Trainer’s upgrade: a cost or a solution?

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Since the Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills, the Hon Karen Andrews MP, announced the most recent amendment that affects the requirements for trainers and assessors to work in VET, many RTOs' managers and trainers have considered this as another compulsory course that will be recorded as an operational expense.

Like other compliance requirements, many people in this sector believe there has been limited analysis regarding how this training will affect an RTO. Yes, it means the RTO will comply with the standards, but will the added cost solve any problems?

If this training doesn't have a positive effect on the stakeholder's performance and results it is not a solution. In this article, I would like to analyse the desired and potential effects of this TAE upgrade for RTOs and trainers.Changes for trainer assessors

Firstly, let's clarify the requirement. Under the updated Standards for RTOs, trainers and assessors using the TAE40110 Certificate IV in Training and Assessment as their teaching credentials must hold the following two units before 1 April 2019:

  • TAEASS502 Design and develop assessment tools, and
  • TAELLN411 Address adult language, literacy and numeracy skills.

Why are trainers required to further increase skills in developing assessment tools and addressing adult LLN skills?
According to statistics published by ASQA, approximately 75% of RTOs fail to demonstrate compliance against assessment practice requirements, and matching LLN skills of students with course entry LLN levels.

Is there a performance issue?
Yes, there is a clear performance issue with assessment practices. Assessment systems used by RTOs are not meeting training package requirements, principles of assessments, and do not produce sufficient, valid, authentic and current evidence.

The second issue is related to students being enrolled into courses without determining whether entry LLN skill levels have been met.

What is happening or not happening?
Based on my experience as an auditor, I have identified five critical factors that affect RTOs assessment practices:

  1. Units of competency are not unpacked effectively.
  2. Assessment evidence is not analysed correctly.
  3. Assessment collection methods, tasks and evidence are poorly mapped to the unit of competency requirements.
  4. Adequate instructions are not given to assessors on how to administer assessment tools and interpret assessment evidence.
  5. Inconsistent administration of assessment tasks.

Can these issues be solved with training?
We can only solve problems with training if there is a gap in skills. And yes, trainers and assessors currently working in VET have significant gaps in skills/knowledge, particularly those required to:

  1. Interpret units of competency.
  2. Develop effective assessment tools (instructions and tasks) to collect evidence against the requirements of units of competency.
  3. Implement assessment practices in line with the Principles of Assessment, and
  4. Collect assessment evidence that meets the relevant unit of competency requirements and the Rules of Evidence.

But performance issues go beyond an RTO's assessment practices. They directly relate to gaps in the skills of its trainers, lack of support and effective quality assurance systems, which play an important role.

Is TAEASS502 Design and develop assessment tools the solution?
It could be, but it won't if we continue to do the same as we have being doing with the previous upgrades BSZ to TAA and TAA to TAE.

Let's start with the outcomes included in the unit. TAEASS502 elements are:

  • Determine the focus of the assessment tool
  • Design the assessment tool
  • Develop the assessment tool, and
  • Review and trial the assessment tool.

This unit is relevant to four out of the five performance issues listed above, and will provide trainers with the opportunity to develop at least the first two sets of skills listed in the skills gap.

When the training solution is designed, developed, delivered and assessed, the impact objectives must be considered. In other words, this course must be adopted not only as the training to meet the new requirement under clause 1.14 (trainers' credentials), but as the training solution that will support the RTO to meet the requirements under clause 1.8 (assessment practices).

Considering the structure of the Standards for RTOs, being non-compliant with clause 1.8, will also produce non-compliance with clauses 1.4, 1.12, 2.1, 3.1 and 8.4. Furthermore, this course should also have a positive effect that improves the compliance status with clauses 1.9, 1.10 (validations) and 1.16 (trainers' relevant PD).

In summary, a Statement of Attainment with the TAEASS501 unit can give the RTO a tick in clause 1.14, but the real benefit, and return on investment, will only happen if trainers develop the skills required to perform the necessary tasks to meet requirements under clauses 1.4, 1.8, 1.9, 1.10, 1.12, 2.1, 3.1 and 8.4.

If we compare the cost of the course with the benefits of maintaining compliance with clauses 1.4, 1.8, 1.9, 1.10, 1.12, 2.1, 3.1 and 8.4, the potential positive return on investment is evident. RTOs then should see this course as an investment and not a cost. An investment that will produce real, tangible benefits far greater than the investment itself, and I will suggest that RTOs should measure this benefit.

Obviously, if the course doesn't produce a positive effect on operations, the investment will become a cost. This means it is critical that RTOs discuss with the training provider the desired application and impact objectives for the course.

RTOs will need to ensure trainers and assessors will have the opportunity and the support to apply the skills learnt. This may require a change to current practices. For example, trainers should be more involved in designing, developing and reviewing assessment tools, and validation processes may need to be strengthened so they have a greater effect as quality review and control processes.

How can we measure the application of the skills? What data needs to be collected?
There are some points that need to be considered here:

  • What new knowledge will be applied?
  • What new tasks will be performed? What new steps?
  • What new procedures and processes will be implemented or changed?
  • What new guidelines will be implemented or changed?

The answers to the above questions will help us to determine what data will be collected.

For a standard RTO, new tasks could include: interpreting unpacking units of competency, analysing assessment evidence required, considering learners' needs during the design of assessment tools, considering the rules of evidence during the design of the evidence collection plan, or reviewing mapping documentation. These tasks/steps will have an effect on the processes of designing, developing, and using assessment tools, and for this reason, RTOs must review/update procedures and guidelines that are already in place, to support the application of the new skills.

The reason to measure the application is not only to confirm the success of the training, but also for continuous improvement. The analysis of the application data should reveal if the skills could be enabled or if there were any barriers. The RTO can use this information to overcome barriers and better exploit various ways to maximise the positive effect on the assessment practices.

How can I measure the effect of the application of the new skills?
At this level, the RTO wants to measure the effect on assessment practice outputs, quality, cost and time.

With regards to outputs, the RTO could measure increase in the number of assessment tools developed (whether developed completely in-house or based on customising commercially available products), or increase in the number of assessment validations completed. With regards to quality, the RTO should measure the number of rectifications identified in validations, internal audits, and number of non-compliances identified by ASQA. Costs can be determined by measuring the reduction of costs associated with engaging external consultants to develop assessments, costs associated with rectifying assessment tools, and/or assessment evidence collected. Finally, the RTO can measure, for example, a reduction of time required to develop/modify assessment tools.

The opportunity is there and whether this upgrade will have a positive effect on our VET sector will depend on RTOs and the trainers' approach.

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