Have the balls to speak up on VET reform – Top 10 myths BUSTED!

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This blog post has been a long time coming, probably many months when I think about it all.  I didn’t only want to comment on Vocational Education and Training (VET) reform because I’m more interested in building on the current strengths of the VET system towards a future vision for VET in Australia.

There are a few myths about VET that I plan on busting as for me this is the starting point to really consider if we have the system we want, need, or like and that system will set Australia up for a prosperous future.

Rather than blanket, contrary statements, where people repeat something they have heard from someone else, or bring out the old, safe, negative but comfortable views I would prefer to see an evidence based, positive approach to considering the VET system now and into the future.  Have the balls to speak up on VET reform:

On this note every industry has a language and for VET we should be proud of this albeit with an understanding that it should be easily translatable to clients and stakeholders.

Myth 1 – The purpose of VET in Australia is obvious to everyone

Before I begin, let me ask you a question – does Australia have a vision for the workforce now and into the future?  And do we have a vision for Australia’s VET system?

You might answer this by sighting Future focus, 2013 National Workforce Development Strategy published by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency which talks about a vision for their ‘strategy’.

The vision of the strategy is to realise Australia’s growth potential through a highly skilled and adaptable workforce, where skills are being used effectively to meet the needs of industry, and individuals are able to fulfil their potential.  The responsibility for realising this vision will be shared between industry, government and individuals.

However, I believe that if Australia had a joint, shared, national vision for the workforce then answering questions about the purpose of the VET system would be easy, straightforward and this would guide decision and policy making.  More about this in another blog soon.

Myth 2 – The VET system in Australia isn’t well regarded

Hearing much about confidence in the Australian VET system, when working overseas in 2013 I saw how countries like Maldives and Bhutan were keen to adopt aspects of the Australian training system because of our great reputation.  There are many other countries whose Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system reflects the core components of the VET system in Australia.

And so where to now with VET reform given this general international view?

Myth 3 – VET outcomes aren’t great

Well the Department of Industry established (very quietly) a VET Reform Taskforce in November 2013 and they recently conducted consultations in Canberra.  A Summary of Key Issues from the first round of stakeholder workshops over 4-6.2.14 includes feedback from industry, Industry Skills Councils, Registered Training Organisations and Australian Apprenticeship Centres.

Starting with an objective to, “…develop a shared understanding of the role of the VET sector in addressing skills needs and to discuss reform directions into the future”, the consultation sessions asked questions across themes like:

  • Meeting Australia’s Skills Needs;
  • The VET Sector Now and in the Future; and
  • Priority Areas for the Future to Improve the Operation of the VET sector.

On the back of the consultations, the Minister for Industry Ian Macfarlane has said the skills system had become a “bureaucratic nightmare” and that, “…industry can’t get people who can read and write, let alone be at a job-ready stage,” in The Australia on 19.2.14.

So if industry can’t get literate employees then who are they currently employing?  When you think about this question all Australian employees may find this comment highly offensive.

The second quote is an incredibly sweeping statement which just isn’t true in many cases.  Every day I see excellent evidence of the outcomes of the VET system transforming people’s lives and every now and again I see terrible examples.

Notes from the Department of Industry’s sessions with Industry stated, “Students are not being assessed to the satisfaction of industry” and there is no way that this statement is always true.  In fact I find it offensive as an employer and a member of a number of industry associations.

I know we and many other employers work hard and invest in our employees, and members in the case of an association, to ensure assessment is relevant, customized, fits the job role, uses contemporary assessment practices both improving business outcomes and individuals skills.

Myth 4 – The VET system is in need of a complete overhaul

There are definitely areas for change and reform but I’d describe ours as an iterative VET system with a focus on emphasis rather than an overhaul.  From Wikipedia,

Iteration is the act of repeating a process with the aim of approaching a desired goal, target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an “iteration”, and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration.

In my mind, aside from an image of a cycle, iterative means that this is actually 3-D or 4-D and looks something like a multi-directional equation.  A framework like Blue Ocean Strategy is useful to chart what needs to feature in the next iteration of the VET system.

Using this approach I would suggest that:

–       Customization needs to increase

–       A focus on rigid qualification structures and Training Package boundaries needs to decrease

–       Targeting based upon priorities needs to start

–       Reliance on government funding needs to stop

I don’t think that the current system is provider, rather than employer driven – it’s just very muddled.

Myth 5 – The VET system is sufficiently targeted

What is the target of the VET system?  This missing focus is a fundamental problem!

What may be the ‘target’ or ‘targets’?  Well I think into the future it may be a combination of the following:

  • Economic priorities (including sectors in growth and decline plus job outcomes like Australian Apprenticeships – in other words a workforce planning approach that identifies the preferred future workforce profile and workforce demand)
  • Industry priorities (particularly critical workforce capabilities and critical job roles)
  • Regional priorities (catering for regional strategies and needs)
  • Motivational priorities like:

–       Enter the workforce

–       Re-enter the workforce after a break

–       Shift careers

–       Step up to a career promotion

–       Meet legislation and regulatory requirements

–       Gain recognition of skills

–       Refresh industry/vocational currency

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

A fresh approach like motivational priorities would supersede a ‘target group’ mentality where people have been divided into unhelpful categories like young people, mature people, people with disabilities, people from non-English speaking backgrounds and so on.  To think that all people in these categories all need the same thing like a program is just wrong whereas thinking about what motivates individuals to become engaged in VET does make sense.

