Australia’s Future VET system – a system that we are proud of

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Having recently attended the Department of Industry’s VET Reform consultation in Adelaide, following all the discussions on LinkedIn via the Australian VET Leaders and VET Reform groups, and writing about the VET sector with many papers and blogs on various aspects of change, this blog is purely focused on the future.

This is about the REFORM that I want to see in Australia’s Vocational Education and Training system.

When we look back in 6, 12, 18 months… or 3 years’ time and ask ourselves… how did we manage these changes, the reform, how did we build such a great cohesive, evidence based approach, I hope we will say, “We took action to build a VET system that our organisations want to be involved in and that the sector is proud of…. And a VET system that us, our clients and our workforces are proud to participate in…” That’s the reform I want to be part of.vocational-confusion

So how do you do it, how do you influence a whole system and get your voice heard?

Well suggestions of solutions have been few and far between and I believe we need to consider what will the VET system look like at the end of this current REFORM process – as a meat industry colleague said recently ”put the cart before the horse”.

Here goes – this is the VET system I’d like to see and it’s a different blueprint to what we have at this time.

Australia will lead workforce development including VET internationally

Many countries look to Australia’s lead in VET, workforce development and planning… copying our system, learning from us (from our mistakes)  and I believe this is an important position for us to claim – as a leader in workforce development and planning and skilling.

Linked to a vision for the Australian workforce (which also needs to be designed), the VET system will have a clear purpose statement something like,

To develop an Australian workforce with the skills required at this time, into the future and for the workforce after next*.

NB. *Thanks to Christian Hamilton from ASC for introducing me to this term.

A purpose statement that is original and meaningful.  Some may describe this approach as revolutionary – I see this as a necessity because we’ll then have the workforce we want, where we want it, and ready to do whatever needs to be done.

VET policy decisions will be based upon evidence of workforce demand and investment will be based upon agreed priorities

I believe that public investment and decision making should be based upon evidence of workforce demand.  This means for Australia, state/territories, industry sectors, regions and enterprises having your own workforce plan.

Public investment and policy decisions will be made aligned to a structure of priorities that are evidence based including:

  1. Economic – improving productivity, increasing employment rates and job opportunities including Australian Apprenticeships, stimulate investment, export and expansion
  2. Industry – considering opportunities and threats, areas of growth, decline and workforce transition
  3. Regional – local needs identifying areas of growth, decline and workforce transition
  4. Motivational priorities (for individuals) like:

–       Entering the workforce

–       Re-entering the workforce after a break

–       Shifting careers

–       Stepping up to a career promotion

–       Meeting legislation and regulatory requirements

–       Gaining recognition of skills

–       Refreshing  industry/vocational currency

–       Transfering skills to a new industry sector perhaps due to a retrenchment

State and territory funding will mirror the model above and take into account evidence of workforce demand and supply (mis) match that is relevant for each state/territory as well as the regions within it.

Australia’s VET system will have targets to achieve

Targets around considerations like:

  • positioning as a leader;
  • VET outcomes matched with workforce demand;
  • client (employers, industries, region and learners) satisfaction;
  • skills for now vs. skills for the future; and
  • specific motivational priorities.

Australia’s VET system will be future-focused

Aside from addressing current workforce skills needs, VET will keep an eye to the future workforce and the workforce after next.  Australia, each state/territory, industry sector and region will have their own workforce plan outlining future workforce requirements which can be used as advice for government policy and decision making.

If not then we not planning but ‘workforce reacting’ ….. and VET will only ever then help us with what we wanted yesterday.

Australia’s VET landscape will be streamlined and effective

When viewing the National VET landscape and structures it will support the purpose statement with the Council of Australian Government (COAG) agreeing VET priorities and benchmarks based upon analysis of evidence of workforce demand.  This evidence would come from state/territory governments, industry sectors, regions and stakeholders including employment service providers and Registered Training Organisations.

