which is probably then out of business) or the government should be responsible for the costs of re-assessment. Of course it could also be suggested that very few people do a 2 day certificate IV or a 5 day diploma in good faith or that they can be unaware that after a 6-12 month program where they are struggling that they are not actually competent.
On top of all of this though sits the issue of ‘Fruit of the poisonous Tree’ as they say in the US. If someone who has a qualification but who is not competent, assesses the competence of another person then it is not a reach to suggest that that persons competence and resulting qualification may also be questionable.  We have already seen a significant number of qualifications from one provider cancelled and a range of others from both public and non-public providers called into question, now not to question the competence of those people who assessed these qualifications, but it would seem to me to necessary to investigate that issue as well as the providers from which they gained their qualification.  Now let’s explore what might happen is ASQA starts to cancel, withdraw or recall certificates from even one Certificate IV TAE provider, let alone more than one.  Even if not all certificates are ‘recalled’ it throws into question the veracity of all of the qualifications issued by the provider even those non-TAE qualifications.  Further it must call into question two things,

  1. The competence of any person deemed competent from someone with a ‘recalled’ qualification
  2. The hiring and assessment practices of any providers which employed a person with a ‘recalled’ qualification

It is as I have indicated above a ‘Fruit of the poison tree’ scenario, none of the decisions about competency can be taken at face value and from there it is ‘turtles all the way down’

So what can be done about all of this, well , one solution (which will probably never happen) is to license only a very select number of providers both public and private to assess VET sector competence, rather than the almost open slather that we have at the moment and support the sector (through funding) to have everyone re-assessed. It would be a mammoth and costly task.

Another solution would be a formal licensing process for VET sector professionals assessed by an independent 3rd party with strong ongoing CPD requirements. This would also solve the problem of PD and currency for trainer and facilitators.

The other thing that sits in my head along side of all of this is the skill and knowledge sets (and qualifications) of those in education management roles an what we expect them to be. Ethical, experienced and appropriately qualified CEO’s and education managers in training providers would not allow the delivery of poor quality or substandard qualifications, and not hire non-competent people thus over time improving the quality of the training being provided and the industry as a whole.

Anyway that’s just my opinion.

 

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