Myth 6 – A future VET system is difficult to design

So what of the future VET system in Australia, what would that look like?

I believe there are some fundamental keys that means that the design of a future VET system is easier than you think and to me it’s all about clarity and emphasis.

Here goes:

  1. A vision for Australia’s workforce would make a vision and a system for the VET sector obvious.  From the Department of Industry RTO sessions, “The VET system lacks a vision and strategy and its value to the economy and communities is not clearly articulated” and this is probably the best item of feedback so far.
  2. Purpose [role] and targets are clear, understood by all and are used as a framework to make decisions.  A suggested statement for the purpose of the VET system will be revealed in my next blog post once I have a go at #1, which is a vision for Australia’s workforce.
  3. Define what VET outcomes are and who they are for – in my mind these outcomes are mostly owned by a learner and their employer (where training is employer supported), not owned by RTO’s or intermediaries or government.  If the VET initiative is in a project, network, community or regional context then outcomes become aggregated and so more stakeholders share in owning these outcomes but not all equally and in the same way.
  4. Australian Apprenticeships are fundamental to VET and should be redesigned as a national system as a job outcome in my mind is a priority no matter what side of politics.  This would mean employer registration, Contracts of Training administration, RTO funding and employer incentives would all be managed by the Commonwealth government and/or contracted service providers that also assist with pre-employment/Apprenticeship, employment/recruitment services, disability employment and group training options.  PS. It must be all administered online too!
  5. Funding models drive behavior and where some people comment about national qualifications being too inflexible sometimes they mean that what they really would like to do, what the client needs, isn’t funded like that.  Make funding fit the priorities and not be time driven rather more of a milestone model.
  6. Training Packages are flexible and expansive if you think about all units of competency from all Training Packages being available to match to a job role, a person, a project, an industry, a supply chain, a region, a country.  I agree that consolidation still needs to occur where units are the same across multiple industry sectors say with foundation (some may describe these as employability skills) or functional skills (like leadership and management).  Overall a refocus back on job roles and the skills needed for the job then a map back to qualifications should be how we develop units of competency or skills.

Myth 7 – VET is supported by effective structures

Then what may be the implications for the structures in the VET system?

Well, that’s probably for you to consider however I know that my diagram of all the structures in VET, what I call the VET landscape has changed over the years and become very cluttered with overlaps and ownership arguments.

Myth 8 – Change in the VET system is really hard to implement

VET practitioners do well with change and often thrive on it as long as there is a solid evidence based and good communication.

From July 2014 an implementation program roll out may look something like this:

  1. Develop a document a vision for the VET sector defining purpose and outcomes like business efficiency and productivity improvements
  2. Target VET goals, policy and funding based upon priorities and evidence
  3. Focus regulation on 3 main areas 1. Core business of VET – designing, teaching, learning, assessment; 2. Validation – by clients – business, industry, employers and learners; 3. RTO viability/sustainability/health
  4. Australian Apprenticeships become national in every aspect
  5. Funding models are target driven and milestone based – this is the “broken” bit – nominal hours really must go – we are not in the 1980’s!
  6. Training Package review and development are job role based and consolidation focuses on foundation and functional skills with job specific skills reflecting the technical aspects of the job role – job first, qualification/s second.  Let’s also get over skill sets and making them mini qualifications unless there is good reason like a licence outcome.  Skill sets should be pick and mix to suit the outcome and they may be parts of a qualification or parts of multiple qualifications or a qualification/s plus.  The way skill sets are described in the VET system at this time is very limiting and restricts an ability to make the system fit for purpose.

Under these themes, recommendations could be developed that are positive, intelligent, insightful and future orientated.

Myth 9 – My voice is small and quiet so it won’t be heard

I encourage you, if you have a view on the future VET system, particularly if you are an employer and/or learner, to get involved in upcoming consultations, register for updates, and have your say by emailing written submissions to vettaskforce@industry.gov.au.

Myth 10 – Common vs. Customization

On ideas for reform from the Industry Skills Councils consultation with the Department of Industry there is a bullet point that says,

  • Improve the quality of the assessment of training by setting clearer standards for the assessment of training, developing common assessment instruments or involving industry in the assessment process as a form of external validation.

This is the wrong word, instead common should read customized with something like this,

“Improve the quality of the assessment of training by customizing training and assessment tasks to fit the job role and the employer with work relevant and specific assessment instruments involving the employer in the design process and industry as external validation,” Wendy Perry, employer, industry member, trainer/assessor, VET Strategist.

What next?

Well I’m interested in your feedback, please feel free to comment and forward this blog post to your colleagues and networks.

Above all, if you work in VET remember that what you do impacts on people – it can improve confidence, career prospects and VET can transform people’s lives.

Look out for the Department of Industry’s VET Reform LinkedIn group which will be available in March 2014 and let’s all see how we may be able to influence these changes positively.

If you aren’t already a member then join the Australian VET Leaders group on LinkedIn together with 6000 colleagues breaking all the VET news and views.

See you in my next blog where I write about Australia’s vision for the workforce – big topic I know!

Written by Wendy Perry, VET Strategist, WPAA, 2 March 2014.


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