Perhaps a part of the Commonwealth government, a group or independent agency would need to manage stakeholder input and strategic communication.  This ‘demand’ picture needs to be closely matched with sources of information and intelligence about workforce supply (current workforce [potential] profile) to identify workforce gaps and specifically those skills that assessment and training can address.  Behind this would sit the ‘products’ that is Training Packages based upon job and industry requirements, and the regulatory system.

So how could this approach be applied specifically?

Well take Australian Apprenticeships as an example where industry and regions would provide evidence of demand but essentially the labour market and employers would work this out.  Funding support for employers and contracted Registered Training Organisations would be managed nationally supported by advisers that can engage with employers and assist with a range of workforce needs or issues.

VET outputs will be based upon job role requirements and learners needs

The job role will be the first organising consideration for the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF).  That means focussing on the skills required for the job rather than the qualifications with units that may match to a job role.  What flows from this is that the unit of competency is the skill currency and the skills for a job or what a person can do matches to the units and then back to the qualifications.

Currently there are 65+ Training Packages, approximately 2191 qualifications and 24 440 units of competency (thanks to www.skillsbook.com.au for the numbers) often with a structure in a qualification of core and electives or streams of some sort.

I’m suggesting a consistent structure for Training Packages linked to the job role requirements of essential skills (similar to foundation or employability skills and needed for almost all job roles) at AQF 1-2, then broad industry skills (required to work in this sector) at AQF 2-3, followed by functional skills (common skills required by multiple job roles that builds upon the essential skills) at AQF 3-6, and finally job role specific skills which may be at AQF levels 3-8.

With this structure I believe that the number of units of competency could be reduced where there is repetition across multiple Training Packages for essential skills and functional skills.  I think it’s important to maintain the integrity of the system and qualifications particularly related to industry and job specific skills reflecting changes as needed by the sector.

Learners needs, their motivations, will influence a way of constructing and facilitation development activities, courses, qualifications and programs.

Training Packages will be utilised to their full potential

Training Packages are a national asset.  When you use units of competency as a database to draw from for skills profiling purposes there are very few skills that are not covered.  You can get both depth and breadth of skill to reflect an individual’s profile and/or contemporary job requirements.  Where particular skills needs are a priority, and there is an evidence base highlighting these gaps, then this should feature in the investment framework.  In other words, funding should not only be limited to qualifications.

Regulation in VET will be focussed and mature

Regulation won’t dominate the discussion about VET in the future instead it will be focussed on evidence for three main areas:

  1. Industry and employer input/validation – programs based upon skills for job requirements, with workplace context and reflecting areas of workforce demand
  2. Assessment and teaching/learning practices – design and facilitation of programs based upon good practice for learner engagement including upfront assessment
  3. Registered Training Organisation (RTO) business viability and/or sustainability – assessed as a first step process probably by those who are not standards auditors but business advisers

A mature approach would mean that where providers have a sound performance track record then a risk management approach can apply to how often they are audited.  That is being audited less often and perhaps even with a lighter touch.  Providers that consistently miss meeting the standards should be de registered.  Common issues and non-compliance areas, where deemed to be moderate to low risk, should be incorporated into a VET sector workforce development plan.

The reputation of the VET system will be redeemed

Mostly this will come from:

  • stopping the negative things we are saying and doing – that is busting the myths that are perpetuated;
  • having a clear purpose that Revolutionises the VET system;
  • using Evidence to identify workforce requirements and skills needs;
  • establishing agreed priorities and targets;
  • focussing on the Future and workforce after next;
  • simplifying the national VET landscape with an Original structure;
  • basing outputs and Training Packages on job requirements;
  • moving to a mature approach to VET regulation;
  • Redeeming the reputation of the VET system; and
  • Modifying the VET system where the positive aspects and what is working well is made more of.

In conclusion, I know that the VET Reform Taskforce and stakeholders across the system are looking for solutions.  This blog post takes fairly large concepts and suggests a way to chunk actions and improvements to get the VET sector I want and one that I understand others do too.  Please post your comments and feedback or questions below.  Thank you.

Written by Wendy Perry, VET Strategist, WPAA, 1 April 2014.

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